All of the talk among the invited guests - milling around in a nondescript hangar attached to the airport in Valencia, awaiting the presentation of the new Williams car - was about one thing only. Rather than considering how the team was hoping to break the choke hold Ferrari have had on both Championships for the last half a decade or so, everyone wanted to know who was going to be sitting in the car parked next to Mark Webber's in the team's pits around the world for the forthcoming season.
At the end of last year, Antonio Pizzonia was seen as being a locked down certainly for the drive - he had been with the team for a few years and tested strongly, but more importantly he had been given a chance to compete for the team at four races as a consequence of Ralf Schumacher's torrid accident in Indianapolis, and fellow tester Marc Gene's tepid performances in the previous two races. In those four races, Pizzonia performed strongly, running at a podium pace in Spa before his engine blew up, and at the remaining events he was as fast or better than teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, a man whose race pace had never been in question with the team.
The performance was enough to put a lock on the seat for the young Brazilian, with Frank Williams admitting as much on a number of occasions after the season. The decision to give someone else a test was seen as an exercise in showing that the team had considered all options, had crossed every t and dotted every i, with the choice of Nick Heidfeld to test a consequence of most of the teams agreeing on their driver line-up before the decision was made - Heidfeld was clearly the best of the drivers in Formula One without a contract for 2005, and as such the obvious candidate for the test.
That Heidfeld performed well was no surprise - he has a solid reputation, and he was driving to save his career - and the testing results that were being released showed little difference time wise between the two drivers. There was a sense that, the longer the testing process continued the more the momentum could be switching to the new driver, but trying to second guess Williams on their driver decisions has always been an fool's errand over their history.
Back in the darkened auditorium in Spain, the various team members joined the stage as a large video screen showed footage of the team's recent accomplishments. Despite the shadows it was still clear that Heidfeld was the first person to walk in, his head high and his chest pushed forward, followed by the slightly wilting form of Pizzonia, who trudged in behind and slumped into the seat next to his rival. The master of ceremonies started proceedings with the driver decision, but it was already clear which way it had gone before anyone could say a word.
"It was a very simple, straightforward procedure, as I'm sure would be applied by any of the teams," Frank Williams noted when asked for his view on the matter. "We were able to run both drivers on the same track, with the same weight of fuel, engine revs, etcetera, at the same time, and over a number of many, many kilometres we were able to obtain a sufficient amount of data that biased the choice in the direction made, with the slightest of margins.
"Both drivers had 9,640 kilometres; actually unfortunately one driver got four kilometres less than the other, which was a terrible thing! It was probably experience - they were very close in performance, but Nick has a bit more experience I guess."
The decision was made on the morning of the presentation, Williams noted, although a team member later agreed that the beginnings of that decision were probably formed after the last test between the drivers a week or so previously and held back to avoid leaks to the press. Heidfeld, ebullient, stated that "I had no idea until this morning how the decision would go, and to be honest until yesterday afternoon I wasn't nervous, but the closer to when the decision was made the more nervous I got. Frank was just waiting here, around the corner in this hangar, and he told me half an hour before we had to go on stage that he chose me. Obviously I was very happy then!"
Heidfeld wasn't prepared to discuss anything to do with performance clauses or the proposed duration of his stay at Williams ("I can't tell you anything exact about the contract - probably if you ask Frank Williams he can, but I shouldn't really speak about that in case I get in trouble!"), but from his point of view it didn't matter - he had had an opportunity to drive for one of the most successful teams in Formula One history, and on ability he had taken it - the details would work themselves out in due course.
Pizzonia was naturally downbeat, trying to put a brave face on a decision he could never have foreseen a few months previous. Telling a driver that he doesn't have a drive minutes before pushing him out in front of the world's media is a harsh deal but, as one of the older journalists present dryly noted, Williams have never been known for being overly compassionate to their drivers.
"I do believe it was a very difficult decision for the team," Pizzonia allowed, "and as Frank said, I think it was quite, quite close. He didn't go into details about why he chose Nick and not me; the only thing he said was that my career with Williams is only at the beginning, and not to give up."
No matter how slight the difference before the decision, the difference afterwards was as wide as an ocean.
"Of course I want (podiums and wins)," Heidfeld proclaimed, smiling broadly. "It all depends on how good the car will be, and I know that the team is quite happy and optimistic about the car, and they have worked very hard for the last year. You can see that the team, even in years that they call not successful, usually wins races. So I want to do that, for sure."
