Analysis: All is Not Well at BMW-Williams

A strong second qualifying performance from Mark Webber has given the BMW Williams team their first front row start of 2005. The boost comes as paddock rumours continue about BMW dissatisfaction with the partnership, with motorsport director Mario Theissen refusing to deny outright stories that BMW is interested in buying an equity stake in Sauber

Analysis: All is Not Well at BMW-Williams

Notwithstanding that Webber could be three-stopping in the race (Barcelona is one of the circuits best-suited for such a strategy) and therefore light, his qualifying lap, beaten by just two tenths of a second by pole man Kimi Raikkonen, was an excellent effort, especially in the light of a missed day's practice on Friday after the exhaust valve problems that have afflicted the team. Teammate Nick Heidfeld, who faced a 20-place penalty after a double engine change, elected to save his tyres and fuel by opting out of second qualifying altogether.

Webber's effort is solid reward for team members who put in an all-nighter on Friday, as Theissen explained: "We found a defective exhaust valve on Nick's engine when we inspected it on Thursday morning. The defect was not such that the engine would blow up immediately and we hadn't seen the problem in the past. We have been using the valves for the whole season and in winter testing as well, but we were not confident that it would finish a second race. We decided not to take the risk and to change the engine.

"When we had a look at Mark's engine it was fitted with identical spec' exhaust valves and we realised that if there was a systematic failure we would be in the same situation with Mark's engine after this race, and having to change it before Monaco would mean that dropping 10 places on the grid there, which is a very severe penalty. So we decided to change Mark's engine as well.

"The next question was: did we have anything better? We checked in Munich and we had different spec' exhaust valves available which had completed all the endurance runs. Next, would it be possible to build two new engines with different valves and get them to Barcelona in time?

"The decision to build new engines was taken on Thursday lunchtime, it took a day, and by Friday lunchtime they were on the dyno. They left the factory at about 5pm and were flown to Barcelona and arrived at midnight. We split the team into two shifts - the first installed the engine until 2am and the other started at 5am to do the start-up and systems check so that both engines were ready in time for Saturday morning practice.

"It was clear to us from Thursday that Mark would lose a day's practice in order not to get a penalty for an engine change and that Nick would twice change the engine over the weekend."

The Spanish problems, then, are clearly a BMW issue but Theissen was not coy about admitting that BMW is not satisfied with its current position.

"We are not happy about where we are and that applies to BMW in the same way as Williams," he said. "We were close to winning the Championship in 2003 and didn't make it and we had a very difficult time last year, only being in a position to win at the final race. We are in a difficult situation again, hoping that we get back to the top earlier than last year. It is not satisfying."

Despite Theissen saying that an early termination of the Williams partnership, which runs to 2009, is "not on the agenda" there is said to be concern at Grove and rumours of preliminary talks with Cosworth in case Munich elects to change direction.

Williams technical director Sam Michael admitted that there is pressure on the team but said that they will respond.

"There's always pressure," he said, "and over the last couple of years more teams with massive budgets are breaking into the traditional top four of Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault. You've now got Toyota and BAR in there as well.

"Our progress over the winter was not as good as it should have been and that was mostly down to changes we had in wind tunnels. We brought another tunnel on-line and its productivity was not what it should have been. You get a minimum 15-year return out of a new wind tunnel but it means taking some short-term pain. And I think, to be honest, we've responded. Despite those problems, we've consistently qualified in the top five.

"The number of new parts we've produced after five races is far more than we've ever done since I've been at Williams. The improvements we've added to FW27 since it was launched is worth well over a second a lap. But everyone else is improving too.

"We are climbing, but if you start off behind you have to climb at a steeper rate."

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