Australian GP: Williams preview

On Sunday 7th March, the WilliamsF1 BMW FW26 will make its race debut at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, host to the Australian Grand Prix, the inaugural race of the 2004 season. The Formula One fraternity is enveloped by a sense of...

On Sunday 7th March, the WilliamsF1 BMW FW26 will make its race debut at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, host to the Australian Grand Prix, the inaugural race of the 2004 season. The Formula One fraternity is enveloped by a sense of excitement and anticipation that inevitably accompanies the start of a new Championship. The traditional intrigue that surrounds the relative potential of a grid of new cars will abate when the cars take to the track for the first time in under a week.

Over the four month winter break, the BMW WilliamsF1 Team has completed an intensive test programme, covering over 20,000 kilometres in five European countries over 33 days. With the FW26 coming on-line earlier than in previous years, so it would be fully competitive from the outset, the team is relatively upbeat for the season ahead.

Juan Pablo Montoya:

I can't wait for the racing to start again. Winter testing is hard work and not particularly rewarding because you can't tell where you are in relation to the competition. When you come to the first race, you can see what everybody else has done over the winter and how good you're going to be in comparison.

I am very confident going into this season; I think that the FW26 is going to be competitive straightaway, unlike the FW25 which needed quite a lot of work before its potential could be exploited. I expect our main competitors will be very strong. We will be fighting with Ferrari and McLaren again, but I think there might be some surprises from Renault and B.A.R. as well.

With regards to the new rules, qualifying is going to be totally different from last year. I don't think you are ever going to see a true qualifying performance because the first run will be on low fuel but with race set-up which means that the car will suffer with understeer. Not having fully automatic gearboxes is a bit strange but I'm used to it now having run it over the winter. I'm not so worried about the new engine rule as we've had a good reliability record throughout testing.

I really like Australia, especially Melbourne. I finished second there in '02 and '03, but obviously I'd like to improve on that this time round!

Ralf Schumacher:

I am definitely pleased that the season is finally about to start, although you do always wish you had a couple more days of testing just to make sure everything is perfect. However, I think we are better prepared this season than we were last year as the FW26 was launched much earlier. Going to Melbourne is always exciting. During testing you can kind of see what the other teams are running, and therefore how they are performing, but it's not until you line up on the grid at Albert Park that you can really compare your car to your competitors'.

I'm travelling to Australia a couple of days early in order to acclimatise myself, but I also just love spending time relaxing there before the race weekend starts as the people are so nice. On a personal level, I am fitter and more motivated than ever for this season so I'm confident we will be able to fight for victories from the start.

Sam Michael (Chief Operations Engineer WilliamsF1):

Melbourne is the first race of the season and is therefore exciting for all the teams because everyone wants to know where they stand after the winter break. Albert Park is a low grip street circuit, with both slow and medium speed corners and two high speed sections, a complex combination, all of which need to be catered for in the set-up.

It is also a high downforce circuit and, with the rule changes over the winter that reduced downforce and drag, we will be running close to the highest level of rear wing. A mechanical set-up, geared towards giving good traction out of slow speed corners but without compromising mid-corner balance is required. The number of times the drivers have to brake from high speeds is frequent so brake wear can be a factor - it's not the toughest circuit on brakes but this detail can't be ignored.

We have worked hard on tyre testing with Michelin over the winter and the two choices that Michelin will bring to Melbourne should offer various routes for the race strategy, depending on our requirements. The two new compounds have produced impressive results in testing so we are confident that our tyre partner has delivered.

We have put a lot of effort into practising starts as launch control is now banned and the emphasis is mainly back on the driver. The results we've achieved in testing have been encouraging, but we will have to wait and see what happens in Melbourne.

The new rules have stipulated that one engine must complete the whole race weekend otherwise you will be penalised by dropping ten places on the grid. This has meant that BMW have been working overtime on race simulations and dyno runs to ensure that the engine is capable of long mileage without losing too much performance.

Race strategy should be interesting and largely different again from last year, in particular with the 100kph pit lane speed limit and the revised pit lane entrance. With all of the changes, and the fact that there appear to be many competitive cars out there, I am sure 2004 is going to be an exciting season for the fans to watch but possibly a very stressful one for us on the pit wall!

Mario Theissen (BMW Motorsport Director):

Over the winter we completed a very intensive test programme in preparation for the new season. Since 4th September 2003, when we first ran the BMW P84 engine at Monza, we have clocked up more than 20,000 test kilometres with the new unit. From the outset, it became clear that the fundamentals of the P84 were right, so from there it was a case of endurance testing to ensure the engine's lifespan could conform to the new regulations.

During the winter testing, we successfully completed a number of simulated race weekends, i.e. covering 800 kilometres in realistic conditions. Starting development early has paid off, although we still have to be prepared for any surprises, including excessive heat, or failed starts, for example, which cannot be adequately represented in testing.

As for the engine's performance, we have made good headway in this as well. During the concept phase for the one engine per weekend rule, we were anticipating a shortfall of power by up to ten percent. However, I envisage reaching our maximum output levels we achieved in 2003 this year, in other words over 900 bhp. In conclusion, we feel well equipped for the start of the new season.


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , McLaren , Williams