Formula One - On And Off Track Week 27

Formula One - On And Off Track Week 27

By Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent

Story Highlights

  • More changes at the Williams team
  • Schumacher honors Juan Manuel Fangio

More changes at the Williams team

After Williams’ disastrous start of the season, the powers that be decided to completely overhaul the technical department, and team boss Sir Frank Williams recently announced the departure of Technical Director Sam Michael, a man that has been with Williams for ten years. The Australian born Michael joined Williams in 2001 as Senior Operations Engineer, and was in 2004 promoted to Technical Director. He took over many of the responsibilities of Williams co-founder Patrick Head, who wanted to concentrate more on the research and development side of the team.

Sir Frank Williams, WilliamsF1 Team, Team Chief, Managing Director, Team Principal
Sir Frank Williams, WilliamsF1 Team, Team Chief, Managing Director, Team Principal

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Since Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya won the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix for Williams, they never won a race again, although drivers like Ralf Schumacher, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and Rubens Barrichello tried very hard. All of the afore mentioned drivers are certainly capable of winning races, but over the years Williams somehow seems to have never regained its winning form again. The start of the 2011 season was the worst season start in the history of the team, and it was therefore decided it was time for some fresh blood in the technical department.

Not only Michaels will leave at the end of the season, Chief Aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson will also leave the Grove-based team. In a formal statement Sir Frank thanked both for their dedication and hard work, but also admitted it was now the right time to bring in new people with fresh new ideas to get the Williams team back where it belongs: the highest steps of the Formula One ladder.

A few weeks later in a shock-announcement Williams reported they had hired Mike Coughlan, a man who was involved in the 2007 McLaren/Ferrari spygate scandal, and had been ousted from the sport for four years. Despites Coughlan’s tainted past there is no doubt about his capabilities, he is a top-engineer who studied Mechanical Engineering at the prestigious British Brunel University. He previously worked for Lotus, Benetton, Arrows and McLaren.

He has now been appointed to Chief Engineer,and will be appointed Technical Director when Michael leaves, and is without a doubt already working on next year’s contender, the FW 34, a car that should bring the team the success they so desperately need. But just one new engineer is not enough to turn around Williams’ fortune, and on Tuesday it was announced that Jason Sommerville and Mark Gillan will join Coughlan’s technical team.

Sommerville actually returns to Williams, he was involved in the design of the winning FW 23, 24 and 25 cars at the end of the 1990s and the early 2010s when he was joint-head of the Williams aerodynamics department. He moved to the Toyota Formula One team in 2003 where he took up the function of Deputy Head of Aerodynamics. Unfortunately for him, Toyota decided to withdraw from the sport at the end of 2009. He then worked for Renault and was involved in the design of this year’s Lotus Renault R31.

Mark Gillan during his Jaguar days
Mark Gillan during his Jaguar days

Gillan is currently a Professor of Vehicle Engineering at the University of Surrey and Director of Surrey's Advanced Vehicle Analysis Group, but also has long lasting relation with Formula One. He joined the McLaren team in 1998, and was soon promoted to Principal Operational Aerodynamicist and worked closely with Adrian Newey. According to his biography he was head-hunted by Niki Lauda for the Jaguar Formula One team. The relation with Jaguar only lasted three years and in 2005 he left and moved to Germany, where he worked for, yes again, the Toyota Formula One team, which had its base in Cologne, Germany.

It certainly seems that Williams feels they need to improve on the aerodynamic department, as all three newcomers are experienced aerodynamicists. The three men also know each other very well as they all worked in the sport for may years, and Sir Frank was very happy to welcome Sommerville and Gillan to his team.

“Williams F1 is looking forward to welcoming Jason and Mark to the team,” he said. “They bring with them talent, experience and good team skills. We now feel that, together with Mike Coughlan, Jason and Mark can form the right technical leadership to take the team forward as we work our way back to the front of the grid,” he optimistically added. The statement also read that Sommerville will start on August 15, while Gillan with join the team on October 1.

Schumacher honors Juan Manuel Fangio

Last Friday seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher paid tribute to Juan Manual Fangio, who would have turned 100 on June 24 last week. Fangio, who won the World Championship five times, was the most successful driver of his time. He died on July 17 1995 age 84, and despite the fact that was 16 years ago, even today Formula One fans worship the Argentine who won the title in 1951 and four more times from 1954-1957, and drove for the Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes Benz and Maserati teams. Many still regard him as the greatest Formula One driver of all times. His record of five titles stood for 46 years until it was eventually broken by Schumacher who scored his sixth title in 2003.

