After failing to defend the constructors championship, Willows Racing team boss Joseph Willows sat down with FF1M’s lead commentator James Brickles to discuss the previous season as looking forward to his 2016 prospects.
Q: Thank you for talking to us today Joseph. Would it be fair to say that 2015 was a bit of an up and down season for yourself?
A: I’d say it was more of a disaster than an up and down season. I mean to come away from the 2014 season winning the Constructors, to then dropping down the pecking order and not having a car that regularly fought for victories was not in the script. I mean yeah we won a race and at times we fought for victories, but anytime we did, we’d 9 times out of 10 retire from a mechanical failure and lose out on points we should’ve taken. In fact ever since we joined FF1M in 2012, it’s been the story of our team so far. We do well one season, the next we are down in the midfield and on the back foot, so obviously the aim will be to be back towards the front in 2016 and then maintain that for future seasons.
Q: How would you rate Stoffel Vandoorne’s first season in FF1M alongside the 2006 drivers champion Nico Rosberg?
A: Fantastic, obviously he had big shoes to fill after Fernando left to join Tornado, but we had a lot of faith in him. He proved how good he was in FF2M and he continued that into FF1M, in fact so much so that he was matching and at times beating Nico in some races. It’s just a pity reliability held him back because I’m pretty sure he could’ve got 1 or 2 wins last year. So hopefully if we can deliver him a package that’s up there in 2016, he should be regularly up there fighting for wins and hopefully the world championship.
Q: Stoffel will be partnered by the exciting young rookie Max Verstappen for 2016. What can we expect from Max as well as the team in general?
A: I think you should expect great things from Max. He’s obviously been showing how scarily fast he is in the junior categories, especially last year when he was fighting for the FF2M title. Obviously things didn’t go his way in end for various reasons, but he never lost any speed that’s for sure. I think Max will have a fantastic season and I hope he and Stoffel can deliver the goods this year. Obviously Max is a rookie, so it might take time for him to adapt, like it did with Stoffel last year, but once he’s adjusted, he should be up there with Stoffel. Like what I said about Stoffel, if we can give him a good package, he should be flying in 2016.
Q: Moving onto Ilmor, your team will be running the engine exclusively after Pedersen and Exolite have jumped ships. How will this plus the ERS reset affect development?
A: Good question and to be honest I really don’t know. Obviously I’m a bit disappointed that the teams who went with the Ilmor engine last year have gone a different direction, but they had their reasons and understandable. We didn’t have the best engine last year, it was hard to predict how well the engine would do. One week it would be flying, next it would blow up on the side of the track. So I don’t know how that will affect us, combined with the ERS reset, but hopefully it shouldn’t be too bad. I mean when we first joined the series in 2012, we were the only Mercedes powered team on the grid and we ended up fighting at the front. So there is history there that it can work, but like we’ve seen many times, nothing is guaranteed in this sport.
Q: You have a strong junior line-up with 2014-15 FF2M Asia champion Cristobal Alvarez joining the Willows family from FJR. How will he fare alongside Esteban Ocon in FF2M?
A: I think he will do an amazing job for us. Cristobal, when he first came to the FF1M fraternity via FF2M Asia, has shown that he is a very quick and very talented driver, so much so that when I first saw him race at Macau, I was really impressed, so much so that I generally thought, along with Tomas Gonzalez, that they were the future of FF1M. And I still have that opinion to this day. I think he and Esteban will definitely push each other in 2016 and I hope they can fight for both championships. Obviously Esteban has been with us for a long time, but I still think he has a future and I hope that this is finally the year that people take notice of him and hopefully he finds himself an FF1M seat in 2017, whether that’s with us or another team. Same with Cristobal, I hope he has a good year in 2016 so that he’s on the FF1M grid next year.
Q: And finally, who of the other FF1M teams is looking particularly strong this season?
A: Very difficult to say because in this series, the pecking order can change so easily from season to season and it’s always very hard to predict who will be the favourites to win the championship in any season, as you well know of course from your season predictions that you like to do. I mean I hope we are up there but we will have to wait and see. For me though, I think Tornado are still going to be the benchmark in 2016. They’ve shown in the past that they can maintain their competitiveness from season to season, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they did it again.