Williams launches FW23

THE clear, crisp, sunny surroundings of Silverstone's national circuit echoed to the metallic rasp of the new 90-degree BMW V10 engine today as Ralf Schumacher shook down the new Williams FW23 prior to the car's departure for testing at Barcelona.

As usual, this was a no-nonsense, down-to-earth typically Williams media conference at which the British team's core qualities as racers first, second and last were very much to the forefront. It was the prevailing view that this was a stark contrast to the over-blown, slightly chaotic and rather superfluous launch of the BAR-Honda in a fluffed-up abandoned London railway arch the previous day.

"Much is expected of the partnership in 2001 and everyone at Williams is much aware of this responsibility," said team principal Sir Frank Williams. For the 2001 season chief designer Geoff W illis explained; "The FW23 is, in concept, an evolution of the FW22 with developments and improvements for the engine installation and gearbox and improvements for the new engine installation and gearbox, and a large number of changes reflecting the impact of the new regulations."

Technical director Patrick Head added; "The FW23 will build on progress made over the last two years and have a visual similarity to the successful 2000 car. The aerodynamics have been optimized around the new regulations and we hope that this car and engine will permit our drivers to challenge for race wins in 2001."

BMW Motorsport director Mario Thiessen was refreshingly candid about the new engine, pointing out that the question of how wide an engine vee could be considered was down to a balance between low weight, center of gravity and engine packaging.

"Going out from 72 to 90-degrees was what we considered about the optimum," he said. "If you go wider (the new rival Renault RS21 V10 is 111-degree) then you have problems packaging the exhausts, which in turn starts you considering whether the engine has to be packaged higher in the chassis."

Fellow BMW Motorsport Director Gerhard Berger added; "It is not likely that we will completely close the gap with the established F1 front runners in only our second season, but we want to improve out performance as to be ready and waiting to pounce as soon as one of the Ferraris or McLaren-Mercedes runs into trouble."

Frank Williams echoed those sentiments; "We hope maybe for a win or two if the grey cars or the red cars make a mistake!"

Despite this, there was a general acknowledgement that a tight group comprising Benetton, BAR and Jordan would be snapping at the team's heels in 2001, they in turn ready to pounce if the Williams-BMW failed.

Nevertheless, there is clearly no prospect whatsoever of BMW supplying a second team in order to hedge its bets in the same manner as Honda has done. Said Berger; "In our case we prefer the situation where we concentrate on a single team. We have great confidence in what Williams can achieve and do not need to divide our efforts.

Mario Theissen added that BMW took the decision to build its new 90-degree V10 engine even before the start of last season. "Even then it was clear that if we wanted to close the gap to the top teams, we would need a new engine for the second year," he admitted. "It is quite difficult and challenging to hit the edge of technology required by the F1 business, without going beyond it."

On the driver front, Frank Williams said he was delighted with the partnership of Juan Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. "I don't suppose they will get on marvelously, but that's not important," he said.

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