Williams technical director Sam Michael has confessed that the window of opportunity to return to the top step of the Formula One podium may have closed for the Grove team, despite Nico Rosberg continuing to show glimpses of front-running pace.
The German has been a regular fixture at the head of the free practice times in the four ''flyaway' races that opened the 2009 F1 season, but has yet to convert single lap speed into sufficient race pace to return Williams to the top step of the podium for the first time since Juan Pablo Montoya's success in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix. Despite being armed with a version of the controversial 'double-decker' diffuser, Michael admits that the FW31 may now be contending only for points as the return to European venues gives the rest of the field - including powerhouses McLaren and Ferrari - the chance to develop their own technology.
"The FW31 has been quite quick in the opening few races, but we haven't delivered in terms of points and that's been very frustrating," the Australian admitted, "Our rivals are catching up quickly and it will be difficult to maintain a development edge over them during the year, but that's our job and we'll keep pushing."
Acknowledging that drivers Rosberg and Nico Rosberg 'are doing the best job that they can', Michael conceded that the team has not always served them well on race day and that, with the new regulations bringing the field closer together - rather than spreading it out, as expected - the smallest factor can affect results.
"We've made a few mistakes," he confessed, "In Australia, we had a problem with a wheel nut, which cost Nico about ten seconds; in Malaysia, we didn't switch to intermediate tyres at the right time, and, in China, we made the wrong strategic call with Nico when we brought him in during the first safety car period.
"The rules are quite restrictive this year and the development [of the car] is contained to specific areas of the car. As a result, the field is very close together - in Bahrain, there were just 1.3secs separating first and 20th positions. The racing's been really good, and the victories of Brawn and Red Bull have brought new characters and new faces to the fore. Formula One is about a team working well technically and a driver driving well - it's free competition and the people that do the best job are the ones that deserve to succeed."
Confirming his belief in the legality of the FW31's diffuser design, and insisting that the protests that resulted from it had not deflected the team's attention to much, Michael admitted that it was imperative that Williams managed to get its unique KERS system up and running in order to keep ahead of its rivals.
"As the rate of development slows, KERS will take on a greater significance," he explained, "We're working flat-out to get it onto the FW31 as soon as possible, but I can't say when that will be at this stage. As soon as it's ready, it'll be on the car."
Williams heads to the fifth round of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona next weekend, eighth in the constructors' championship with just 3.5 points from the opening four rounds, all scored by Rosberg.