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MAY 25, 2004

The goings-on at Williams

Much has been written about the shortcomings of the McLaren-Mercedes Benz MP4-19 this year but while the Woking team has been taking a lot of the flak, there performance of the BMW Williams team has also been rather less good than one would have expected. The team, which opens a second windtunnel today at its headquarters in Grove, is now languishing in fourth place in the Constructors' Championship with 35 points compared to Ferrari's 88; Renault's 52 and BAR-Honda's 40.

These four teams are now well clear of the rest which are now led by Sauber.

Some of the lack of World Championship points at Williams has, without doubt, been due to Ralf Schumacher's lack of performance this year but in part Ralf cannot be blamed because he has had a string of problems with his gearboxes. However he has also made a lot of mistakes which have cost the team points. Juan Pablo Montoya has done better but his best finish to date has been one second place and that was back at the Malaysian GP.

At high speed tracks the car seems to be much more competitive but judging by what happened in Monaco, the Williams-BMW does not like slow-speed corners. The team's performance at Monaco was not very impressive although Montoya did manage to collect a few points in fourth place.

With the current Formula 1 regulations there are three things which are important in slow-speed corners: an engine with sufficient low-down horsepower; a good traction-control system and as much downforce as possible. The team has made no secret of its never-ending search for more aerodynamic efficiency but we have also heard that there is pressure on at Grove to produce a better traction-control system and, horror of horrors, we have also heard voices suggesting that the BMW V10 engine is not as good a package as it used to be, despite its image as being one of the best in Formula 1. That was the case but this year it seems rival engine manufacturers have made progress and the other drivers are saying that now the most impressive engine is the Honda V10 while the Ferrari and the Toyota engines are both felt to be slightly better than the BMW. The German press has criticised the lack of success this year on Williams and has even suggested that Patrick Head's decision to switch jobs was taken under pressure from BMW. This is not the case and the impression we get is that Head will be more involved than ever but will hand over a lot of the day-to-day management to Sam Michael which will enable him to spend more time getting to bottom of the current problems.