Cooper Interviews Sam Michael

Williams headed to Australia knowing that points would be very hard to come by, with the new car in its current state. And with all the hype that would inevitably surround Mark Webber's appearance in his home race, the poor form was going to be hard to ignore. In his many interviews, the unfortunate Webber did his best to play down expectations

Cooper Interviews Sam Michael

The wet weather in qualifying gave the team a boost. Webber was more than happy to take the third place that came his way, and which he was able to hold on to in the dry on Sunday. In the race itself, he crucially lost out to David Coulthard at the start, and that ultimately saw him restricted to fifth place. He might have lost three places relative to his grid position, but the team was encouraged.

"It was obviously a good race for Renault," the team's technical director Sam Michael said after the race. "This is what we predicted, as we thought they were very strong. And well done to Giancarlo [Fisichella], who did a good job.

"Our car was a lot stronger than what we predicted it would be. It's a shame that we didn't have a good run out of the first corner, because we basically got held up by the Red Bull for the first stint. But fair enough, they beat us fair and square on strategy.

"To be on the podium we would have had to be second or third into the first corner, and we weren't. We spent the whole of the first stint behind a car that we were faster than, and if it wasn't for that, we would have been. At the end of the day they were there first, so that's the way it goes in racing today.

"But lap time wise, the car was fine, and much stronger than I thought it would be. There are a couple of teams that I thought would be a lot stronger during the race."

Michael says that Webber and Heidfeld settled in well in their first outings for the team, even if the latter's ended in a disappointing off.

"Both of them did a good job, really. It would have been nice to have third into the first corner, because then [Mark] would have picked off quite higher positions, but for the first race for the team and everything different, it wasn't too bad.

"Mark probably wanted to make sure that he didn't make an idiot of himself at Turn One, which would have been quite easy. Obviously Nick drove a good race up until the incident with Michael. Both had good starts, Nick had a blinding start off the line, and made up positions there. Both did reasonably well for the first go."

Over the years Williams have had more than their fair share of problems with refuelling, and that unfortunate pattern continued in Melbourne.

"We struggled to get on a little bit at the last pitstop with the fuel nozzle, and obviously the whole thing is dominated by fuel nozzles now. We also had a problem with the fuel rig on the last stop, so it meant we had to put a bit more fuel in than we thought we had to. So we ended up carrying fuel for the last stint that we didn't need."

The 2005 rules package has not pleased everybody, but Michael says he's happy with the way the Melbourne weekend unfolded. Williams were certainly happy with how their tyres performed over a stint.

"I thought it was really good. The tyres were very solid right up until the end, there wasn't the sort of hysteria that everyone was predicting, so that was good. Our tyres were as fast on the last lap as the first lap, so Michelin obviously did a good job there. Mark said it was fine, the balance was consistent, no problem for the race."

So where do Williams stand now? One thing the team have proved in recent years is that even if they make a disappointing start to a season, they can develop a car and make progress. One of the main areas of concern is cooling - more important than ever, thanks to the current reliability requirements. It was focussed on in last week's testing at Jerez with Antonio Pizzonia.

"It's a matter of how fast you can develop compared to everyone else. F1 is a development game. You start with your baseline, and if you can put half a second into the car for the next race and everyone else puts half a second in, it doesn't make any difference. It's all relative to other people and what their resources and programmes are.

"We do expect to get regular points, but it's a bit early to get carried away and think that we can win. At the end of the day, we were faster than what we thought we would be, especially relative to Renault. We finished only 18 seconds behind Fisichella, who won it. He probably gave up five or six seconds in the last stint, so you can probably say that's realistically 25 seconds. And that's a lot closer to Renault than I thought we'd be before we got to Melbourne."

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