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Williams Want Their Ball Back

Having seen how close Red Bull are to making the breakthrough to the front with their RB3, it must be said that there is another team that could do the same, if they can overcome their reliability problems. That is Williams, of course.

Nico

Nico Rosberg in the FW29

In contrast to the Red Bull car, the FW29 has looked good from the moment it turned a wheel and, more often than not, it has made better use of the Toyota engine than the factory team where lap times are concerned. But the Toyotas are finishing the races whereas the Williams tend not to.

This is Williams we are talking about, however; a team with more history and experience in F1 than most. It is a safe bet that they will have improved reliability by the next GP. Much depends on how quickly they can wring more performance from the tires and the chassis therefore.

Everyone will be using the four-week gap to Barcelona as an opportunity to sort out the cars and make them quicker. Those who can wring that little bit extra from their machine will be the teams that move forward – and Williams ought to be amongst those, building on their knowledge and understanding of racing. In fact, all else being equal, one would expect them to emerge from the chasing group before Red Bull do so.

At that point, everything will hinge upon the driver pairing of Rosberg and Wurz. It’s a strange line-up in some ways, the promising youngster allied with the solid but unpredictable returning veteran, but it is looking good so far. Nico Rosberg is obviously quick and has the same level head that we admire so much in Lewis Hamilton; Alex has lost none of his ambition, as demonstrated in his drive from the back in Bahrain. Both have a lot to prove but are unlikely to make too many mistakes along the way.

So things look good for Williams at the moment and I cannot explain the nagging doubt that lingers in my mind. I want the team to return to competitiveness but something prevents me from predicting podiums for them this season. They will score points, yes, and I confidently expect them to finish the year ahead of Toyota; but to get to the level of Ferrari and McLaren or even BMW? I just can’t see it.

In writing these articles on each team thus far, I have been struck by how close a season it is. There are such tiny differences in the performance of so many teams that it is hard to see just who will move forward and who will fall behind. It will only take a suddenly-discovered tweak in one of the chasing teams for them to leap into contention – and that could easily happen.

For Button’s sake, I have to hope that it’s Honda that makes the jump; but far more likely is that it will be Williams.

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Practice Sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix

Friday Practice in Malaysia was another inconclusive event, apart from proving that the Ferraris are still fastest. Felipe Massa was quickest in both sessions with Raikkonnen giving his impression of a man merely waiting until it counts before revealing his hand. No prizes for guessing who will be on pole, particularly as the team maintain there will be no engine changes this time round.

The speed of the Renault and Williams cars was interesting, even though both teams insisted that it meant nothing. No doubt they will be a little slower with race fuel and tires but the signs are still hopeful that things are improving for them.

David

David Coulthard in the Red Bull RB3

In contrast, BMW hit problems, finding it difficult to set the cars up correctly and slipping down the time sheets as a result. McLaren too lagged a bit behind their usual performance but that will prove a temporary thing, I’m sure.

The award for consistency has to go to Honda and Toyota, both mystified as to why their cars behave so badly and outpaced by their “B teams”. It must be very tempting for Toyota to borrow Alex Wurz from Williams to find out what they’re doing wrong. Honda, unfortunately, does not even have that possibility although, if Colin Kolles manages to stop Super Aguri running last year’s Hondas, the parent company could always ask for their ball back.

In qualifying we can expect it to be business as usual, with the Ferraris at the front, McLaren just behind and either BMW or Renault thereafter. Williams should be a little closer, perhaps with both cars this time, and Toyota will fight with Red Bull and Super Aguri for the next spots.

It sounds as though the season is becoming predictable but I think all that will change once they get to Europe. Expect some sudden improvements in some of the teams at that point and some shuffling of the order as a result.

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Alex Wurz – The Forgotten One

There has been a lot of talk of who will be the quickest rookie this year, with Hamilton and Kovalainen emerging as the most likely candidates (a fair bet, since they’re in the quickest cars) and Adrian Sutil getting the occasional mention. Kubica gets honorary rookie status in view of his late addition to the ranks last year, as does Anthony Davidson since he had so few races and those so long ago.

