Best WDC Finish for Williams: 15th (2008)
Total Number of Races entered for Williams: 36
Total Points: 9
Best Result for Williams: 6th (Australia, 2008)
Debut: 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos
Head to Head Qualifying vs Team-mate: Nakajima 8-27 Rosberg
Nature of Arrival
Following the terminal demise of the BMW.WilliamsF1 partnership at the end of 2005, Williams were forced to buy the very well engineered and (eventually) reliable Cosworth unit for 2006. During the year the team rallied to fix reliability problems, but the biggest issue facing the team by far was the perilous commercial position the pullout of BMW and loss of HP had on the team. A severance payment for Jenson Button’s unfulfilled contract and Bernie loans got the team through a difficult period. The team was happy to conclude a deal with Toyota for 2007, which was cheap but seemingly came with one major proviso: Williams had to run Toyota protege Kazuki Nakajima.
While Alexander Wurz took the seat vacated by Mark Webber, Nakajima ran in 5 practice sessions throughout the year. When it became clear that Wurz had overstayed his welcome in F1, pressure was put on to get Kazuki in the car. He was signed for 2008, but was given the opportunity to contest his first race for Williams at Interlagos in 2007. He did a solid job, but managed to decimate several mechanics at his pit stop, which blotted his copybook somewhat.
Setting the Scene – Williams in 2008
After the shock and struggle of 2006, Williams had recovered and earned respectability once more in 2007. The FW29 was a respectable effort, and set the team up to rebuild once more. The team went into 2008 with Rosberg, Nakajima, Toyota, and a car (overseen by Sam Michael) covered in sponsors. However, the team was in debt, and spending was limited to try and return the business into a potentially profitable enterprise. Adam Parr was a key architect of this commercial recovery. But as far as 2008 was concerned, the task was to build on the respectability of 2007 and try and keep the manufacturer teams in sight.
Frankly, 5 points finishes in 2008 (9 points in total) , none in 2009. against Rosberg who scored 17 points in 2008 and 34.5 in 2009 was quite abysmal. Even more unfortunate was the fact he scored his best result in his first race of 2008 with the team- in 6th and last place, minus a front wing. As Williams slid backwards, Kazuki seemed to disappear without trace, with 8th in Singapore being the only highlight in a shocking final run of races all out of the top 10 – sometimes by quite a margin.
2009 brought new rules and a much more competitive Williams in the form of the neat, but underpowered Williams-Toyota FW31. The car was particularly quick at the start of 2009 due to Williams having jumped on the double-diffuser bandwagon early. Nakajima was unable to capitalise however, with 3 retirements in the first 4 races. He then settled down into the usual routine of qualifying behind Rosberg then cruising to a finish in the teens, well down the field. This is how it would be for Kazuki for most of 2009.
Australia 2008, where he climbed back to finish 6th on a day when Williams teammate Rosberg snatched 3rd. Easily the teams best result of the year overall, though as mentioned, Nakajima lost his front wing twice, and 6th was actually last. Qualifying ahead of Rosberg in the British GP 2009 was a moment when he partially redeemed himself, as was his speed during the 2007 Brazillian GP
Several broken front wings (see above…) and the gaps to Rosberg in various qualifying sessions comes to mind, but crashing out of the ’09 Australian GP in a points-capable car must have been galling, especially as 11th on the grid was also wasted.
Nature of Departure
Well this was quite simple. After duping Williams with is apparent speed in Brazil ’07, Kazuki had been disappointing in 2008, and pathetic in 2009. Toyota’s latest protege Kamui Kobayashi was wowing fans with his speed and commitment, it seemed he might be an ideal replacement for the flagging Nakajima. But in reality it was all pointless as Toyota pulled the plug on it’s entire F1 project at the end of 2009. This left Williams without an engine once again, and the team had to go back to Cosworth for a cut price V8 intended for the new teams lured in by talk of a cost cap for 2010. This meant there was no need to run a Toyota-supported driver and Nakajima was shown the door. In the vacant seat, the team installed it’s highly-rated test driver, heavyweight invisible man of the paddock, Nico Hulkenberg for 2010. Williams hired Rubens Barrichello to replace Brawn/Mercedes bound Nico Rosberg.
Kazuki retained his links with Toyota, who have been running him in sportscars in recent years in a team (ironically) featuring Alex Wurz, whose seat he “took over” for Williams back in late 2007!
Kazuki Nakajima did not race for Williams during one of its most competitive periods, but the chasm to Rosberg told it’s own story. And that is one of a driver who just wasn’t quite quick enough for Formula One. He got there because of Toyota support, and without it the team was quick to drop him.
Even in 2011 and 2013, points were had somewhere in the season by Williams drivers, and the fact that he couldn’t deliver at all in the 2009 car paints as sorry a picture for him as it did for Alex Zanardi. At least Kazuki has 2008 where, by the very skin of his teeth, it looked like he did enough to warrant another season.
What did he bring for Williams? Cheap Toyota engines at a time the team BADLY needed them, but beyond that, nothing. It didn’t even buy Loyalty, as Toyota’s total pull-out confirmed. I’m not sure any of this is enough to outscore his errors and lacklustre performances. Perhaps it was a commercial deal that needed to be done, and all concerned did the best they could. After all, Williams were trying their darndest to break even during this period.
Tags: Kazuki Nakajima
Categorised in: Drivers Championship runner-up
This post was written by Chris