Though it rather appeared to be a lackluster race due to Raikkonen/Ferrari dominance, the Australian Grand Prix did offer some noteworthy highlights that could be signs of things to come. Much was made after the race about Raikkonen being able to step right into the Ferrari and win in his first attempt, but that wasn’t the biggest news story that developed out the Australian Grand Prix. That honor went to Williams-Toyota.
Super Aguri came to Australia and set a pace that made people wonder if they weren’t, in fact, Honda’s number one works team. The confusion was well justified when Super Aguri out-qualified the Honda cars and made Honda’s apparent first team cars, in the planet-earth livery, look comparatively more like expensive science fair projects then finely tuned race cars.
Red Bull showed good form despite a poor off-season testing and Coulthard making his exit from the race on top of Alex Wurz’s Williams-Toyota. Yet, despite Wurz’s unfortunate exit, it was the Williams-Toyota team that seemed to shine excessively bright in Australia. This is true despite McLaren-Mercedes’s return to form, Lewis Hamilton’s impressive debut, and BMW-Sauber impressive run to a fourth place finish with Nick Heidfeld. The fact is, after last season and the embarrassment it was, many more eyes were on Williams then many other teams like BMW-Sauber. And while many looked with questioning eyes, Williams came through.
Despite being out-qualified by the Toyota works team, Nico Rosberg (who qualified twelfth) was able to come up through the field methodically to bring his Toyota powered Williams home in seventh; ahead of the two Toyota team cars. Although Wurz’s qualifying spot was worse than Rosberg, Alex came out and was actually quicker than his teammate in the first round of qualifying. His second run also improved but not to the extent Nico was able to do. Thus, Alex started the race in fifteenth.
Throughout the entire race Nico climbed up in the standings, falling back only after pit stops. Prior to his last stop, Rosberg was even able to get up as high as fifth. After the stop he fell back into tenth but was able to claw his way back to his eventual finishing spot of seventh, one lap behind the winner Raikkonen.
Wurz had a poor start and lost places to Coulthard, Massa, and Barrichello. After things started to settle down, Alex began to slowly make his way up through the field. Alex was able to climb all the way up to twelfth place until a pit stop dropped him back to sixteenth. Wurz began to climb up through the field again until taken out on lap 48 by a foolish attempt from David Coulthard to take Alex’s position. Coulthard lost many places after a stop and was desperate to make his way back up through the field. Unfortunately for Wurz, David got a little impatient and drove right into the side of Alex’s car. David’s Red Bull car popped up onto and came to a brief rest on Alex’s nose while the two slid off the track.
Although Alex’s race was cut short, Williams-Toyota had to walk out of Australia with a renewed sense of excitement about this year. Some might say, “What’s the big deal”, but the fact is that Williams has already amassed two points. Williams scored a total of eleven all of last year and five of them came in the first race of the season at Bahrain. Despite starting out so well, Willams-Cosworth, for all intents and purposes, started to look like a back marker team by the end of the season. Unfortunately, Williams-Cosworth began to fail to finish last year at about the same rate as Super Aguri. So, a good start to this season is a sign things are looking up for Williams-Toyota. Adding to the seventh-place result is the little extra encourager found in the fact that a Williams car came home ahead of the very team that powers Williams—Toyota.
If Williams-Toyota can get good reliability and not be caught out in unfortunate accidents, which were the two killers of the team last year, Formula One may just see a Phoenix piloted by Sir Frank Williams again. While he has had his share of troublesome seasons, the amazing thing about Frank Williams, and his team, is the ability they have to rise up from out of the ashes and return to competitive form. McLaren spent a few years floundering until Mika Hakkinen and 1998&1999. Ferrari started to look more like Fiat until Schumacher and Brawn. Williams have struggled at times during its history in Formula One. However, for not being one of the largest teams financially, Williams, and the team on a whole, have always shown an amazing ability to revive a struggling program. What’s more, Williams seems to rise back into contention even quicker than some of the manufacturing and racing giants like Ferrari and McLaren. This year could prove to be no different.
photo credit: grandprix.com