Williams' win genuine or down to crazy season?
Williams will be delighted to be back to winning ways but the question is, what was the biggest contributing factor to their victory?
There is no doubt the new appointments and restructuring at Williams have had a positive impact on the team, and have moved them forward.
On the other side of the equation the nature of the 2012 season with the ban of the exhaust blown diffusers, and the challenging Pirelli tyres have really opened up the field, and given midfield teams an opportunity to usurp the big guns.
So what was the biggest factor? Or was it a combination of both?
In any case huge credit has to be given to the whole team. The car worked brilliantly in Spain and they got the most out of the tyres, whilst others didn’t. Nothing can take away from the fact that the race was won on pure merit.
There is no doubt that the FW34 is far superior to the FW33, which scored a miserable five points in the 2011 championship.
The appointment of Mike Coughlan as technical director is clearly an inspired move. He may be most famous for spygate but look beyond that and he is an extremely talented engineer. He has brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to Williams after working for the likes of McLaren, Tyrell and Ferrari in the past.
Coughlan, an inspired hiring along with Gillan and Somerville (© Williams, LAT Photographic).
The role of Technical Director didn’t suit Sam Michael's (now Sporting Director at McLaren) main strengths and it was said that he was doing far too many jobs within the team.
With the appointment of Coughlan plus Mark Gillan (Chief Operations officer) and Jason Somerville (head of Aerodynamics) the team has more brainpower, a better structure, is far more efficient and working together better as a unit. You perhaps wonder why Williams didn’t make these major changes sooner.
Having the right people in the senior positions is vitally important, as proven at the teams Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey have worked for as an example.
Gillan spoke pre-season to Autosport about the effect Coughlan has had on the team: "Firstly, we had to deal with the situation of the team and he is a clear, no-nonsense engineer who gives a very clear direction of where he wants to take the team technically. That is very welcome from my side."
He added: "And he has given very clear direction in areas of the car to make certain technical innovations. Everybody knows where we want to go, there are clear metrics in place to judge how well we are getting there."
The team have also switched to Renault engines, which has given them more power and better fuel consumption. They have also refined their innovative gearbox, which they pioneered last season.
Williams have had success with KERS outside of F1 (© Williams, LAT Photographic).
Williams' activities outside of F1, including Williams hybrid power, have brought funds to the company which in turn has put the team in a better position financially despite the loss of some key sponsors. This will only help the team further when it comes to competing with the big teams.
Back in March Williams announced a profit for the fourth year running. Ex-chairman Adam Parr told Reuters: "I am very satisfied with what we have done overall with the business.
"I think this is the fourth year in a row that we have produced a profit. We have paid off our debt and built up our financial strength. We've been able to invest in the F1 business and new businesses."
Thanks to all these factors Williams have significantly closed the gap to the frontrunners. In normal circumstances this is now a car which is at least at the front of the midfield and able to challenge the big guns from time to time.
However so far the 2012 season has not been particularly normal, and a couple of circumstances have led to the form book being ripped up, and contributed to giving Williams their big chance in Spain.
First of all the ban of the blown diffuser has taken a big advantage away from the top teams. A couple of the front runners were gaining up to a second per lap from the innovation.
Furthermore this is the fourth year of the current aerodynamic regulations which were introduced back in 2009.
The disappointing FW33 now just a distant memory (© Williams, LAT Photographic).
When you have reasonably stable regulations for this period of time it’s normal to see the time covering the teams close up. The banning of the blown diffuser has further exaggerated that trend this year.
Of course the biggest factor of all is the tyres. Pirelli made alterations to their tyres this year, and the simple truth is that all the teams are struggling to understand them.
With the grid much tighter this season the tyres have been shaking up the competitive order much more, and good strategy has become even more critical.
The key to making them work is getting them in what seems to be a very narrow operating window. If you don’t manage to do that then you are going to have a tough weekend. The challenge for the teams is to develop their cars to widen that operating window.
Already this year we have seen teams quick in Friday practice, but then a change in temperature on race day has suddenly seen the pace drop away.
Teams like Lotus, McLaren and Red Bull are performing better when the track temperature is boiling hot. The likes of Sauber and Mercedes are finding good performance in cooler track temperatures.
Getting the most out of the tyres has become the key decider this year to who will come out on top. This has become as important, if not more, than simply who has the best car on a particular weekend.
Tyres have become the determining factor in 2012, the key is understanding them.
Martin Whitmarsh said: "They are challenging and there have been times when they have certainly given up. Bahrain was certainly one of those times, where we weren't in the right window of operation and that affected our performance in the race quite dramatically."
He added: "But I think it would be wrong to criticise the tyre. I think you've got to look at you as a team and what the drivers are doing and look at how to manage the situation."
Williams simply did a brilliant job of getting the most out of their car and the tyres in Spain. Pastor Maldonado did a great job in both qualifying and the race, whilst the team judged the strategy perfectly.
Below par performances from their rivals also helped Williams. In qualifying Lotus looked like they would be favourites for race victory. However the decrease in track temperature on race day took away their edge, and they weren't as competitive as expected.
Red Bull thought Mark Webber was safe in qualifying but were wrong and he got knocked out in Q2. Had he got through he could have had a crack at the front row of the grid. Sebastian Vettel ran out of soft tyres by the time he got to Q3.
Williams also benefitted from the fact Lewis Hamilton got sent to the back of the grid. Lewis was the only man able to run a two stop strategy. He clearly was very happy with the car and the tyres in Spain and probably would have won had he kept pole.
For Mercedes it wasn’t their best weekend mainly due to the lack of long straights at Catalunya and also in part to the track temperature.
Processional racing in Spain now a thing of the past thanks to Pirelli?
If this was a normal season back in the Bridgestone tyre days, which the teams all understood much better, there is no doubt things wouldn’t be so mixed up.
There would most likely have been the usual status quo with the likes of McLaren, Red Bull, and Mercedes being the top teams. However Williams would certainly have been at the front of the midfield not too far behind the big teams. The improvement they have made this season is definitely real. Their improved fortunes aren’t just down to the crazy nature of this championship so far.
However it is very important to consider that at the end of the day the rules are the same for everyone as are the Pirelli tyres. It’s up to each individual team to get the most out of them.
As Pastor Maldonado told BBC Sport the team have been focusing on the tyres: "We have been working so hard trying to understand these tyres and to develop our car around these tyres.
"We did a very good step forward for this race."
The rules and regulations of previous seasons are irrelevant. In Spain with the 2012 regulations and tyres they simply did a better job than everyone else. They fully deserve their long awaited return to the top step of the podium.
Upgrades centered around tyre wear the key? (© Williams, LAT Photographic)
It could be that with Williams’ approach of upgrading the car around the tyres that they may be about to out smarten their opposition. We will soon see as we head to the next few races.
The team who understands the tyres the best (and quickest) are very likely to come out on top in 2012. Williams could well be that team.
In conclusion it has to be said the tyres and underperformance from a few of their rivals were the main factor that led to Williams’ victory. However the fact that they have closed the gap to the front significantly this year, opened up the opportunity to challenge for victory, on a weekend when they got everything right and others didn’t.
There is no doubt that the team have turned a corner, and with the new structure, new personnel and improved finances in place the future is much brighter than it was before.
It may not be long before Williams' won't be needing a tyre lottery or faltering rivals to win races.
Could that even happen at the next in Monaco? Williams were very quick in the twisty final section in Barcelona which is often an accurate indicator for a strong race in Monaco. Maldonado is also a bit of a Monte-Carlo specialist.
Maybe we are about to witness a sensation here.