Feature: Williams Struggle to Get Up to Speed

It did not take long for jokes to emerge after French police stopped Juan Pablo Montoya for speeding on the motorway.

Feature: Williams Struggle to Get Up to Speed

It did not take long for jokes to emerge after French police stopped Juan Pablo Montoya for speeding on the motorway.

Of course the Colombian was caught, said paddock jesters. The Williams Formula One driver wanted to show the world that he still had a fast car.

The jibes continued in Austria last weekend when it emerged that engineers working for Williams's partners BMW had stuck a picture of a tortoise on the inside wall of one of their trucks at the previous Grand Prix in Spain.

The caption claimed it was a version of the new Williams FW25 in secret testing - the suggestion being, of course, that the current car is not the fastest thing on four wheels.

These are not easy times for a team that once dominated Formula One, taking nine constructors' titles between 1980 and 1997 and last season finishing runners-up to Ferrari.

Williams had hoped to mount a genuine challenge this year, producing a far more innovative car to close the gap in their 25th year of racing.

Instead, aerodynamics problems with the FW25 have left them battling with Renault while McLaren take the fight to Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.

At the same time, negotiations have been going on for months with BMW about a new partnership after the existing one expires at the end of next year. BMW, whose engine is one of the most powerful in Formula One, have made little secret of their desire to be more involved in the engineering side as well.

Not Happy

"We are not happy, and in saying 'we' I mean BMW as well as Williams," said BMW Motorsport head Mario Theissen in Austria when asked about the talks. "We are not happy with the position and the competitiveness we have at the moment and we have to talk about how to fix that and about the operation of the team."

BMW are committed to staying in Formula One but have not ruled out either creating their own team or linking up with other partners, although those options are unlikely. Until a decision is taken, there will be some hard bargaining going on as one side seeks to preserve its independence and the other demands more say.

Frank Williams, the team founder who is now 61, was asked in Austria whether he would consider selling equity in the team to the German carmaker. "It's not about equity and it's not a question of surrendering," he said. "It's about success."

But that has become scarce.

Twenty-one Grands Prix have passed since Williams last won a race, Ralf Schumacher leading Montoya to a one-two finish in Malaysia in March 2002.

Williams have won 108 Grands Prix since Clay Regazzoni's victory at Silverstone in 1979 but only five have come since 1997. That is barely better than Jordan, struggling for sponsorship, who have won four in the last five years.

Montoya, raved about as a future Champion when he arrived at Williams, has only one win from 40 starts despite leading repeatedly since that day at Monza in 2001. But he has scored Williams's lone podium of 2003, a second place in Australia after leading, and led again on Sunday before his engine expired.

Looking Up

The pressure is on, although reports of a crisis meeting before Austria were played down by the team, but there are also signs of hope.

Ralf Schumacher, who struggled with the new one-lap qualifying earlier in the season, is the only driver to have scored points in every round.

Michael's younger brother has said for weeks that Williams are making good progress and that he expects to be winning races again before the end of the season. He saw no reason to change his tune in Austria.

"The start of the season, when we started testing the new car in January and February, wasn't brilliant but we've made a big step since," he said. "We do even more tests than we ever did before and the drivers are taking more responsibility because this FW25 is something new to the whole team."

"On one side you can say yes we have underperformed," he added. "But then many teams this year seem to have had difficulties.

"In another two months from here we should be up. I mean, we'd better be. It's something we need to push forward. It's a very important period now for us, to understand this car and to get this car really to the optimum.

"It's looking very promising, we've got the right people in the right places and there's a lot to come, a lot in the pipeline.

"But I don't want to talk about the Championship. At the moment we are after wins and podiums - which we haven't really managed a lot of this year."

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