Sunday April 15th, 2001
There was no disguising the delight of the Williams team on Sunday night after Ralf Schumacher drove to a cool and commanding maiden victory in the San Marino Grand Prix.
Champagne flowed, team photographs were taken and senior men, like long-serving technical director Patrick Head and team principal Frank Williams, talked of their satisfaction and their pride. Not since 1997 -- 54 races -- had Williams tasted success.
McLaren chief Ron Dennis called to congratulate them. Mika Hakkinen did the same. Visitors from every corner of the paddock shared in the Williams success. Like strawberries and cream, they are seen as a quintessential English racing team even if their engines come from Munich.
Even German Schumacher, 25, younger brother of triple world champion Michael, signalled how Anglicised he has become at Williams by remarking, during the post-race news conference, that the teams' congratulations had come his way with the minimum of fuss.
"At 20 laps to go, I started thinking about winning. But then I remembered last time (the 1999 European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, where he led until a puncture halted him) when it was 16 laps to go and I thought 'okay, let's wait'. Then, the last three laps I was taking it pretty easy. I knew David (Coulthard) was six or seven seconds behind me and I just tried to finish."
"It was pretty relaxed really, although the pressure is on us to continue like this now. Over the radio, my engineer spoke to me first, then Patrick, and then Frank. They said 'good job' because, while it might be a long time ago, they're still used to winning races..."
The Williams-Head team have won 104 Grands Prix since they joined forces as Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1978 and created a team, with a sporting heart, smiling face and competitive spirit, to take on the world.
One more victory, albeit one that signals the start of a new era, was therefore unlikely to unleash a flood of emotions beyond a warm glow, a flute of champagne and then a cup of tea. 'Business as usual' has, after all, always been a favourite expression of Frank Williams himself.
In the aftermath of this win, which prompted memories of the early days of previously successful partnerships with Honda and Renault, both men were quick to play down expectations.
They had stated their joint aim, with BMW, was to be challenging for a win this season and for the championship next year, but they had overtaken their own ambitions.
And they agreed, also, that they had never allowed their motivation to diminish during the worst days of 1998 and beyond as they struggled to compete following the termination of their technical partnership with Renault.
"We didn't drop our aims, but we were sensible and responsible," said Head. "That comes from Frank. He likes to stay cool and logical. We did not waver and we never thought of giving up."
Williams, the articulate inspiration of the team, personifies also its never-say-die spirit and long-term passion for racing and competing. "We thought 'there's quite a bit to do here'," he said on Sunday evening as he recalled the prospects of rebuilding the team during the fruitless days of 1998. "But we knew we would come back."
And so, as his friend Gerhard Berger, the former driver who now heads BMW motorsport, stood outside surrounded by microphones, Williams enjoyed a beam of satisfaction himself. "Ralf was strong wasn't he?" he said. "It was a very good race, a really strong and convincing performance."
Like former favourites Australian Alan Jones, Finn Keke Rosberg and Briton Nigel Mansell, Schumacher junior is a powerfully-built driver who pushes the car to the limits. So, too, is his partner Juan-Pablo Montoya of Colombia, who retired on Sunday after climbing to fourth.
They are a pairing that has already struck fear in the hearts of other teams. And that is the way things should be at Williams when they have a chassis that works well, powerful and reliable engines from BMW and competitive tyres from Michelin.
As Williams likes to put it, his team are back winning and it is 'business as usual' again.