Formula One - On And Off Track Week 1

Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • Patrick Head leaves Formula One
  • Montezemolo ponders 2013 drivers
  • Could Barrichello stay at Williams?

Patrick Head leaves Formula One

This week news emerged Williams will lose their title sponsor AT&T, but perhaps even more important was last week’s announcement former team owner and co-founder Patrick Head will now definitively leave Formula One.

Head has stepped down from the Formula One team’s Board of Directors, but will still remain a Board Director of Williams Hybrid Power, a Williams company that develops the by Williams introduced flywheel technology, also the brainchild of Head.

Williams Team Principal Sir Frank Williams said in a statement, “Patrick and I have been in partnership for 34 years. During that time, he has been the leader of the technical team that has won the majority of our race wins and championships. This is a remarkable legacy and one which will be treasured and definitely not forgotten.”

Patrick Head retires from Formula One
Patrick Head retires from Formula One

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Williams praised the work that Head has done during the past decades, “Patrick is a very straightforward, hard working and truly gifted engineer who comfortably operates at a world class level. I will miss him very much, as I am sure his colleagues will, and he will always be welcome at Grove.”

Last season was William’s worst season in Formula One ever, they finished ninth in the Constructors’ Championship as they only scored 5 points. But Head did not leave as a result of this. During the 2011 Brazilian Grand Prix he told Reuters, “I certainly didn't have an ambition to stop my involvement in Formula One with a season like this last one we've had behind us.”

“But when I have a look at what specifically I can do to assist [Technical Director] Mike Coughlan and [Chief Operations Officer] Mark Gillan and [Head of Aerodynamics] Jason Somerville, I came to the conclusion that it isn't really enough to justify me carrying on doing the same thing,” he at the time commented.

Question of course remains whether Williams with their new technical team of Coughlan, Gillan and Sommerville will be able to restore the team’s former glory. With Head at the helm of the Williams technical department, the team won nine Constructors’ Championships and seven Drivers’ Championships.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Patrick Head
Juan Pablo Montoya and Patrick Head

Photo by: BMW AG

Head has worked with the greatest Formula One drivers ever, to name but a few, Keke Rosberg, Riccado Patrese, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya. But Head’s greatest achievement was the design of the 1993 Williams FW15C, a car with an active suspension and a traction control system, in fact the FW15C was the first completely ‘computerized’ Formula One car, in which Prost won his fourth and last championship in 1993, the car was so successful that the FIA banned the technology at the end of the season.

The 65-year old Head will be missed in the paddock, as many of the current top engineers like Adrian Newey (Red Bull), Neal Oatly (McLaren), Ross Brawn and Geoff Willis (both Mercedes GP) have all worked under his supervision during his 34-year long Formula One career. In fact, he was responsible for dozens of innovations which also determined the future course of Formula One as a sport, and it is a mystery why his name is still is Patrick Head, and not Sir Patrick Head.

Montezemolo ponders 2013 drivers

Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has a lot of things on his mind, and one of the questions that is probably on his mind on a daily base, is how to get his Maranello-based team back to the top of the sport. After Kimi Raikkonen won the 2007 Drivers’ Championship Felipe Massa almost took the title during the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, but the Brazilian lost the title 20 seconds later to Lewis Hamilton who had managed to overtake Timo Glock’s Toyota in the last corner of the race, and the Briton, and not Massa grabbed the title.

In 2009 disaster struck during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, a spring that had fallen off of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn, hit Massa’s helmet and knocked him unconscious while traveling at 160mph, Massa crashed into the tyre stack, was rushed to hospital and was out of the running for the rest of the season.

Fernando Alonso joined the “Reds” in 2010, but the two-time World Champion lost the title to Sebastian Vettel with only four points during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix due to a strategic error that cost Ferrari dearly. This was in fact Montezemolo’s and Ferrari’s wake up call, Head of Track Engineering Chris Dyer, who was in fact Ferrari’s strategist, and designer Aldo Costa were fired, but the 2011 season became even more disappointing for Ferrari, although Alonso won the British Grand Prix, both drivers could not even fight for the victory.

Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari
Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari

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Especially Massa has been under fire and Montezemolo has on several occasions urged him to prove he is still as fast as before his accident, but it now seems 2012 could really become Massa’s last season for Ferrari. The Scuderia is under great pressure to deliver and Montezemolo commented, “2012 is the crucial season for Felipe. We were not satisfied with his past season and neither was he.”

And the Ferrari boss added, “What I cannot forget is the fact that Felipe was often faster than Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen. He helped Kimi to his championship and a year later was a hair short of being champion himself.” Of course there are a lot of names of possible candidates circulating, but Montezemolo is not just looking at young talented drivers to take over Massa’s seat.

