The Williams FW33 was the talk of the paddock as pre-season testing got under way, Technical Director Sam Michael and his team had developed a gear box half the size of anything that had been seen before. On track thing were looking good with both Rubens Barrichello and Rookie Pastor Maldonado running in the top ten and Ruben even topped the time sheets in Barcalona. Sir Frank Williams told me on a visit to the factory at Grove in January that the team was expecting the odd podium and even a win in the right circumstances. Sam Michael, ahead of the season’s opening race said “The FW33 is fully prepared for the first race of the season. Regarding the aero package, we have all the parts that we ran on the final days of testing in Barcelona, plus a few additional changes that we will test on Friday. The main focus over the course of the first few races is, of course, performance, but also to ensure that the car is reliable. We will also find out where we sit in the order. Overall, we are just looking forward to getting out there and going racing again!“
The optimism didn’t last long as the third most successful team in the history of Formula 1 went on to record their worst start to a season ever. The reliability in testing evaporated with both cars failing to make it to the chequered flag in the first two races. As the teething problems were fixed, the speed never returned. Both cars made it to the finish in China, Turkey and Spain but only could manage a highest finish of 13th for Rubens in China.
Sir Frank said he was first alerted to the talents of Venezuelan, Maldanado, around the street of Monaco when he took his first win there in GP2 in 2007 in his debut season. He was to again show his talents around the principality, qualifying in 8th (the first Williams car to get through to Q3). In the race he continued to shine running 6th with 5 laps to go when an ambitious move by Lewis Hamilton ended his race. It was left to Rubens Barrichello to pick up the teams first points, benefiting from Pastors demise to finish 9th. He followed that up with another 9th place finish in Canada which was the last time Williams have scored any points.
The price of the worst start to a season was paid by Sam Michael and John Tomlinson who both tendered their resignations and will leave the team after the Korean Grand Prix. Williams have embarked on a major re-shuffle in a bid to turn their ailing fortunes around. Mike Coughlan was announced as Chief Engineer (Read more on the re-shuffle here) as well as rekindling their famous relationship with engine supplier, Renault.
There has been some positives for Sir Frank to take going forward. Veteran Rubens Barichello certainly doesn’t feel any of his 39 years, tweeting recently “If Williams offered me a two year contract, I’d sign it right now”. Pastor Maldanado has show he has real pace, out qualifying his team-mate on several occasions, there isn’t a dull moment with Pastor with his flamboyant style making him look like being on the edge of losing control, especially in Monaco. He can count himself very unlucky not to have scored any points and not to be ahead of Rubens.