It’s been rather obvious for some time that the Williams team is looking to secure some major backing from Qatar. How much this has to do with the team’s impending announcement on its 2012 driver line-up remains to be seen, but it is nearly certain that former World Champion Kimi Räikkönen will make a return to the sport with the Grove squad.
We’ll touch on that part of the story shortly, but in the interim, the team has announced it has signed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the Qatari government that will see Williams’ advanced simulator technology (currently housed at Williams’ Technology Centre) in the Middle Eastern country) being used to train local drivers.
This is one of a series of deals between Williams and the Qatari government, which started off in 2009 when Williams began construction of its Technology Centre in Qatar’s Science & Technology Park.
Stemming from that have been a series of deals with the Qatari Royal Family which have helped boost the team’s profile in the country, as well as boosting the profiles of Qatar-owned consortiums in motorsport. Perhaps some of you did not know that Williams’ sponsor, the Sainsbury’s supermarket group, has its ownership structure in Qatar?
As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Williams is playing a smart move by getting involved, particularly as the oil-rich country looks to diversify its economy.
The continued tightening of alliances with Qatar could be the avenue the cash-strapped team needs to start a long rebuilding process after its dramatic fall from being a frontrunning outfit.
In many ways, this is something of a rewind for the Williams team to over thirty years ago, when the outfit secured Middle Eastern backing in the late 1970s from Saudi Arabia. Backing from Saudia Airlines, TAG Heuer and the Bin Laden group gave the team a substantial cash injection, which propelled it into a frontrunning outfit, culminating in Alan Jones claiming the 1980 World Championship crown (pictured, top).
One step the team is actively considering is to change its driver line-up, or at least part of it. Despite the wealth of experience and continued hints that he is still as motivated as ever, Rubens Barrichello looks to be kicked to the kerb. Granted, this year’s car is pretty awful, but a driver of Rubens’ apparent stature should have blown a rookie like Pastor Maldonado into the weeds, but that has not happened on nearly enough occasions.
Signing Räikkönen is a huge risk for the team, but it’s equally a situation where there is little for any party to lose. The team will benefit from having a high-profile driver on its books, while Räikkönen can let the team take the blame for producing a bad car if he’s not particularly quick.
There is also the chance that he’s hungry to prove the doubters wrong, and if Williams gear his contract correctly – by putting him on a low base with very attractive bonuses for points’ finishes – then that could be the driving force.
Reports from the 32-year-old’s homeland are claiming that his signing will be announced at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Watch this space…
[Images via The Cahier Archive]