Patrick Head Q&A

WilliamsF1 has made a better start to the season than anyone expected, and Ralf Schumacher has scored points at every race except Imola. The team seems to be building up momentum again, and the frustrations of the past two years have been forgotten. It always been said that the Frank and Patrick Head's favourite driver was Alan Jones, mainly because the Aussie came from the same generation as them. Like policemen Williams drivers seem to have been getting younger and younger, and we're now at the point where the 53-year-old Patrick Head is dealing with two men who have a combined age of just 44! Adam Cooper spoke to the Williams technical director about the year so far

Patrick Head Q&A

Q: Were you pleased with Ralf's performance in Spain?

"He was obviously not able to hold on to Michael and Mika, and he was in effect holding up David and Rubens, but there were no dirty manoeuvres and they never really got close enough to him to put in much of a challenge. So it was a genuine position, which came about through making a really good start. I think at this stage we're pretty happy with a fourth place finish, behind a couple of McLarens and one Ferrari. Obviously it would have been nice for Jenson and good for the team to have got two cars in the points, but for the moment I'm quite happy with that."

Q: What about Michael's move on Ralf?

"If Ralf has any strong views about it I imagine he'll have a chat to Michael. But it is motor racing - it's a competitive business."

Q: There wasn't much passing, but Jenson got up to sixth - were you impressed with his speed in the middle of the race?

"Jenson did a brilliant job. He did exactly what he needed to do when he needed to do it, and basically took the two Jordans at the pit-stops. He did it all right. He's a great driver, a great racer. He's got to qualify a bit better than he did this time, but he's well capable of doing that. It was just obviously a bit disappointing not to get the last three laps in."

Q: What were you expectations for this year after winter testing?

"We had quite a lot of problems in December and in January with the oil system. It was not a problem on the dyno, but it was a problem that occurred in the car - obviously on the dyno you don't have the big inertia loads that the car is subjected to on the circuit. It took a bit of time to understand exactly what was causing the problem and make the corrections to put it right."

Q: Is the reality better than you would have hoped for by this stage?

"I tend not to make predictions about how well we're going to do, because I think it's a fairly dangerous thing to do. If I do try and make predictions I'm nearly always wrong. We're certainly doing better than we might have expected, but there's still a big gap between the two top teams, McLaren and Ferrari, and all of the rest. We're priding ourselves on being able to be fairly often towards the top end of the rest."

Q: How do you go about closing a gap like that?

"It's a bit of everything. It isn't just one thing on their cars that makes their cars better. Obviously the engines are a little bit stronger, they're probably a little bit lighter, but equally the cars may have slightly better aerodynamics, slightly better centres of gravity. All those tiny little bits and pieces that make up a quick car. At least the suggestion is that maybe our development rate is slightly higher. It's always a problem when you're right up at the top, because you're leading the development. It's easier to catch up, but it's actually quite difficult to lead and maintain that lead all the time."

Q: Are you impressed with BMW so far?

"Certainly the engine has proved to be a very good first introduction back into F1 since they stopped in '85 as a works set-up. But they said right from the beginning, 'Look, this won't be the lightest engine, it won't be the smallest engine, it won't be the most powerful engine.' But for us and them it was a good start point. A lot of the geometry of the engine was established by Paul Rosche, and a lot of experience went into that. And I would say a lot of his judgement has proved very sound. The driveability of the engine is good, which helps you develop the chassis, so we're making progress."

Q: Do you think working on the Le Mans project was a good head-start in
terms of building the relationship between the two companies?

"I don't think it made a great deal of difference, as it was a different group of people. The group that worked on the Le Mans project had some problems in 1998, in getting the car out in time to be properly tested and developed. The '98 car wasn't that bad, and it did finish the race in '99. But in truth it wasn't ready the year before, and it showed it by dropping out. I don't think BMW were desperately pleased by that, but equally I think they were very pleased by the way that group and additions to it got themselves together and produced a '99 car which did win at Le Mans. They worked very well with BMW during the test programme, and met their design and manufacturing targets. Maybe it developed a certain amount of respect for Williams that might not have been there otherwise. Now we are building and establishing knowledge of how each side works."

Q: You never had Gerhard Berger as a driver - what's he like to work with?

"Frank was never prepared to pay enough to have Gerhard in the car! Certainly I think that Gerhard has been a good asset to their programme, in that he has got recent F1 experience. Although Paul Rosche didn't have recent F1 experience, he certainly had a lot of experience. Now he's not with the motor sport group, and while the senior people like Dr Thiessen are very capable people, they would acknowledge themselves that they don't have recent top-level F1 motor sport experience. Gerhard can provide a lot in terms of having that, in addition to his contribution to the marketing side."

Q: What's the feeling like in the team now - is there a buzz that you haven't had for a couple of years, with two young drivers and a promising engine partner?

"A lot of the people at Williams have been with us when we have been winning championships, None of them are of the view that we're back - they know there's still quite a big gap between where we are and where we need to be. They all want to be back at the front end, and they know that we will only get there by hard work and application to the task. Certainly having Jenson in the team has been very good. He and Ralf get on well together, work well together, and certainly there's a feeling of progress. That the thing that's difficult to deal with in F1 - if you feel you're not going forward, or if you're either staying steady or going up and down erratically. If you're steadily progressing upwards then yes, it makes everybody give that little bit extra."

Q: How good is Ralf - what's his ultimate potential?

"I think Ralf's ultimate potential is to be World Champion, and I hope for Ralf and ourselves it's more than once. I have no doubts that Ralf is absolutely top level standard. I don't think for one moment, 'If only we had so-and-so in the team.' The question is not, 'Is Ralf good enough?,' the question is, 'Is BMW Williams good enough?' Both from a speed point of view and from a strategy and reliability point of view."

Q: A lot of drivers have come and gone from Williams in the past few years, but now you have two young talents and there's a third highly-rated guy in America you can also call on, Juan Pablo Montoya. What's it like to be in that position?

"Yes, it's good to be in a stronger position with drivers than the other way round. I think all of us at Williams and BMW know that our challenge is to raise the competence of the car, the competence of the engine, and the capability of the team operationally. I don't think any of us are looking at the drivers and saying, 'If only...', either with Ralf or Jenson."

Q: Now that you're in a position to qualify fifth, are you starting to get a sniff of victory if the top guys have trouble, or it's a wet race?

"In order to win a race we're still in a position where two McLarens need to have a problem and two Ferraris need to have a problem. The Jordans are very strong, very capable. That team has shown itself capable of running top-level strategies in races and making very good decisions. So I think there's still quite a long way to go before we win a race purely on merit. Meanwhile usually in a season one or two opportunities show themselves to poke you head up at the front when on pure merit in normal circumstances you wouldn't be there, and we've got to make sure that when that situation arises we're there and waiting to pick it up."

Q: Is third in the championship a realistic target now?

"McLaren and Ferrari are in front, and because you only pick up two points or one point for firth or sixth place, the points are very close amongst the rest. You've only got to have a situation like last year with Stewart at Nurburgring, where they finished first and third and we went out of the lead with a puncture. That sort of thing can blow your position at this stage."

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