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OCTOBER 23, 2000

Picking over the debris of a season

MOST members of the F1 fraternity aboard British Airways' newest Boeing 777 as it lifted off from KL international airport at a few minutes before midnight, Flight BA 034 bound for Heathrow, on Sunday evening were probably asleep even before the wheels came up.

Ron Dennis, Patrick Head, Flavio Briatore, David Coulthard and Jenson Button, to name but a handful, might well have been shooting the breeze in First Class for a short while, but most of Grand Prix racing's foot soldiers further back down the bus were happy to switch off at least for a few hours from the pressures of a relentless fortnightly grind which has been endured since the beginning of March. There would be plenty of time for post-mortems on the season in the days and weeks that followed.

Truth be told, of course, that will be a pretty painful affair for most teams concerned. The Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes teams have set a pretty impressive benchmark by any standards. And leaping that daunting chasm from the status of also-ran to star performer promises to be just as difficult in 2001.

"We've had a few strong races this year, but 36 points in the Constructors Championship - when you look at the top two - is a pretty feeble performance," said Patrick Head, referring to the Williams team's performance relative to the opposition.

"Obviously it's not an aspiration of ours to be third in the Championship and this is our longest period without a win."

Despite this, Williams can feel pretty satisfied with its first season with BMW as its engine supply partner. The BMW Motorsport engineering team has done a magnificent job this year, not only boosting their V10's power from around 740 to 800bhp, but also steadily enhancing its reliability and driveability.

Jenson Button has been a brilliant discovery and the only slightly discordant note for the team is the manner in which Ralf Schumacher's form seems to have wobbled. Having gone looking a potential winner in 1999, he has had several outings this year where he looked as though his motivation was flagging.

Head declined to comment, but another Williams inside summed it up neatly; "Jenson has given Ralf a wake-up call and he doesn't like it." He's not likely to have any easier a time with Juan Pablo Montoya next year, either.