After a series of false dawns, Williams have every reason to expect an Indian Summer in 2014. Having already sampled positive feedback on next year’s regulations, a management restructure and a perfectly balanced driver line-up the Grove outfit should have no need for pretext when the first wheel turns in Melbourne.
“I like this team and I enjoy building teams…” was Pat Symonds’2013 mid-season response to online publication the manufacturer.com when questioned on his future with Marussia. Guarded as ever, Symonds would not fully engage in discussion whether it would be his last F1 team, merely offering a cryptic: “You never know”.
It wasn’t. With his move to Williams as Chief Technical Officer now public knowledge, Symonds now has an opportunity to turn what has become a poisoned chalice into a vessel he can govern through 2014’s choppy regulation changes.
Pat has always been good at delivering a car with a strong baseline and in 2013 made up a Cosworth engine deficit of around a second to Caterham Renault through bread and butter chassis development and a solid aero package. Considering Caterham’s budget dwarfed that of Marussia’s it is a remarkable achievement and was a fact not lost on Deputy Team principal Claire Williams when RichlandF1 caught up with her in Singapore.
“We were very lucky that Pat was available as quickly as he was”, said Claire. We wanted to make changes sooner rather than later. You know what it’s like in this sport where people are on very long ‘gardening leave’ during contracted times, but Pat was able to join us on a consultancy basis very quickly. He’s taken a long hard look at our processes, our structures and procedures and the resources that we have and make sure everything’s operating efficiently. He joined us just before Spa and he’s already having a significant impact on the business.
With work on the FW36 is well underway, Symonds’ influence will be more on process rather than detail; an open-plan approach that has worked successfully at Toleman, Benetton, Renault and Marussia. Williams’ new partnership with Mercedes is already reported to be “exceeding expectations” according to Claire Williams’ discussions with Autosport. Certainly having their engine supplier an hour down the road would hold the odd advantage over the Dover Calais route!
In these respects, everything Williams have done in the second half of 2013 appears to be in the right direction. The team’s decision to replace their troublesome Coanda exhaust might have been done so in stealing a march on the 2014 regulations, but found an immediate improvement in slower corners when the car was off-throttle. More stability allied with increased straight-line speed (by virtue of exhaust-generated down force) should merge beautifully with Symons’ knack of producing cars with outstanding mechanical grip.
What the team lost with the departure of Pastor Maldonado, they will have recouped with interest with the signing of Ferrari refugee Felipe Massa. While Lotus may have gained some short-term PDVSA moolah, in Maldonado they have a quick, but impulsive driver who is yet to consistently reign in errors that no amount of money makes up for in the long run. Massa on the other hand proved he still had the speed to out-qualify Fernando Alonso in the second half of this season and in so doing will be an accurate benchmark for the superbly talented Valtteri Bottas.
Massa’s arrival will also generate much welcome income from Brazilian sponsors – an opportunity Claire has been quick to jump on with numerous trips to South America already taken place. Often overlooked though is Massa’s technical input. A driver such as Alonso – who leaves no stone unturned – wouldn’t leave the donkey work to anyone he thought wouldn’t get the best out of the machinery at their disposal. As such, Willams may have pulled off a masterstroke will Felipe’s signing.
A counter argument might point to Ferrari’s up and down season, but this had more to do with having to make do borrowing Toyota’s wind tunnel facilities whilst theirs was being upgraded. While this proved costly in lead time during Maranello’s development race with Red Bull Racing, it was the Pirelli construction change that ultimately lead to the team’s defeat; savvy lobbying by Red Bull to have the tyre change nullify the original advantage that Ferrari, Lotus and Force India had built with a better grasp on the tyres in Melbourne.
Everything – it seems – is in place for Williams to finally make the consistent stride forward that has eluded them since the start of 2005. Never a team to let history interfere with destiny, there will be no room for excuses, but you’d expect that’s just the way Claire, Pat, Frank and the crew at Grove like it.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Williams F1 Team.