x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Big teams stuck in middle of the F1 road

Teams such as Ferrari and Williams have flopped in the three season-opening races this year.

Felipe Massa, the Ferrari driver, has failed to make the podium in any of this season’s grands prix. The Williams team have failed to score a single point.
Felipe Massa, the Ferrari driver, has failed to make the podium in any of this season’s grands prix. The Williams team have failed to score a single point.

Two of Formula One's oldest, greatest and most-famous teams face the threat of mid-season upheaval in a bid to revive their flagging fortunes after making disappointing starts to their 2011 campaigns.

Both Ferrari and Williams have, by their own standards, flopped alarmingly in the three season-opening races this year, in Australia, Malaysia and China, and each has conceded the need to make dramatic improvements to avert a major overhaul of staffing and structure.

Luca di Montezemolo, the Ferrari president, made this clear earlier this week when he reacted to the team's third race without a podium finish by declaring his team were in "a very delicate moment".

He added: "This cannot and must not be the team's level. I want Ferrari to be at the level that both we and our fans demand it should be."

Ferrari enjoyed an era of unparalleled success when the German driver Michael Schumacher claimed five successive titles through 2004, but the team have struggled to match that since his departure and original retirement from F1. The current drivers, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, have yet to score a podium finish this season, and they have been outpaced by Red Bull Racing and McLaren-Mercedes.

Di Montezemolo's ambitions for 2011, so far thwarted, come after a dreadful end to 2010, when a strategic blunder at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ended Ferrari's hopes of Alonso securing the championship in the final race.

The silence from the team's drivers and top officials is perhaps understandable as they prepare at their Maranello base for the next round, the Turkish Grand Prix on May 8.

Something similar has unfolded with Williams, another once-great "garagiste" team, but without a win since 2004 when the Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya delivered their 113th victory in Brazil.

Williams have also won nine constructors world titles, but the last of those came in 1997 when the Canadian Jacques Villeneuve lifted the drivers' crown.

This season has seen Williams fail to score a point in three races, yet there remains optimism at their Grove headquarters, in England, where the team's innovative thinking has always been a strength in their performances.

Now, however, that is under analysis with new shareholder, the Austrian investor Toto Wolff, a former racing driver, taking an interest in how they tackle the challenge of their worst start in history.

Sam Michael, the team's technical director, said an overhaul of the team's working structure was essential and admitted he was prepared to move if that was a necessary outcome.

Wolff said: "Our ingredients seem right, but somehow it doesn't seem to translate into performance. But I am optimistic that we will get back to the performance that the team deserves to have."

Williams have undergone major changes this year following a winter flotation on the stock exchange.

Patrick Head, the team co-founder and engineering leader who was central to Williams's success in the 1980s and 1990s, has started to reduce his involvement with the team as a result of the changes. Head will be 66 in May.

Wolff, however, does not see Head's pull back from daily affairs as the reason for Williams's poor form.

"I don't know whether it is linked to Patrick, but his history speaks for itself," he said. "However, at a certain stage, every team has to make a step from the founding generation to new generations.

"We have that new generation with young guys, compared to the founders. But it is no excuse to say Patrick is not involved like before."

He added: "It is up to our new generation to make the team successful again."