Brand New Day For Williams

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LONDON -- Like most Formula One teams, Williams BMW has the same goal for the 2001season-close the gap on Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes. But Williams will play a slightly different role this year, as it is the team that almost everyone else will be trying to beat.

Last year Williams finished third in the Constructors Championship, and that is where Jordan Honda, BAR Honda, Benetton Renault, Jaguar Cosworth and the other teams want to be at the end of 2001. They all realize that it will be nearly impossible to catch McLaren and Ferrari, but Williams is a very different situation indeed.

"The other teams are all under our gearbox and if we make one mistake we are going to be eaten by them," was the way BMW motor sport director Gerhard Berger summarized it at the official launch of the Williams BMW F23at Silverstone on January 27.

While other teams try to put on a big show with all sorts of loud music, smoke and flashing lights when they launch their new cars, Williams has always gone for a simple, no razzmatazz, approach. This year was no exception. The team bosses, technical directors and drivers each answered a few questions, and then Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya pulled off a sheet covering the new car. After that, the drivers and team personnel were available for interviews.

A lot has changed for the Williams team over the years. A veteran Formula One journalist remembers coming to Silverstone more than 25 years ago when Frank Williams appeared with his new F1 car. There were so few people around that he had to help unload the car off the trailer. This year's Williams BMW launch was held in a large "tent" just next to the F1 paddock. More than 400 media and sponsors were present. Still, it was not a glamorous launch - it was rather a case of the team saying: "Here is the new car. Now let us go racing!"

The FW23 was designed by chief designer Gavin Fisher and chief aerodynamicist Geoff Willis, who worked under technical director Patrick Head. A new addition to the technical staff this year is Australia's Sam Michaels, who left Jordan to become the chief operations engineer at Williams.

"For 2001 we have the challenge of the new aerodynamic limitations, substantially more rigorous structural and impact tests, a new engine from BMW and a new tire partner in Michelin," Willis said. "The FW23 is, in concept, an evolution of FW22 with developments and improvements for the new engine installation and gearbox, plus a large number of changes caused by the new regulations. The most visible change is the rear wing, the longer and higher side pods, and the higher front wing."

Fisher said they tried to improve on every aspect of the FW22.

"You look at every component on the car and every system, and you try to identify the weaknesses," Fisher said. "Then you improve them."

Another very visible change is the new color scheme, which features a brighter blue than last year's blue which was so dark it almost looked black on TV.

One of the biggest changes to this year's car is the BMW V10, which is a completely new engine. Berger said there is not even one screw that is the same between last year's V10 and this year's model. BMW actually started designing this new engine in January 2000, which was three months before the older version of the engine ran in its first race.

"Last year we went the conservative route to stabilize ourselves and get reliability," Berger said. "For this year we are trying to take a little bit more risk. We have a brand new car, which is normal in F1. But we also have a brand new engine where not one screw is the same as last year's engine. We have a new tire manufacturer and a new driver. To close the gap to the front teams we have to take more risks. Hopefully we can get closer."

Asked what his goals for the team are this season, team founder Sir Frank Williams stated: "We want to finish every race with both cars, have brilliant pit stops, great strategy and maybe a win or two."

After two years in the USA, during which he won the 1999 CART championship and the 2000 Indianapolis 500, Juan Pablo Montoya joins Williams this year as Schumacher's teammate.

"We have two remarkably competitive drivers," Williams said. "Juan is a bit of an unknown in a Grand Prix car, but I don't think there is much doubt in this team about what he can do. I don't suppose that he and Ralf will get along marvelously, but that's not what is important. What is important is what they do on the track."

Both Schumacher and Montoya said at the launch that they have a good working relationship despite what has been written in the media.

As for the 2001 season, Montoya said: "You can't say I am going to win but I will always give 100 percent."

Schumacher said: "The way we started last season (on the podium in Australia) and finished last season (third in the Constructors Championship) was unbelievable. Our target for this season is to try to stay in third and to improve."

Just over two hours after the new FW23 was unveiled, Schumacher drove it around for one lap on the Silverstone National circuit. The Williams BMW team wanted to go racing.

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