"I will still try to do my best and help the team to progress," Pizzonia acknowledged. "I think to be a test driver is not an easy job, but I still enjoy every time I go out there and drive a Formula One car, so I have to go out there and do my best, and hopefully we can improve the car quite a lot from last year."
After the main presentation the drivers split apart on the edge of the stage - Heidfeld was surrounded by the German press, eager to get any words of wisdom in his own language from their newest challenger at the top level, while the British media congregated around Webber, the team's de facto lead driver due to the delay in naming his teammate and looking increasingly comfortable in the position. Over to the right, away from the cameras and the crowds, Pizzonia seemed to be coming to some sort of acceptance of the unexpected life change he'd had thrust upon him.
"Well obviously there were a lot of different people saying different things [to Frank Williams, about the driver decision], but really it's not up to me to say anything about the political side of it - I have my view, which I'm not telling you!" he laughed. "But anyway I have to move on - we all have to prepare for changes in life, the good ones and the bad ones, and unfortunately it didn't go my way this time but I have to carry on and keep working.
"I think the relationship between all three drivers is good, and that's important in the team. Obviously we are all trying to beat each other when we are on the track, but that's normal."
Drivers compete - it's what they are there to do. Given this it is easy to see why the team decided on a head to head comparison for the remaining race seat - tell the drivers that they are competing for a seat and let their nature push them, and then make a decision on the results. Pizzonia lost, and saw it this way: "honestly I can say I was never really happy with the idea of comparing drivers, because I've been with the team for a little while now and I did four races last year, so if I couldn't prove myself in that period then I wouldn't be able to prove myself in two or three tests. So obviously I'm disappointed that the job I did in the four races last year wasn't good enough for the team."
DC: There are still a seat or two available in Formula One - if you were to be offered one of those seats, are you free to take it, and would you?
Pizzonia: "I think it's not the time to make a decision now, but the idea is to be in Formula One, testing or racing, so I really need a couple of days to think about it and make a decision for my career. But I think at the moment I want to stay at Williams, and as Frank said to me this morning my career is only at the beginning with the team."
DC: If you are offered a race seat elsewhere, are you free to take it?
Pizzonia: "To race, I think, yes."
DC: Is there any chance of you leaving the team?
Pizzonia: "Obviously the idea was to be racing this year, and to spend another season as a test driver is not ideal really, so really we have to think about it and see what is best for my career. I want to stay in Formula One, and I'm still quite young, so we'll see what happens."
DC: Is there a chance of a CART drive?
Pizzonia: "Well, a little bit; we've been in touch with a few teams over there. Like I said, I really want to be racing this year, but also I want to be in Formula One, so it's going to be a difficult one."
DC: How do you see your testing role working out? The teams have signed up to the thirty day restricted testing agreement; obviously you're going to have a big role in that, and with Marc Gene having left for Ferrari how do you see your role in all of that?
Pizzonia: "I think even when Marc was with Williams I still did a lot of mileage with the team, and obviously the test driver's job in not an easy one. I think it's good - the more mileage I get in the car the better for me, so hopefully I'll be doing a lot of testing days with the team if I decide to stay here, and it's all experience that you only get when you're in the car."
DC: The team won't have a third driver on the track on race weekends, so you won't have that experience, but thirty days away from the track is still a lot of running if it's only you.
Pizzonia: "I don't think it's going to be only me. But, anyway, I don't even know what I'm doing tomorrow! So we'll see - we have to wait and see."
DC: What are the plans now? They're testing here for the next few days.
Pizzonia: "I think we're going to be here the whole week, but I don't even know if I'm going to be testing here or not, so I'm going back to the track this afternoon and we'll see what happens."
After the drivers left the auditorium, everyone went about their jobs - the journalists filed their stories, the team went out to the track and started to prepare the car for a demonstration run and further testing, and team partner BMW had a fleet of vehicles ready to ferry everyone around in between. The winter sun shone down, warming the track and everyone standing around, waiting for that familiar scream of a V10 engine being coaxed into life.
With everything finally ready, Heidfeld was the first driver to take the car out onto the track. The journalists stood upstairs or along the pitwall, smiling and pointing as he drove out of the pit. Pizzonia sat inside, changed out of his overalls and, wearing headphones, watched the track action with the rest of the team. Heidfeld, sitting in the seat Pizzonia had thought was his own, rolled down the pitlane, and the world continued to turn beneath us all.