Schumacher commented at the time, “Fangio is on a level much higher than I see myself. What he did stands alone and what we have achieved is also unique. I have such respect for what he achieved. You can't take a personality like Fangio and compare him with what has happened today. There is not even the slightest comparison.”

“El Maestro”, as his nickname was, started his racing career at a later age than his colleagues of those days, he was 39 when he entered the first official Formula One championship in 1950. His rivals back then were Alberto Ascari, whom he replaced at Ferrari in 1956 after the Italian had died during testing at Monza a year earlier, Giuseppe ‘Nino’ Farina, Luigi Fagioli, Luigi Villoresi. Mike Hawthorne, Peter Collins and another British race legend: Sir Stirling Moss. There was no Constructors’ Championship before 1958, and Fangio frequently swapped teams and, he just drove the car of which he felt he had the best chance to win the title.

The Juan Manuel Fangio Memorial in Monte Carlo
The Juan Manuel Fangio Memorial in Monte Carlo

Photo by: Brousseau Photo

In 1952 he had a serious accident at Monza during a non-championship race, he was thrown out of his Maserati, broke his neck and sustained other serious injuries. He had to sit out the rest of the season to recover from his injuries, but in 1953 he was fit enough to race again. After his accident Fangio went on to win four more titles.

During a successful 1957 season in which he won four of the eight races, he became second in two races and retired from the British Grand Prix, he also attempted to participate in the Indianapolis 500, at the time was one of the eight races of the official Formula One championship, but he failed to qualify his Kurtis Kraft KK500F. He ended his active race career at the end of 1958 after just two races, the Argentinean and French Grand Prix events.

Fangio not only drove in Formula One, but also participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and witnessed the 1955 Le Mans disaster, which unfolded right before his eyes when the Mercedes of Pierre Levegh ahead of him hit the back of Lance Maclin’s Austin Healy, the Frenchman’s car hit an embankment and the remaining pieces of his car were catapulted into the spectators area and main grandstand.

After he retired Fangio stayed active in motorsport and gave demonstration runs in vintage Formula One cars, acquired a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Argentina and was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990.

Compared to Schumacher, Fangio’s success rate was much higher, he won 24 of the 51 races he started, a success rate of 47 percent, while Schumacher’s success rate went down considerably during his return to Formula One in 2010, and was at the end of the season lowered to 33 percent.

All great drivers have been compared with Fangio: Jim Clark, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Schumacher, but none of them were a match for the charismatic Fangio, who’s legend, but also his legacy, still lives on. It is also not a very realistic comparison, as the abilities required to be a successful racing driver, the rules and regulations, the cars, and the level of competition have changed dramatically over six decades.

Schumacher last week commented about Fangio’s 100th birthday, “The drivers in Fangio’s time were all very courageous; it makes you realise how fortunate we are today with the build of our cars and the high safety standards.” In a statement issued last week, current team principal and the architect of Schumacher’s seven world titles, Ross Brawn, also paid tribute to Fangio.:"There are few iconic figures in Formula One, but Fangio is certainly one of them.”

And Brawn also admitted Fangio is still within the hearts of al Mercedes GP team members, “From our modern perspective, it's difficult to grasp the challenges which the drivers of that time had to rise to, but for everyone on our team, it's a major source of inspiration to try to repeat what Fangio achieved with Mercedes in the 1950s.”

Schumacher broke Fangio’s record by scoring his 6th title in 2003
Schumacher broke Fangio’s record by scoring his 6th title in 2003

This weekend there will be a DTM race at the German Norisring, and that was the circuit where Schumacher met Fangio in 1992 for the first and only time. “I was struck by how youthful he still looked, even though he was already into his eighties. But from his physical coordination and the alertness of his eyes, you could see what a great racing driver he must have been,” Schumacher said, not knowing he would break Fangio’s record 11 years later.

Mercedes Motorsport Director and Mercedes GP team principal Norbert Haug met Fangio on several occasions, one was at a DTM race at Singen, Germany. Haug recalls, “He got into a 1955 racing car and set off at a cracking pace. At one point, he slewed across the track. He was obviously having great fun.”

Fangio officially participated in 42 Formula One races, started in 41 of them, scored 24 victories, 35 podiums, took 29 pole positions and 23 fastest laps, and scored 245 career points and won five world championship titles.

At the end of 2010 Schumacher had officially participated in 277 races, started in 276 of them, won 91 races, visited the podium on 154 occasions, scored 68 pole positions and 76 fastest laps, and scored 1,467 career points, and won a record of seven world championship titles.

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

Formula One - On and Off Track week 26

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About this article
Series General , Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Williams
Tags bouman, fangio, schumacher, williams