Williams team back as a fighting force after major changes

There is a definite sense of renewal and rebirth at Williams this year.

The team that dominated Formula 1 for much of the 1980s and 1990s had seemed to be in an inexorable decline, but they have re-emerged as a fighting force in 2012.

The pain of last season, when Williams finished ninth in the constructors' championship  ahead only of the three teams that joined the sport in 2010, finally forced them into making major changes. They are already bearing fruit.

Until Lotus finally delivered on their potential with second and third places at the most recent race in Bahrain, Williams were the team who had made most progress over the winter.

Classic F1 - British Grand Prix 1987

Last year, Williams scored only five points all season; after four races this year they already have more than three times that - and sit seventh in the championship with 18 points.

And they could have had eight more had Pastor Maldonado not crashed on the last lap of the Australian Grand Prix.

Maldonado's impressive drive in Melbourne was followed by a superb performance by his team-mate Bruno Senna in the wet in Malaysia - from last on the re-start to sixth at the finish.

Williams in F1

  • First entered the championship at the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix
  • Clay Regazzoni recorded the first Williams win at the 1979 British Grand Prix
  • The team's last win was Juan Pablo Montoya's victory in Brazil in 2004
  • Australian Alan Jones was the first world champion for Williams in 1980
  • The team has won seven drivers' titles and nine constructors' titles
  • The last title came in 1997 from Jacques Villeneuve
  • The team has entered 576 grands prix, winning 113

And the two men followed that with seventh and eighth in China, where they were right in the thick of the 12-car battle for second place in the second half of the race.

Little wonder, then, that chief operations engineer Mark Gillan says the team feels "very much [like] Williams, but with a smile, whereas the last few races last year were tough".

Gillan - a softly-spoken Northern Irishman who has also worked for Jaguar and Toyota - is one of the key new faces responsible for this turnaround in form.

The others are technical director Mike Coughlan and the new head of aerodynamics Jason Somerville with a concentration on good, solid engineering principles.

"Definitely where we were at was not a good place to be," Gillan says, adding that there was a lack of focus in Williams's approach to a race weekend.

New parts were being produced that were not of a high enough quality - and there were too many of them for the team to properly analyse their effect.

Classic F1 - British Grand Prix 1986 (UK users only)

So now, Gillan says, Williams are producing "less parts to a higher quality".

"We've tidied up components - the general finish is much better," Gillan adds.

"We're not bringing things to the track for small gains, and generally the direction of the whole company has been a lot stronger.

"Last year we had a situation where we had numerous different types of, say, a floor at the track. There were almost too many things there.

"And at a race weekend it's always very difficult to do aerodynamic testing because you have such limited track time.

"So we've got rid of that and said we're going to deal with fewer components of a higher quality, and make sure what we bring to the track is as well prepared and understood as possible. We ensure that what goes on the car is working properly and correlates well with the [wind] tunnel and safety."

In addition to this, communication between the track and the factory - of which Gillan says "there wasn't that much" before - has been enhanced and better use is being made of the team's simulator. Williams, despite being one of the first teams to employ what has turned into a must-have tool, were behind in this area, it seems.

We're not content with what's happened. It's pleasing but it's not the endgame by any means

Mark Gillan Williams chief operations engineer

There was also an acceptance that the previous technical director, Sam Michael, was doing too much. He resigned last April to set in process the senior staff changes and is now at McLaren as sporting director. Michael's former twin responsibilities at Williams have now been split between Coughlan and Gillan.

"Mike is the boss," Gillan says. "As technical director he is responsible for the whole programme, and I look after the trackside operations."

The sense of rebirth at Williams extends as far as Coughlan himself.

This is his first job in F1 since he was sacked as McLaren's chief designer for his central role in the 'spygate' scandal of 2007, when he was found to have nearly 800 pages of confidential Ferrari technical information in his possession.

Williams have offered him a rehabilitation - but not one that extends to talking to the media.

Coughlan, 53, has previously worked for Lotus, Tyrrell, Benetton, Ferrari and Arrows and, as Gillan puts it, "brings a wealth of experience".

Gillan added: "He's extremely adept at giving immediate input into what's going to work and what's not. He gives very good direction to the heads of department.

Classic F1 - German Grand Prix 1991

"He's very hands-on and easy to talk to and very direct in what he wants. He makes it clear what he's aiming to achieve, so there is no misunderstanding."

Clearly 2012 has got off to a positive start, but Williams want more.

In a statement that could have come from team founder Sir Frank Williams himself, Gillan says: "We're not content with what's happened. It's pleasing but it's not the endgame by any means."

The aim, he says, is by the end of the season to qualify in the top 10 and finish in the points at every race.

For a team with such an illustrious history, seventh place in the constructors' championship is never going to be the limit of their ambitions.

But suggest Williams are back on the rails and Gillan will at least allow that they are "definitely pointing in the right direction".

"The onus," he adds, "is to keep that smile on our face."