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2008 Team Review - Williams: one step forward, two steps back 03 Dec 2008

Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW30.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Qualifying, Singapore, Saturday, 27 September 2008 Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 15, Singapore Grand Prix, Race, Marina Bay Street Circuit, Singapore, Sunday, 28 September 2008 Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) Williams FW30.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, 31 October 2008 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/23 retired from the race and Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW30 hit him at the end of the pit lane.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday, 8 June 2008 Kazuki Nakajima (JPN) Williams at the Williams team photograph.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Race Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, 2 November 2008. © Sutton

It has been four long years since Williams last tasted victory with Juan Pablo Montoya’s win at the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix. In the meantime the British team have seen their fortunes gradually dwindle - and their performance this season has done little to assuage the fall from grace.

Despite scoring two podiums, Williams ended the year eighth in the standings, compared to fourth last season, scooping four points less than in 2007. It followed a campaign in which they fell victim to both their own car’s deficiencies and to the success of their rivals.

The Grove factory remained as packed as ever with dedicated staff, led by the indefatigable Frank Williams, whilst a young driver line-up promised both ambition and skill. Kazuki Nakajima was very much an unknown quantity at the start of the year, but Nico Rosberg’s talent was well proven and things began well for the German with a maiden podium at the season opener in Melbourne.

Rosberg had looked strong all weekend and in the race’s closing stages the FW30 was far and away the fastest car on track as it powered him to third place. It was an encouraging start for Williams, but unhappily it was a performance that wouldn’t be repeated for another six months.

The main problem was the massive variation in the car’s performance from track to track. On circuits dominated by relatively low-speed corners, like Australia, Monaco, Canada, Italy and Singapore, the FW30 was surefooted enough to challenge the Renaults and BMW Saubers (and occasionally even the Ferraris and McLarens). But at others, in particular the high-speed circuits of Silverstone and Spa, it struggled. Rosberg qualified a miserable 18th at the British Grand Prix.

It was at Singapore in September that the team secured their second podium of the year, Rosberg taking a somewhat fortuitous second place to score his best-ever result. That was the good luck - bad luck seemed more commonplace. Rosberg lost valuable points to a Toyota engine failure in Spain and threw away the chance of more in Canada when he followed Lewis Hamilton into that now infamous pit-lane pile up.

For the most part Nakajima failed to match the pace of his more experienced team mate and racked up a few inevitable rookie errors. But they weren’t too numerous and the Japanese driver justified Williams’ decision to give him a race seat. Indeed, he accrued nine points over the course of the season - two more than his famous father, Satoru, mustered during his 1987 debut.

As the season progressed Williams gradually refocused their energies away from the hit-and-miss FW30, and towards its 2009 successor. Like BMW Sauber, it could be argued that the switch was premature, but unlike BMW Sauber Williams hadn’t already established a firm hold on their targeted championship position. From fourth in the standings after May’s Monaco race they lost places first to Red Bull and engine suppliers Toyota, and subsequently to Renault and Toro Rosso. Unable to match the advancements of their midfield rivals, they ultimately finished the year with only Honda and Force India behind them.

As the only independent team not backed by a billionaire, things aren’t likely to get much easier in terms of resources for Williams next year either, especially in the current economic climate. But with a head start on their 2009 programme, and the prospect of regulation changes cancelling out others’ advantages, the British team are clearly determined to come out fighting. The comeback trail starts here.