But poor old Alexander Wurz never gets a look-in. Of course, with 53 GPs under his belt, he’s no rookie, but his race as stand-in for Montoya at Imola in 2005 was his only GP in seven years. That’s almost long enough to include him with the other newbies.

Alex

Alex Wurz

Alex’s curse has been that he’s the best test driver out there – hence his years of testing with McLaren and Williams. His racing reputation was severely mauled by his last year with Benetton when his teammate, Fisichella, proved quicker. So Alex is regarded as a known quantity, quick occasionally but inconsistent.

But I wonder. Part of his problem has been his height – on occasion he has had difficulty fitting into the car and this must surely make driving a bit more awkward. Look how Mark Webber has been griping about the Red Bull RB3 pinching his rear end.

Even so, Alex managed a third place in that lone race in 2005 – not bad for a guy making his comeback after a long break. There is just a chance that he might show up his young sidekick, Nico Rosberg, in the other Williams. And, if the Williams proves as quick in the races as it has been in testing, we could see Wurz appearing much closer to the front than anyone expects.

It is not that I am expecting any miracles from Alex this season; more that I hope he can get in there and mix things up even more than they are at present. F1 really needs a championship fought out between several drivers and the more wild cards added to the deck, the more likely it is that that will happen.

So I wish Alex the best of luck – may he puncture more than a few over-inflated egos this year. And let us see that great, beaming, goofy smile again as he tots up the points.

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Helmet Design

Williams quietly unveiled their FW29 today and kept the hype very low key – the car must speak for itself on track, they advised. It is visibly a Williams with colors not much changed in spite of their new sponsor, Lenovo, but it appears to have grown a splendid mustache this year, the upper component of the front wing assembly curving up and away from the lower element. Messing around with the nose of the car is almost becoming a Williams tradition.

Helmets 1

As I was looking through the photographs, I came upon the standard portraits of the drivers and was struck by the complexity of their helmet designs. Much of this is caused by the profusion of advertising, of course, but there does seem to be a trend towards increasingly confusing designs. These days it isn’t easy to identify the drivers as they whoosh past, hunkered down between their high cockpit sides and its shoulder bulges, and these modern helmets don’t help with their profusion of colors and strange shapes.

Even a driver as recently arrived as David Coulthard has a clear and simple design for his helmet, based on Scotland’s flag without embellishment and instantly recognizable as a result. Compare this with Kathikeyan’s, also inspired by his nation’s flag but managing to appear similar in its spiky Indian wheel to Wurz’s red and white zigzags. Considering how much of the helmet is obscured by adverts, it hardly seems worth going into such detail with the design.

Helmets 2

Back in the good old days (said the old fart) things were much simpler. Nelson Piquet’s red and white teardrop and stripes were easily identified and Senna stuck with an even plainer theme of green and blue stripes on a yellow background.

Speaking of yellow, it does seem to be the in color of the moment – most new drivers use it somewhere on their helmets and Lewis Hamilton favors it almost to excess. I wonder if this is a subconscious hope that Senna’s magic might have come partially from his helmet colors. Don’t laugh – the F1 drivers are a pretty superstitious bunch.

Take green cars, for instance. There is a tradition going back over fifty years that green is an unlucky color in racing. That might have come from the fifties, when all the British cars were green and were routinely thrashed by the Italian red, and it should really have been exorcised by Lotus in the sixties and Benetton in the nineties. But I suspect that the myth lingers on, perhaps given new life by Jaguar’s brief return to F1.

To return to helmets, the fashion for complex designs certainly doesn’t help commentators and could make Murray Walkers of them all. Which is bad news for young drivers trying to make a name for themselves. If I were a driver just entering F1, I’d buck the trend and go for the simplest helmet design imaginable.

Oh, wait a minute – wasn’t Mark Webber wearing an unadorned white helmet in one of the recent test sessions…?

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