Saturday March 3rd, 2001
They may not be the fastest kids on the block any more but the powerful Williams team were definitely among the happiest after Saturday's qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix.
The British team, who have won nine constructors' championships and seven drivers' titles, finished fifth and 11th in qualifying but said they were thrilled with the results.
The team have undergone changes in the last few seasons, switching to BMW engines last year then Michelin tyres this season.
"This was very encouraging," Williams technical director Patrick Head said. "It was very encouraging for the team and very good for Michelin to be in this shape on their return to Grand Prix racing and it was a very impressive performace from the BMW engine."
Ralf Schumacher led the Williams charge, qualifying fifth fastest for Sunday's race. The German finished third in last year's season-opening event and expects to be there or thereabouts again this weekend.
"The new engine is really strong and we have managed to match the set-up and the tyres," Schumacher said. "I could imagine that we might even look a little bit better tomorrow."
Rookie driver Juan Pablo Montoya had a few problems trying to qualify for his first Formula One race after switching from American Champ Car.
The Colombian ran of course a few times then was blocked for a run late when he was on a flying lap near the end of the session.
"I was very disappointed with my last run. The car was getting better and better and there was a lot of room to go much faster as I was taking it quite carefully in the early runs," Montoya said.
Frank Williams Upbeat
Team chief Sir Frank Williams, often known to keep serene, was rather upbeat after qualifying. "Well my own personal summary is thrilled actually, because Ralf did a remarkably good job with a new car, a new tyre and a new engine to get so high up," Williams said.
"The engine is very very strong; we are very pleased about that. It would new be honest to say that our new tyre has a slight understeer
characteristic, but as your saw this afternoon, we were able to engineer that out and be reasonably competitive."
Commenting on Montoya's qualifying session, after the Colombian finished a disappointing eleventh, Williams said: "He has had his
fair share of learning to do, a Grand Prix car is very complex and he has no data bank in his head except for some testing, and he was, after all, held up on his fastest lap, and so although eleventh is disappointing, he is still capable of great things."
BMW motorsport director Mario Theissen said he was also pleased by the team's performance, particularly considering they were using Michelin tyres while the likes of Ferrari and McLaren were on Bridgestone.
"This is a superb start to the new season. We have realised the increase in engine power that we wanted to achieve," Theissen said.
"We have had no technical problems with the new engines and we are not only the best positioned team of those using Michelin tyres but we are also the only Michelin team having a car in the top 10."