You know what, wasn't Ralf managed by Michael's manager at that time, Willi Weber? If so, you can be sure Ralf's contract insisted he got the preferential stuff. That's my opinion though. Otherwise was it because Williams were cash strapped? It just doesn't seem typical of Williams to do that. I agree, Alex had loads more talent than Ralf. But I'd love to know what happened at that late December meeting with Alex and Williams. Despite the bad season it seemed Alex was staying at Williams till that meeting, then suddenly it all changed.
BMW happened. They didn't want Zanardi driving one of their cars. All this talk of preference for Ralf at Williams is bullshit, it just doesn't happen there like it does at Ferrari. Frank was utterly delighted at signing Zanardi for 99 and would have been the most disappointed of anyone that he didn't work out. The Williams team tried everything to get Zanardi up to speed inlcuding steel brakes similar to Cart. I reckon the 99 Williams was actually a pretty decent car and had someone like Montoya been driving they would have finished 3rd in the championship.
To the OT question, Nick Heidfeld.