May 26, 2013

The upside of inconsistency

Williams looks likely to switch to Mercedes engines in 2014 © Sutton Images

When it comes to winning titles, consistency is paramount. There’s not much to gain from winning five races and crashing out of fifteen, whereas championships can be won through the odd victory, regular podiums, and constant finishes in the points. Just ask Fernando Alonso, who nearly pulled it off last season.

But consistency isn’t just about winning races and collecting points. Teams that have worked together for years tend to perform better – they have worked out shortcuts, secret languages, and means of effective cooperation. It’s a truism that applies outside the world of sport as much as it does inside.

From a Formula One point of view, long-standing relationships with external suppliers like engine manufacturers are a good thing. Design philosophies are understood, and noise to tail integration is easier when major parts like powertrains are consistent from year to year.

One of the stories doing the rounds of the paddock this weekend – yet to be officially confirmed, but still taken as a given – is that Williams will be making the switch to Mercedes engines for 2014, thanks to a deal facilitated by Williams shareholder and Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff.

It will be the Grove outfit’s fifth switch of engine supply in a decade. Their BMW relationship ended in 2005, and the team used Cosworth power the following year. The next three years saw Williams powered by Toyota engines, and in 2010 they returned to Cosworth for two years. In 2012 the iconic Williams-Renault combination returned to the sport, although it now appears that that too will have been a two-year relationship.

It could be argued that one of the factors contributing to Williams’ struggles on track over the past decade, but that would be an oversimplification. Formula One is far too complex to attribute poor performance to a single factor, and Williams have been faced with all manner of challenges over the past ten years, from low budgets to the loss of a significant number of senior team personnel.

While the switch to Mercedes power would mean another bedding in period for Williams as they learn how to get the most out of the relationship with their new supplier, this could be the inconsistent move that catapults the Grove outfit back into consistent contention at the head of the pack.

Not only have Mercedes consistently proved themselves to be one of the best – if not the best – F1 engine suppliers when it comes to making the most out of new regulations, but their 2014 engines are thought to be the cheapest on the market. By saving money on engine outlay (the Renaults are particularly pricey, and it is rumoured that the price charged gets higher the lower you are on the grid), Williams will have more financial resources to divert into the rest of their car.

Inconsistency doesn’t usually pay, but this particular bit of inconsistency should reap dividends.


Posted by E Hardie on 28/05/2013

With the completely new V6 turbocharged engines coming next year, I think Williams and every other team will be having a "bedding in period" regardless of if they switch engine supplier because there will be almost zero carry-over from the current powertrains. If there is an optimum time to switch suppliers, it is when all of them are offering a brand new package anyway.

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker