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Williams and Honda endure difficult races 16 Jul 2006

Nico Rosberg (GER) Williams FW28 and Jenson Button (GBR) Honda RA106.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 11, French Grand Prix, Race, Magny-Cours, France, 15 July 2006

Tyre problems for one, double retirement for the other

The French Grand Prix marked another trying weekend for both Honda and Williams - and the two British-based team must be wondering what they have to do to improve their miserable fortunes of late.

It’s now five races since Williams scored a championship point, and on the evidence from France, there seems little sign of any imminent resurgence in their fortunes. Mark Webber missed the cut for the top 10 in qualifying, ending up in 11th place - although he was promoted to 10th after team mate Nico Rosberg took a ten-position penalty from his P9 qualifying performance after an engine change.

Rosberg made a strong start, passing Monteiro and Button on the first lap, but his progress through the pack soon stalled and he was running in a lowly 17th place. Webber also gained two places at the start, moving up into eighth and holding off Pedro de la Rosa’s McLaren during the opening stages of the race.

After the first round of pit stops Webber was still running in eighth, and looked to be in a good position to salvage at least one championship point from the weekend: until he suffered from a dramatic high-speed spin with a rear-left tyre problem. He returned to the pits where the team discovered that the tyre had apparently delaminated; it was replaced and he was sent out again.

But just two laps later the Australian was back into the pits for another unscheduled stop - and another rear-left tyre issue. His race effectively run, Webber was sent back out again in an attempt to find out what the technical problem was: but after a total of five pitstops he finally retired from last place. The team subsequently revealed they had experienced as yet unexplained problems with tyres running over temperature and that the Australian had also suffered a wheel rim failure which had caused too much damage for him to continue.

Rosberg managed to get to the flag, albeit in a distant 14th place, behind both Red Bulls and both Toro Rossos. It was a performance Williams know they will have to reverse in coming races if they are to have any chance of improving on their current eighth-place standing in the constructors’ championship.

Over at Honda, things were little better. After a strong start to the season the team has had an increasingly torrid time in recent races, and will be hoping that France marked the lowest ebb of their 2006 fortunes. Barrichello qualified in a disappointing 13th place, while Button found himself all the way down in 17th, behind Toro Rosso’s Scott Speed (14th) and Midland’s Christijan Albers (15th).

Things didn’t get any better when the race started. Rubens Barrichello found himself battling with his car and coasted into the pits to retire on lap 18. Jenson Button lasted longer, getting to lap 61 before unspecified technical maladies ended his race and he came into the pits to retire from 11th place.