2010 was all new for the Williams team. Out went the Toyota engines after the Japanese manufacturers left the sport, and with them left Kazuki Nakajima who was placed at Williams as part of that engine deal. Nico Rosberg also moved on and went on to join the Mercedes team.
Replacements came in the form of a driver pairing mixing youth with experience in the form of Nico Hülkenberg and Rubens Barrichello and the return of Cosworth power who had been out of the sport since 2006.
Williams in the past few seasons had struggled with the aerodynamic package compared to the front runners and have slipped into a solid mid-table team, their last win coming in the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya. The experience of Rubens Barrichello allowed the team to pick up a decent haul of points through the 2010 season, but they were not near the pace of the teams above them. The highlight of the year was Nico Hülkenberg’s Pole Position in mixed conditions at the Brazilian Grand Prix, their first in over 5 years.
The late switch from Toyota to Cosworth engines also affected the team, having to work on the packaging of the new engine during the winter. Cosworth did an excellent job to get their engines ready for the 2010 regulations. Reportedly down on power, and suffering with performance on engines that had completed high mileage, were part of the challenges that they faced. Working within the rules, they managed to work on the engine and ended the season with 100% race reliability.
Not having the income of the teams they are trying to catch at the head of the field, and with sponsors leaving at the end of 2010, Williams have signed Pastor Maldonado for the 2011 season, who brings sponsorship from Venezuela to the team. He will partner Rubens Barrichello, whose technical experience will once again be invaluable to the development of the FW33.
The added boost of using KERS for the first time will allow the team to try and close in on their rivals above them. Race wins are probably a long way off still, but regular points finishes and even a few podiums will be a good stepping stone to try and bring success back to the team.
In 2010, Rubens Barrichello reached 300 race starts, but showed no desire to want to give up the sport that he has been a part of for 20 years. Welcomed by Williams he seemed to feel like he had found a team where he belongs. One that knew how to get the best out of him, and in return, worked to get the best out of the team with his experience.
A highest finish of 4th place and finishing ten out of the nineteen races in the points was a solid set of results for Barrichello at Williams. One of the stand out moments of the year was fighting with former team mate Michael Schumacher at the Hungaroring, when while overtaking along the start finish straight, Rubens was squeezed up alongside the pit wall and ended up with two wheels bouncing over the grass before outbraking the Mercedes into turn 1.
Rubens has not lost any of the desire and commitment to the sport, and will hope that another year with the Williams team and with them being able to optimise the package with the Cosworth engine, he can regularly aim for points finishes and with some luck and good development through the year, maybe even make a return to the podium.
The Venezuelan makes his Formula 1 debut for the Williams team in 2011 after being crowned GP2 Champion in 2010 taking 6 wins on his way to the title.
Many have commented on the way Williams dropped Nico Hülkenberg to sign Maldonado & believe it to be due to the sponsorship he brings in from the Venezuelan government.
Nico Hülkenberg seemed to have done enough to continue with the team, showing improvement in his performances in the second half of the season, including taking Pole Position at the Brazilian Grand Prix, after a slow start to his Formula 1 career. It is clear that the commercial considerations in running Maldonado swayed the decision in his favour.
Whether Maldonado can match the performances of Nico Hülkenberg remains to be seen, and if he can be close on pace to Rubens Barrichello then Williams’ decision go run him in the second car will be justified.
As current GP2 Champion he joins the field of other former champions of the series. Only time in the car will determine as to whether or not he can match the likes of Lewis Hamilton & Nico Rosberg.
If Maldonado can settle quickly in the FW33 and perform well in his rookie year, then Williams’ decision to run him would be based on merit rather than the sponsorship he brings to the team. For Pastor Maldonado, that is what he has to aim for in 2011.