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Will Senna Turn Williams Around?

After contesting more than 600 Grands Prix in 39 seasons, the Williams team enter their 40th year of Formula One this weekend knowing many close observers are whispering behind their backs.

Last year produced a return of five points. ‘Disaster’ became an overworked word when the Didcot-based, quintessentially English racers were mentioned.

Pay drivers, a chronic decline, their worst season in modern times in 2011 and, perhaps most of all, the withdrawal from front-line duty by team founders Frank Williams and Patrick Head have signalled the end of an era.

Sentiment had to be balanced by traditional Williams pragmatism.

"It was, and it is, an inevitable situation," said former Williams star Alan Jones. "Everything and everyone comes to an end. It is the same as when Ferrari lost Enzo and Lotus lost Colin Chapman...

"I remember them very well, Frank and Patrick, from the earliest days - and it just amazed me that they carried on the way they did year after year after year. But it had to end..."

Jones was the Williams' team's first successful driver. He delivered their first pole position, on home turf, at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone, adding five more that year and the one after.

An iron-willed man of strength and courage, Jones went on to win 11 races for Williams and take the drivers' world title in 1980, producing sweat-soaked glory to satisfy the unremitting demands of his employers.

"They were such different times," he recalled at Albert Park on Thursday. "It was a really different era when men were men, if you like. That team was all about racing and nothing else..."

The almost brutal ambitions of the team, the inspired leadership of Williams and the brilliant design and engineering of Head ushered in an era of success that earned nine constructors' titles between 1980 and 1997.

The drivers and their titles were always secondary even as men like Finland's Keke Rosberg, the Brazilian Nelson Piquet and Britons Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill were winning.

"That's how they were, utterly dedicated, completely committed," said Jones. "I still feel they are my team. When I walk into this paddock, they represent my home.
“That has never changed. I still know some of the boys there and I can get a coffee no worries. People like team manager Dickie (Stanford) are still there. It's still a great team with great people and facilities."

Last season's debacle saw the final curtain fall also for much-loved Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello after 323 F1 races in 19 years, a move that meant compatriot Bruno Senna could be ushered in to partner Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado.

Barrichello had entered F1 as a baby-faced 20-year-old in 1993, nursed by his mentor and fellow Paulista Ayrton Senna.

Williams were then in their pomp, winning the second of three successive teams' titles that led, in 1994, to the arrival of Senna in succession to his great rival, Frenchman Alain Prost, and the muscular Englishman Mansell.

The death of Senna, in his third outing for Williams, was the team's blackest day and, almost invisibly, the beginning of the end for the 'old guard'.

"They were tough and they got through it all," said Jones. "None of us had much anyway to start with, did we? So we grew up that way... Now, it has changed.

After seven years without a win, 14 without a constructors' title and following their worst points haul in a season since 1974, Jones senses that the circle is turning.

"I have a good feeling for them and I hope I am right. The team is changing. They have Renault engines. They are giving some of the younger guys a chance. It's good to see."

The arrival of Senna, Ayrton’s nephew, weaves the thread of history together and marks a new start for Adam Parr, commercial director, and Mark Gillan, chief operations engineer.

"I hope Senna can do well," said Jones. "I am reminded of his uncle when I see him and how he behaves and looks.

"I think he has some talent, but enough? I don't know. We have to wait, don't we - and just hope he has. He’s in a good team now."

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