AT&T Williams Toyota
Williams was set up in 1977 by Frank Williams and Patrick Head. Originally based in Didcot, the team now operates from Grove in Oxforshire. It is the oldest privately owned team currently operating in Formula One. Throughout its history, perhaps more so than any other team, Williams has illustrated just how much of a roller-coaster Formula One can be. They have been at the summit of the sport with drivers and cars that made winning races and championships look as effortless as selling revealing clothes to Madonna.
Between 1980 and 1997, Williams produced seven world championship drivers, won nine constructors titles and took the chequered flag at 98 Grand Prix.
The team is the third most successful in Formula One history, having won 113 races in thirty years. This achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that McLaren only achieved this many wins 32 years after its foundation in 1966 and Ferrari did not manage it until 1997, 37 years after it first competed in an F1 race.
But when Williams have been down, they have been down they have been at rock bottom. The team has abruptly lost a major engine supplier no fewer than three times in its history (Honda in 1987, Renault in 1997 and BMW in 2005).
It has frequently lost its best drivers – no one has ever been world champion in a Williams twice. Most tragically, Ayrton Senna, the last racing driver ever to die in a Formula One race, suffered that tragic fate while driving a Williams.
Sadly, Williams has suffered badly in recent years and many in and around Formula One have questioned whether the team will ever see a return to the form of its glory days. It is now over three years since the team last won a Grand Prix and more than a decade since Jacques Villeneuve won the team its last world championship.
However, 2007 saw signs that the team is, once again, on the mend and that maybe, just maybe, Williams will become a Formula One force again this season.
To begin with, the team has sorted out the engine issues that have affected it since Renault stopped supplying them in 1997.
The Toyota engine now used has both the power and reliability needed to help power the team back to the front. After the under-performing Cosworth and BMW engines the team has run this decade, the focus is now on stability and has enabled the team to spend more time on making the rest of the car a race winner. Indeed, given that last season’s Williams consistently outperformed the works’ Toyota team, one wonders how much longer the Japanese giant will continue with its costly white elephant.
Drivers: Nico Rosberg
Spearheading Williams’ efforts on the track will be the exceptionally talented Nico Rosberg. The 22-year-old German has developed steadily throughout his two seasons with the team and mananged to achieve some impressive results in the latter half of last season, particularly his gutsy fight for fourth place at the last Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 2005 GP2 champion has proved he is every bit as talented as his world champion father Keke, also a Williams driver, and is highly rated by the team. So much so that Williams’ co-owner Patrick Head has recently declared that Rosberg is the undisputed lead driver at Williams, something very few other teams in the paddock seem willing to do these days.
Indeed, listening to Rosberg’s recent interviews and seeing his impressive pre-season test times, it’s clear that he feels he is ready to take the step up from the mid-table to the podium and he is fortunate to know that his whole team is behind him.
Drivers: Kazuki Nakajima
Joining Rosberg this season is 22-year-old Japanese newbie Kazuki Nakajima. Kazuki is a product of Toyota’s young driver programme and has achieved some solid results in GP2, though not to the same level of success as Rosberg. He made his race debut at last season’s Brazillian Grand Prix, finishing a respectable 10th and setting the race’s fifth fastest lap, though he will perhaps be best remembered for hitting one of the Williams mechanics as he drove in for a pit stop.
Kazuki certainly shows great potential and Williams will be hoping he will develop well over the coming season. However, it is not yet clear as to whether he will be able to turn his raw potential into race wins and his role at Williams next season is clearly going to be one of a support driver to Rosberg.
Perhaps Williams’ biggest asset though is team principal Sir Frank Williams. More than any other boss in the paddock, Williams just loves being a part of Formula One. He has never shifted his team’s focus away from racing and it remains the purest example of what a Formula One team should be – ruthlessly competitive, technically advanced and hungry for success.
His passion for racing is matched by his passion for a challenge. This is the man who, after being disconnected by the phone company, once had to run his team from a phone box, and who likes nothing better than being at the bottom and fighting his way up.
The Only Way is Up?
It would be foolish to be too optimistic here. With a team that has been relatively unsuccessful for some time, a push for the world championship is an unrealistic expectation. However, Williams should at the very least be achieving podium positions in the forthcoming season and may be able to grab a few victories to boot.
Hopefully, this season will see Williams deliver. It is the last of the great teams to be focused solely on racing with no corporate agenda to push. When Williams succeeds it is not only good for the team but good for the whole of Formula One.
And it makes Frank love being in Formula One that little bit more.