“Jenson Button was just excellent, Mark Webber is a good second driver, and Nico Rosberg has done well with a car that has not been competitive,” the flamboyant Italian said to the Italian Corriere dello Sport when asked about his favorite 2011 drivers. Asked about new talents he commented, “It is also good to develop drivers within yourself, so while Sergio Perez is a Sauber driver, in fact he has developed in Ferrari's academy … Jules Bianchi could develop further if he can test.”

And indeed, the names of Button and Rosberg have been mentioned before, and in the past Montezemolo has also praised Robert Kubica and hinted he could succeed Massa, but after the Pole’s bad accident almost a year ago, it still isn’t even certain if he will ever race again. Montezemolo especially praised Rosberg, “I like Rosberg, as a clear-headed man and someone who is getting better and better.”

Jules Bianchi, Test Driver, Scuderia Ferrari
Jules Bianchi, Test Driver, Scuderia Ferrari

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Two other German drivers are on the Ferrari list, Nico Hulkenberg and Adrian Sutil, and Montezemolo referred to them as ‘two other good, young Germans’.

Bianchi, Ferrari’s official test and reserve driver, had hoped to get a seat at Sauber for 2012 to learn the ropes, but had to admit a deal with the Swiss team powered by Ferrari engines was not possible for this season. “It wasn't possible to be at Sauber, as Perez and Kobayashi are signed up for a while. It would have been a very good opportunity but it wasn't to be,” the Frenchman said.

But Montezemolo knows the business as no other, and ended his comment with the only right and fair conclusion, "Our problem is not the driver as in that area we have the best; we need a competitive car.”

Could Barrichello stay at Williams?

Rumors have emerged that Rubens Barrichello could after all stay at Williams for what would be his 20th season in Formula One. After a major shake-up at Williams the second race seat of the Grove-based team is still available, but after they lost two major sponsors the last two years, will Williams be prepared to hire and pay an experienced driver like Barrichello, or would they be in favor of attracting a ‘paying’ diver?

It is no secret Pastor Maldonado kept his Williams’ job in 2012 due to the massive sponsor contract with the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA, and it is also no secret Head, who is leaving Formula One, was not a fan of Barrichello as the Brazilian had criticized the Williams technical team after he found out the Williams 2011 car design was a total disaster.

”It would be clever of the team to keep the drivers and keep on going, I'm not pushing them, I'm just trying to show them that is the way to do it,” Barrichello said to the UK Sun this week. It is reported Barrichello could raise 5 million Euro sponsor monies to pay for his seat, and Italian media reported he would be more than happy to half his 2011 salary of 2 million Euro.

Current World Champion Sebastian Vettel admitted he would like to see the amiable Brazilian back this season, “I hope Barrichello stays at Williams, he is a great guy!”

But there are more drivers interested, both ex-Toro Rosso drivers Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi are reported to be in the running, but also Sutil who was ousted by the Force India team, Bruno Senna who lost his job at Lotus, and Vitantonio Luizzi, who is struggling to keep his current seat at HRT.

Rubens Barrichello, Williams F1 Team
Rubens Barrichello, Williams F1 Team

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Senna and Sutil both have an interesting sponsor portfolio, and there is an outsider, GP2 driver Dutchman Guido van der Garde who has the backing of fashion brand McGregor. Last year Sauber started the season with one rookie and one relatively inexperienced driver, but it remains to be seen whether it would be wise for Williams to do the same this year, as they already have to cope with a complete new technical team, an unknown and untested new car and new regulations.

In fact, if they last year had hired a second rookie, they probably would have been worse off, as Barrichello was the one who after a lot of hard work finally got some speed into the car - thanks to his 20 years of experience. Williams are aiming to get back to the top, and they simply need an experienced driver to develop the 2012 car, and not a rookie who still has to learn how to feel at ease and get used to a Formula One car.

Maldonado is certainly not a man who can lead the team back to the top, and although Alguersuari, Buemi and Liuzzi are also experienced drivers, they have never been the number one driver in a team, and Williams needs a clear number one driver to get the job for 2012 done.

With the reshuffle of the technical and design department, Williams had hoped to lure Kimi Raikkonen to the team, but the Finn wasn’t impressed at all and opted to make a comeback driving for Lotus this season, which was a huge setback for the moral of the Williams team.

There are no other experienced drivers available other than Barrichello, and he was just like Sir Frank Williams hugely disappointed in the performance of the 2011 car, and he deserves another chance with a completely overhauled and hopefully more successful team, and only then he can retire in a worthy way, enjoying the fruits of his labor, and maybe even after scoring a few podium places.

Join us again next week for another episode of “Formula One: On and Off Track”

Formula One - On and Off Track week 52

Also view this week’s edition of the Big Picture

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams
Tags barrichello, bouman, featured, ferrari, head, montezemolo, williams