Where Now For The Williams Revival?
Autosport|February 23,2017

Williams leaped to near the front of the field the last time F1’s regulations changed in 2014, but has slowly slipped back since then. The team needs to repeat the trick

Ben Anderson

Williams is a grand old powerhouse of Formula 1, a team that’s been an integral part of elite single-seater racing for the best part of four decades, a participant for even longer, yet its best days seem well and truly consigned to history.

The track record speaks for itself. The current incarnation of Williams as an F1 constructor (discounting its 1977 season as a March customer team, and the prior squad Sir Frank sold to Walter Wolf) is the third most experienced on the grid.

There have been 659 F1 races held during Williams’s life, of which it has won 114, finished on the podium in 311 and started on pole for 128. Only Ferrari and McLaren can boast better records. Williams’s haul of nine constructors’ titles, augmented by seven world championships for drivers, is bettered only by Ferrari – the grandest of grande-epreuve equipes.

History can buy a reputation, an army of loyal fans, but it won’t buy success. The first 20 seasons for Williams in its current guise in F1 were phenomenal; the last 19 nowhere close to those heady early heights. The statistical contrast between the pre-1998 Williams and the post-’97 one is stark.

There once was a time when Williams could do no wrong in F1. At its best it was capable of winning one in every three grands prix it contested. Now, it’s lucky if it can win once in every 30. That this team has failed to win a championship for the best part of 20 years (a pain McLaren also knows all too well), and hasn’t even been able to outscore its historical self, despite more races being held and points awarded than ever in the modern era, highlights how far this once mighty team has fallen.

There was a brief period of moderate success between 2000 and ’04, thanks to a works alliance with German manufacturer BMW, but otherwise Williams has had very little to celebrate since star designer Adrian Newey departed Grove and Renault withdrew its manufacturer support at the end of 1996.

When F1 first adopted V6 hybrid-engine technology in 2014, it looked as though Williams could finally be ready to reverse this slump. The team leapt from ninth to third in the constructors’ championship – its best finish since ’03 – by taking a Mercedes customer power unit and mating it to a well conceived low-drag chassis, which developed well through the year and was the second fastest on average across the season.

Unfortunately, Williams proved unable to capitalise on that initial promise. A woeful 2015 season for Red Bull allowed Williams to repeat its third place in that year’s constructors’ title race, despite building only the fourth-fastest car, while last year represented a step backwards, with only one podium finish (for Valtteri Bottas in Canada) and a slump to fifth in the standings, behind fellow Mercedes engine customer Force India.

The emerging pattern is undoubtedly a worrying one.  But 2017 presents an opportunity for renewal. The hybrid engines remain, but this year’s new rules were drafted to encourage design of substantially faster cars, featuring enhanced aerodynamics, and bigger and better tyres. New rules usually lead to upheaval in the competitive order, and the hope within Grove is that Williams can grasp this latest opportunity to reverse its recent competitive slide.

“One of the things Williams has been good at doing in the past few years is very quickly identifying its errors and weaknesses, and then resolving those, not letting the grass grow under our feet,” Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams tells Autosport.

“We started our dramatic restructuring in 2013, we made a whole wealth of changes, which obviously helped us move forward in 2014, but a Formula 1 team doesn’t suddenly transform from being P9 to P1.

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