INTERVIEW

Frank Williams

This year Frank Williams and his Formula 1 team - Williams Grand Prix Engineering - are trying to win a third consecutive double World Championship victory - aiming for both the Formula 1 Drivers' and Constructors' titles to follow up those won in 1992 with Nigel Mansell and last year with Alain Prost.

Prost has now left the team, but Frank is not worried, because after years of trying he has finally succeeded in hiring Ayrton Senna, who is currently unchallenged as the best racing driver in the world.

Senna first drove a Williams 10 years ago when he was a young Formula 3 star, looking to make his break into Grand Prix racing, but he signed for Toleman and then spent long spells at Lotus and, for the last six years, McLaren. Frank and Ayrton often talked but somehow they were never in a position to do a deal.

Frank is unashamedly delighted to have finally signed up Ayrton.

"I wouldn't deny that I am very happy with the situation," he says with a big smile. "I've been after him for 10 years, not chasing him every day but it has never be very far from my mind.

"It has always been the case that I would like to have him in the team but the circumstances - usually because of conflicting contracts - meant that it was never possible. Now we have finally come together.

"I think Ayrton is the best. His principal rival today is Benetton's Michael Schumacher.

"Ayrton is a much more intense individual than Michael. Maybe he is more dedicated and he has quite a few more years of experience. Having said that I think Michael will push him in identical equipment."

Clearly Frank does not believe Schumacher's Benetton-Ford will be in the same league of equipment as the new Williams-Renault FW16?

"I would imagine that this year the Ford engine will still have a small performance gap to the Renault. It will only be a small gap and I don't think it will be as much as people would like to point out."

And what about Williams? How will Senna adapt to a very different kind of team than the one he was used to at McLaren? Will there be trouble?

"People say that Ayrton is hard to work with," says Frank. "Well, a year ago people were saying the same things about Alain Prost. They said Alain would split the team into pieces and so on, but that wasn't the case. Ayrton is just different. He is much more intense and much more demanding in his own way than Alain and we look forward to the challenge of keeping him happy.

"I am sure he will deliver the results and I think if we can deliver the equipment it will be a successful and enjoyable relationship. That's only a general remark really, because I have no experience of him at all in this situation."

And how will Damon Hill and Senna get along. The pair had a few run-ins in 1993 and now as team mates the relationship could be a difficult one.

"I think they will be fairly hairy-chested towards one another," says Frank. "I don't think we will see Patrick Head trying to keep them apart, that is too much over the top, but they won't be as close as Alain and Damon were last year. There is no question about that.

"I think Damon is going to have a hard season because we are not going to have the huge kind of advantage we did last year. If we have an advantage at all it will be a small one and he is going to be thoroughly tested, both by Ayrton and by all the others like Schumacher, Alesi and Berger."

So who does Frank think the chief opposition will be?

"I tend to think that at the beginning of the season Ferrari is going to be our closest rival. Their engines look very strong and refuelling is going to help them. Alesi and Berger are very quick guys and being able to stops twice for fuel and tyres is going to help Ferrari more than anyone else.

"At the moment it is crazy of me really to say that one team is going to better than another, because I don't really know. When we have had two or three races and have the measure of each others' equipment it would be a better time to tell.

Isn't Frank worried about the new McLaren-Peugeot alliance?

"That really depends who is driving for them, I don't think that Mika Hakkinen is going to be a challenge to Ayrton for sometime to come, despite having outqualified him in Estoril last year."

And what about Lotus-Mugen Honda?

"In a way this year is such a jumble because everything is so new. I'd be foolish to say they will not be up there because the Honda engines will be strong, there is no question about that. The current cars are relatively simple now so with a good engine Lotus could be very strong."

And Sauber-Mercedes?

"They were very quick in the Barcelona testing in December and they were doing good times all the time. They weren't that slow on the straights and they were carrying a lot of wing. So yes they will probably be quite strong."

So, if Frank Williams had to say who will be world champion this year, what would he say?

"On the face of it, we have been the favorites, but that is just on a piece of paper, isn't it? I don't subscribe to that view at all. I think we will be a strong contender and that's all I will admit to. What we have up our sleeves is our ongoing development programme. The success depends on how good that is and how quickly we can produce the new ideas. Patrick Head keeps making the point that we will need to produce it very quickly and keep developing all the time so I reckon we will be doing even more development work than last year."

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