In January of this year, Williams announced that Bruno Senna would join the team to drive alongside Pastor Maldonado. The announcement meant the end, at least for the moment, of Rubens Barrichello’s Formula One career. The choice of drivers was fairly obviously financially based, with both Maldonado and Senna bringing significant sponsorship to the team. But what they brought in funding they lacked in experience, with only one full season each in the sport.
Maldonado has demonstrated that he is very quick when the circumstances are right. The Venezuelan driver won this year’s Spanish Grand Prix from pole position with a mature and measured drive that greatly impressed everyone in Formula One. However, he had to wait almost five full months for his next points finish – at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix- and produced some scrappy performances in between, showing just how new he is to the top level of motor sport.
Senna’s Formula One career has got off to a difficult and unsettled start. He raced for back-of-the-field HRT in 2010, before joining Renault as their reserve driver for 2011. When Nick Heidfeld departed from the team mid-way through the season, Senna was given the opportunity to drive for the team in the last eight races of the season. Now with Williams, he has yet to set the track alight with his speed, but has performed consistently and is now only eight points behind Maldonado in the Drivers’ Championship.
While both Maldonado and Senna could have long and successful careers ahead of them, their lack of experience has a crucial downside for the Williams team. They are unlikely to be able to extract maximum performance from the car on a consistent basis. Furthermore, they do not have experience in developing a front-running car, unlike more seasoned veterans such as former Williams driver Barrichello.
The 2012 Williams FW34 car is a good car. The victory in Spain clearly shows that. But one has to wonder if a more experienced driver could have done more with the available equipment. Rubens Barrichello is the most experienced driver in Formula One history. He was team-mate to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari during the most dominant period of the team’s history. He has unique and valuable experience that could only help an outfit like Williams to re-assert itself as a front-running team.
Williams discarded Barrichello too soon, and are now paying the price for that decision. The Williams driver line-up for 2013 has not yet been confirmed, and it is possible that the team could look to recruit at least one experienced driver. It would certainly make sense to have a mix of youth and experience going forward. The current youth-only formula is not likely to work long-term.