Features - 2011 Grand Prix Review
JANUARY 5, 2012
BY TONY DODGINS
Pos 9: AT&T Williams
Rubens Barrichello (BR); Pastor Maldonado (YV)
Points: 5; Best finish: 9th (Monaco, Canada)
For a team that has nine constructors' championships to its credit, ninth place and just three point-scoring finishes in 2011 - in Monte Carlo, Montreal and Spa - was not what the doctor ordered at Williams.
The team is going through widespread change, perhaps nothing symbolising that better than co-founder Patrick Head stepping down from the F1 board to devote his time to Williams Hybrid Power, announced earlier this week.
Sam Michael was the chosen one to take over from Patrick, made technical director in 2004, but now Sam is gone too, offering his resignation along with aero chief Jon Tomlinson early in the year.
The team took a bold direction with the FW33 but it didn't work out.
"As soon as double diffusers were banned," Michael explains, "we looked and said, right, the fastest single diffuser car in '09 was the Red Bull RB5 and Adrian Newey designed it with a very low gearbox and driveshafts. We went a whole step lower and embarked on it early because we had to do a lot to make the driveshafts survive.
"Making the gearbox small was quite straightforward. People said we'd lose all the stiffness but it was no less stiff than a normal 'box.
"By dropping the gearbox height the airflow to the rear lower wing is better. When we got rid of the double diffuser and looked at the rear lower wing for 2011, it had increased downforce three-fold. It became clear you had to make it work. The whole concept was about that."
The team used Toyota's electric dyno in Cologne, and after some early test failures, had no problems, the only issue being a failure when Barrichello got stones in a driveshaft boot in Australia and the joint dried out. And, despite the extreme solution, Michael estimates that power loss was less than 0.5 bhp.
Having moved heaven and earth to get better flow to the lower rear wing, something spoiled it which Williams could do nothing about.
"The engine restricted us taking full advantage," Michael explained. "It's homologated and you cannot change it. That's why the cover was shrink-wrapped around it. It looked pretty ugly but you can't change that - that's as small as we could make it. The Renault is different in that the back of its trumpet tray funnels very heavily. It wasn't like that on the Cosworth."
In light of that, Michael concedes that "We probably spent too much energy for the company's resources making the gearbox work. Going from a high pushrod gearbox to a pullrod consumed a lot of the design office. It created quite a bit of conflict.
"It took a lot of energy away from areas like the exhaust. We didn't do a top job on the blown exhausts even though our 2010 blown diffuser worked pretty well. We took our eye off the ball with that. In terms of running the exhausts down where Red Bull were, we didn't think of that, so we spent most of the year catching up on blown diffusers."
Williams first tried a Red Bull type-system at the Chinese GP but burning was problematic and it was not until almost halfway through the year that progress was made.
The team did not have hot-blowing either and it's perhaps not surprising that Williams looked its best at Silverstone, when Maldonado qualified seventh. That was the race where everyone else's hot blowing was restricted and Williams debuted a new blown diffuser.
Michael says that the team's KERS was also quite heavy, over 30kgs, and that the harvesting and brake balance needed to be better. It was done to a tight budget with Cosworth control systems.
On the driver side, Barrichello's experience is second to none and his feedback widely respected but Williams took some criticism for dispensing with Nico Hulkenberg in favour of Maldonado.
It was a case of need's must, however, the Venezuelan coming with considerable support from the PDVSA state oil company. That said, Maldonado was far from a pay driver in the extreme sense.
"I was pleased with Pastor," Michael says. "I think he's really good. He ran Rubens pretty close all year and I rate Rubens. I think he'll be better again in his second year after learning all the tracks. He definitely deserves his place in F1. His first four or five races were pretty rough, but that's what you get with a rookie."
Looking at the stats, Maldonado outqualified Barrichello eight times in 19 starts during his rookie year, which is not shabby.
On the technical side, Mike Coughlan is renowned as a capable, enthusiastic, inclusive engineer and has been given the technical director's role now that Michael has moved on to McLaren. He and chief operations engineer Mark Gillan - a man who earned the deep respect of Eddie Irvine at Jaguar, which is not easy - are tasked with taking the new-look team forward.
What they do for a second driver is still fluid. Barrichello is a safe pair of hands, Sutil will do a similar job and also has backers, while Bruno Senna and Vitaly Petrov are also looking for seats. Stick a finger up and see which way the wind is blowing. For 2012 Williams, the car is more significant than the driver.