Thursday, 8 January 2015

Symonds reflects on Williams' resurgence

One of the major, and most popular, stories of the 2014 F1 season was the long-overdue resurgence of the hardy Williams team. From a starting point of only beating the Marussias and Caterhams in 2013 the veteran squad in a single effort vaulted straight to third place in the constructors championship in 2014, shy only of Mercedes and Red Bull. Perhaps too the FW36 was the imperious Mercs' most consistent irritant on pure pace.

Pat Symonds spoke today at Autosport
International  2015 about Williams'
resurgence, among other subjects
Today at Autosport International 2015, considered widely as the starting point of the motorsport year, a man thought as important as anyone in the startling comeback, Williams' Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds, reflected on the shift in fortunes.

'It (the Williams 2014 season) was certainly a good news story I think' said Symonds, 'all the way from our partnership with Martini, bringing back those iconic colours, Felipe joining the team and then of course as we progressed through the season the results. Third in the championship is something everyone at Grove is extremely proud of.'

He outlined however that such is modern F1's way there was no single overarching explanation for the jump, things instead were more granular. 'There isn't a magic bullet, there never is...it really is getting everything working together. That's not just in a technical sense it's an operational sense.

'In the latter part of '13 I had a very careful look at what we'd got and saw that we've got some very good people but some of our processes weren't there so we weren't exploiting the performance of the car.

'So we worked hard on that, and as a race team we improved immeasurably over the winter and during the course of the year.

'It's illustrated by simple things like pit stops. At the end of 2013 a Williams pit stop was a worry! They were very slow, they were very unreliable pit stops. During 2014 several times we set the fastest pit stop of the weekend, they were regularly good. It just shows how the team developed because by the end of the season we were actually racing from the front.

'It's (an F1 team is) as good as its weakest part...particularly these days, the team's so large in F1 that the attention to detail we see just doesn't allow any little part to be substandard. Everything has to be at top level.'

Symonds also outlined that the Grove team's success was far from just being about having the jewel of the Mercedes power unit in the back. 'The power unit is absolutely first class...so the way we were able to use the energy that we had was way beyond where Renault and Ferrari were at the beginning of the season.

'But of course it wasn't just the power unit. In 2013 we had the same power unit as guys who won the championship and finished ninth. In 2014 we had the same power unit as guys who won the championship and finished third.

'There were a lot of new things that came in last year. The power unit was obviously the most significant, but things like brake-by-wire, new aerodynamic regulations which were far more significant than other people realised, and I think we got on top of all of those. Now our brake-by-wire system was absolutely trouble-free, the drivers didn't even know it was there. That's the quality of engineering that we were able to bring to 2014.'

Symonds, as he was early in the 2014 campaign, also today had strong words for some of those who denigrated the new spec of F1 last season in public.

Symonds was again critical of those
who denigrated F1 2014-style
'It was a great shame that at the time that we should be promoting what we've done in Formula One in terms of the fabulous energy efficiency we've brought to the power units that the focus from those who really should know better was on the sound (of the power units). Yeah, the sound's different, of course it is, that's progress. Personally, it's quite nice to hear the tyres squealing a little bit...'

He was however critical of the look of the noses: 'the looks...you'd have to be a mother to love something like that!

'I think we'll see it working a little bit better in 2015, as the rules around the nose and the front of the chassis have been tightened up quite a lot. Unfortunately I think we're going to see a lot of similarity...you're designed into a corner'.

On this perennial modern subject of whether the sport's technical rules these days are too restrictive generally, Symonds in this sense was realistic however.

'I've got two hats, as an engineer yes of course I would (like to have more of a free reign)...If I put my other hat on we do have a business to run, and as unfortunately we've seen in Formula One it's a business that's barely sustainable.

'This is not the time to open the rules up. I hope one day it will be.'

Symonds went further on the subject of F1's much-criticised financial model, under which two teams at the back of the grid hit the buffers late in 2014 while three more admit they exist in a desperate struggle to survive. 'If you want to call that a mess, it's a mess' he said. 'There is a reluctance to sit down and sort it out. The trouble is that so much is done without the transparency that I believe we should have. And those who are protecting their position are going to protect their position - and that's their job of course, you're not going to get Ferrari saying "actually guys we've got far too much money we'll give you some". It's unrealistic. So what we need is to start again, and that won't happen until the current commercial agreements expire.

'It should be a meritocracy. The meritocracy is probably a little bit too biased towards the top at the moment. They say it's tough at the top; Formula One shows it's actually even more tough at the bottom.'

As for the future for Williams, Symonds admitted that improvement this season from the standards set by 2014's result will be difficult.

'We have set the bar high. We're not a team that have the budgets available that our competitors have. It gives me a lot of pleasure in beating Ferrari last year...we beat them on half their budget!

'But moving on from third upwards is probably more difficult than it was to move from ninth to third. It's a relative thing, your competitiveness. It's not just about the job you do it's about the job others do. We've certainly still I believe got the best power unit, we've got stability which accounts for an awful lot in Formula One. We can see some of our rivals have new power units or new people in place so we've to exploit our advantage of the continuity that we've got. We've got to push on.'

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