Patrick Head believes the change in regulations in Formula 1 in 2009 has provided Williams with its best chance of upsetting the applecart in years – now the team must make sure it makes the most of its opportunity.
During a period of significant technical and aerodynamic upheaval – implemented with the dual objective of dramatically reducing costs whilst at the same time improving the on-track spectacle – those teams that are able to innovate and adapt are likely to hit the ground running somewhat quicker than those less skilled in that area. And few are as skilled in innovation as is Williams.
“Obviously we've got very different rules,” the Grove-based outfit's engineering director Head told UK newspaper The Sun
, “and it's an opportunity for every team – only the start of the season will show whether we've used that opportunity well. A lot of work has gone on behind the 2009 car, with a lot of time in the wind tunnel. It's completely different, and in a way it's quite nice when things change as much as that.
“Certainly in recent years we've been competing against teams with four, five, six times our budget; we haven't been complaining about it, but yes it's been quite difficult to hang in there with the vast resources that have been available to these manufacturer companies. Now, for obvious reasons, the tap has been either turned off or closed a bit, and it probably gives us an opportunity if we're clever enough to take advantage of that.
“I suppose everybody's got their own interpretation on the regulations, and maybe whichever car proves quickest, they'll all start looking at that one. Adrian Newey seems to have done a good job with his Red Bull, but I think everybody is doing their own thing and running with fairly high amounts of fuel. I don't think we've seen yet who's quick and who's not.”
Indeed, for a team that has in the past claimed no fewer than seven drivers' world championship crowns and nine constructors' titles, a 72-race stretch without so much as even a sniff at victory has been hard to take. Eighth position in the 2008 constructors' standings was symptomatic of three years that have fallen well short of both Head and co-founder Sir Frank Williams' expectations, with a mere three rostrum finishes to show for their efforts from more than 50 starts.
Since engine partner BMW left to take over Sauber at the end of the 2005 campaign, Williams has been valiantly battling against far wealthier rivals – invariably beginning the season strongly, only to slip increasingly off the pace as they have been unable to afford to keep up with their competitors' relentless development drive. It would be fair to assume that the recently-announced departure of key sponsor the Royal Bank of Scotland at the end of 2010 [see separate story – click here
] will only serve to exacerbate that decline. Not so, Head insists.
“I would say in Formula 1 terms, having one of one's major sponsors confirm they're going to be with you for the next two years is actually a positive rather than a negative,” the 63-year-old asserted. “RBS are a very good sponsor, but they represent less than 15 per cent of our total budget.
“Obviously it's a very difficult environment for banking, but at the Singapore Grand Prix RBS had 700 guests, all from Pacific Rim business heavy-hitters, and they said to us that they reckon they got value out of that grand prix alone. Yes, we're in a recession, but business still goes on, commerce still goes on and banks have to play their part and have to take their share of the commerce. Formula 1 is a brilliant showplace in which people can do business.”