Q&A with Williams Patrick Head 05 Mar 2008
Williams' director of engineering Patrick Head is feeling pretty confident about the season ahead. Not only does his driver line-up include a quick rookie (Kazuki Nakajima) and an established talent (Nico Rosberg), but the teams FW30 is showing enough potential to make Head believe the British squad could well be celebrating some podiums this season
Q: The team seems to have faired well in winter testing. What are your expectations for the season ahead?
PH: We want to continue our progress back, from a very low point of 2006, to being a leading team, always in a position to challenge for race wins and the championship.
Q: The media are speculating that Williams could be the leading team behind Ferrari and McLaren this year, is this realistic?
PH: It is too early to say where we will be in the pecking order. It looks as if Ferrari and McLaren have made strong progress from 2007, BMW have a car that seems quick and Renault have made progress, I am sure some of which is coming from the cockpit with Alonso back at the helm. Red Bull are beginning to look stronger and Toro Rosso are making the best of a car that they are familiar with, they certainly cannot be dismissed. We have certainly made progress, but we will not see where we stand until after the season starts.
Q: What improvements have been brought to the FW30 over the FW29 and how is it technically different to its predecessor?
PH: The FW30 is a progression along the theme of the FW29, although the cooling installations are quite different. Obviously it has benefited from nearly nine months' of aero development from the original FW29, although some of the changes have been applied during the FW29's development through 2007.
Q: The team finished last year's championship in fourth place, a major step up from 2006. Could a fight for the championship be on the cards in two or three seasons' time?
PH: We never design a new car to be fourth! Obviously we are always designing for the highest possible position, so the result depends upon our relative capability at the time. Although Nico will be starting his third season in F1, Kazuki will be starting his first, so the driver line-up will not be as experienced as might be expected for a team competing for a championship. However, we intend to be regular podium visitors in 2008. The reliability of current Formula One cars means that this can only be achieved with a car that is close to front running performance.
Q: Nico enters his third season as a race driver for the team and Kazuki is making his debut. Are they working well together?
PH: Yes, they are. Kazuki is steadily increasing his speed, particularly with qualifying simulation of a single lap on new tyres. We expect Nico to be our lead driver, but Kazuki will give a good account of himself.
Q: 2008 is a celebratory year for Williams in which 500 Grand Prixs and 50,000 racing laps will be reached. Did you foresee such longevity when you started the team?
PH: I don't think either Frank (Williams) or I thought about it. Formula One teams in those days tended to come and go. In our first five years or so it was a financial struggle to survive, but luckily we started winning races and then championships quite early, so this made the financial side stronger.
Q: What has been the biggest change in Formula One racing you've witnessed during your tenure?
PH: The scale of the activity has changed enormously with the level of coverage. Now some teams have well above 100 personnel that they take to each race, many of whom have no operational connection to the running of the cars, but are from marketing or the logistics-support side.
Q: Your relationship with Frank has endured for over 30 years. What is the key to its success?
PH: Fundamentally, Frank and I have a similar view about the joys of motor racing and we both look after different parts of the challenge; myself on the technical side and Frank on marketing and finance, as well as relationships with our senior partners, so we do not trip over each other too much.
Q: Did you envisage you would achieve 16 world championships when you set up Williams F1?
PH: No, not at all, but we both wanted to achieve as much as possible.
Q: If you could pinpoint one overriding element to the team's success, what would it be?
PH: Consistent guidance from the top, an understanding that F1 is essentially a technical and organisational problem as well as an appreciation of how much we rely upon the skills and enthusiasm of our employees.
Q: Out of 500 races, which has been your most satisfying?
PH: Winning races is satisfying, but it is what we set out to do, so not winning is failing in that task. Once the race is over, both Frank and I tend to be thinking about the future.
Q: And lastly, what are your predictions for the 2008 season as a whole?
PH: That the races will be contested mostly between Ferrari and McLaren, as in 2007, that at least one race will be won by a third team and that Williams will make progress from 2007.