Formula One 2012: The ups and downs of the Williams team
By Berthold Bouman
The biggest surprise of the season was, without a doubt, the resurgence of the Williams team. After a disastrous 2011 campaign Sir Frank Williams decided to overhaul the whole technical department of his team, and also decided to switch from the Cosworth engine to the very fast and reliable Renault engine.
He also hired Formula One spy-gate sinner Mike Coughlan and made him Technical Director, Pastor Maldonado was still very welcome as he brought many millions of dollars to the team, and Williams hired Bruno Senna as second driver.
Maldonado proved to be a regular top ten qualifier, but Senna only once made it into the top ten, which was disappointing to say the least. During the first race of the season the Williams car seemed promising as Maldonado had advanced to sixth place during the Australian Grand Prix, but he made a small mistake on the penultimate lap, crashed hard, and finished in 13th instead of sixth place.
The Malaysian, Chinese and Bahrain Grands Prix didn’t bring the Williams team much fortune either, but when Maldonado was promoted to pole-sitter of the Spanish Grand Prix — after McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton ran out of fuel after his qualifying lap and was demoted to 24th and last place — all eyes were on the Williams team.
Maldonado initially lost the lead on the Circuit de Catalunya to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, but after an epic battle with the Spaniard he regained the lead again and went on to win the Spanish Grand Prix, giving Sir Frank his first victory in eight years.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling winning my first race,” Maldonado reported after the race. “Alonso was chasing me hard but we looked after our tyres well and I managed to open the gap towards the end. The team has worked so hard all year and this win is for them. To be the first Venezuelan to win a Formula One race is a big honour and hopefully I will win more races in the future.”
Until then, Maldonado had been labelled as a pay-driver, with more money than talent, but after his maiden victory Sir Frank said, “He did a great job, he’s a very happy boy, he deserves to be. He fully deserves to be in the team with or without the dosh. The truth is that if you haven’t got the dosh you can’t go Formula One racing.”
But after the triumph, there was the tragedy. A fire broke out in the Williams garage during a victory speech of Sir Frank just an hour after the race, seven Formula One personnel were taken to hospital, a total of 31 personnel were injured by the blaze but most of them could be treated by the doctors present at the medical centre of the Circuit de Catalunya.
It was a very narrow escape, but it was time to move on, as Williams now thought they could win more races with the car designed by Coughlan and his team. But it didn’t happen, not for Maldonado, nor for Senna.
Although Maldonado regularly qualified in the top ten, he was involved too many times in silly do-or-die overtaking manoeuvres and other on-track incidents which cost him dearly as he received numerous grid penalties and was also officially reprimanded by the FIA Stewards and received a 10,000 Euro fine after he had taken out Sergio Perez during the British Grand Prix. In fact, he didn’t score one single point until the Japanese Grand Prix in October.
The same applied to Senna, the highlight of his season was the Malaysian Grand Prix in March, where he finished sixth and collected eight points. He was also involved in too many accidents, which all can be attributed to being too inexperienced, or being too eager.
Williams had a very fast car in 2012, but their drivers did not have the patience or experience to regularly score points. Both gentleman threw away at least some 50 points each, therefore Williams finished the season in seventh place of the Constructors’ Championship, Maldonado was 15th, and Senna 16th in the Drivers’ Championship.
Williams 2012 is the story of missed opportunities, the one victory didn’t bring the team back to the top, and after the Spanish Grand Prix everything went downhill again. Senna will be replaced by the talented Valtteri Bottas in 2013, but Williams first and foremost should give their drivers more guidance and personal coaching in 2013, to avoid another disappointing season, a season that started so well.