Williams Racing may have won nine constructors’ Championships, seven drivers’ championships, 114 Grands Prix and 128 pole positions, but as of the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, the Oxfordshire-based team sit at the bottom of the constructors’ table with a paltry four points. Since Juan Pablo Montoya’s win for the team at the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, only one race victory has been achieved with that being Pastor Maldonado’s famous win at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. But how has a team with the heritage of Williams fallen so much?
Sir Frank Williams created the Williams team before the beginning of the 1977 season. During that season, the team managed to make 11 appearances with driver Patrick Neve but failed to score any points. It was not until the 1979 season when the team secured their first victory. Clay Regazzoni was the driver at the helm of the Williams FW07 and secured their first victory at the British Grand Prix after narrowly missing out on victory one race previous at the French Grand Prix, famous for the immense battle between the Ferrari of Gilles Villeneuve and Renault of Rene Arnoux.
After the 1979 season, the true success story began; Australian Alan Jones winning the team’s first drivers’ championship in 1980 along with their first constructors’ championship, followed by four race wins in 1981, and a second Driver’s Championship with Keke Rosberg and second constructors’ championship. The Williams team then began to gain attention from onlookers, mainly sponsors with their famous yellow, blue and white Canon livery emerging from 1985 to the end of 1993.
The next constructors’ championship was achieved during the 1986 season as Frank Williams was having to face the most challenging time of his life. During Sir Frank’s absence, the rivalry between their two drivers, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet, was heating up big time, leading things to become difficult within the Williams garage despite arguably having one of the best cars on the grid with Mansell coming close to the Driver’s title after his infamous tyre failure during the Adelaide Grand Prix gifting the title to rival, Alain Prost.
The team would go on to achieve another driver and constructor championship with Nelson Piquet in 1987 before a five season break from the top step of both championships. The 1992 and 1993 season were Williams’ most successful, mainly due to their advantage over their competitors with assists within the car like Anti-lock braking and the well-known Active Suspension system. Due to these advantages, Williams swept the floor against their rivals winning both drivers’ and constructors’ championships in both seasons.
Although they succeeded once again with the constructors’ championship in 1994, the driver’s championship was won by German Michael Schumacher, first title out of seven for him, after a season long battle with Williams driver Damon Hill. The title was decided that year by an incident you may have seen between Schumacher and Hill at Adelaide, leaving both out of the race. But the death of the great Ayrton Senna in the FW16 Williams car during the Grand Prix at Imola created a dark cloud over the team. They would, however, bounce back to achieve both championships in 1996 and 1997, again with a controversial ending between Ferrari’s Schumacher and Williams’ Villeneuve at Jerez, gifting Villeneuve the title. Now it changes. After the 1997 season the team were unable to maintain their dominance, with only 10 victories between the 1998 season to the end of the 2004 season - and only one victory between 2004 and now, as mentioned previously.
Ownership has been changed within Williams with Sir Frank’s daughter, Claire, unofficially being at the helm of the team. But most importantly, the competition of Formula One has changed since their dominant era involving regulations and newer cars, hybrid engines. During the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Williams were very competitive with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa achieving third in the constructors’ championship, their highest finish since the 2003 season.
Third place would be a dream for Williams now. The 2018 season has been awful for Williams, let’s be honest, with only a single points finish, being Lance Stroll at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix finishing eighth and scoring four points. The most recent event, Monaco, was frankly embarrassing. Silly penalties to driver Sergey Sirotkin due to the team not preparing the car effectively before the 3-minute warning before the race, complaints by drivers, mainly Stroll and just very slow pace.
Money plays a big factor in Formula One and Williams have never been a team to ‘splash the cash’ but they have focused mainly on money rather than the team’s racing benefit in 2018. Highly respectable and experienced people work for the team, Rob Smedley coming to mind, which makes it difficult to understanding their struggles. Recently key members have been leaving, designer Ed Wood and aero Chief Dirk de Beer.
Personally, this is what Williams deserve for putting money first. Their two drivers, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, had paid many millions for their seats, two unexperienced and young drivers. That is not a partnership that is going to be successful in the world of Formula One. If more money and attention was focused on the cars’ condition and the team’s morale, maybe this article would be different, but it is not. Which begs the question, is Claire Williams doing a good enough job for the team? Or is it time for a major change.
Who is at fault for Williams’ fall from grace?
by Stanley Jones