Are we witnessing the resurgence of Williams Racing?
It's been a tough few years for poor old Williams Racing. But it's only up from here...
It's been a tough few years for poor old Williams Racing. With just a single championship point in their last 52 Grand Prix appearances, they are a far cry from the domination they showed in the 80s and 90s under the leadership of Frank Williams.
The second most successful team in Formula One's history won a combination of nine constructors' and seven drivers' World Championships with some of the sports most decorated talents such as Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna in the cockpit.
Monza in 2020 was the end of an era. Following the acquisition of Williams Grand Prix Engineering by Dorilton Capital, Claire Williams stepped down from her role as deputy team principal meaning that for the first time since the birth of Williams Racing nearly 45 years ago, there wouldn't be a named Williams family member leading the team.
The takeover put an end to Williams’ financial concerns, settling the teams outstanding debts and allowing more focus on improving the performance of their Mercedes-powered car. With the recent news of Simon Roberts departure, former Volkswagen motorsport chief Jost Capito took over team principal duties at the start of June and is targeting a similar revival to that of McLaren in recent years.
Jost Capito, Williams Team Principal - (Photo: formula1.com)
McLaren's revival from 9th in 2017 to 3rd in 2020 is exactly what the Williams boss is targeting and with new regulations incoming, Capito wants to see Williams back at the top as well. “McLaren has done a fantastic job in the recent years, and the answer is very short: there is no reason why we cannot do the same,” said Capito in March.
“To give a timing of that, say two, three, four years, it’s impossible to say but I’m absolutely convinced we can do at minimum exactly the same as McLaren has done.
Williams actually kicked off the hybrid era as one of the best teams on the grid. Switching from Renault's 2.4 litre V8 to the dominant Mercedes' hybrid V6 for the new regulations in 2014 saw them take consecutive 3rd place finishes in the constructors' championships of 2014 and 2015.
With Williams tied down to Mercedes engines for 2022 as well, one of the biggest discussions on their minds of the Williams engineers will be how to best incorporate the engine into their plans to get the best full package.
The team recently made a few changes to the bargeboard area of the FW43B which was to counter the car's sensitivity in windy conditions. During pre-season testing in Bahrain, Williams found that strong crosswinds could unsettle the rear-end of the car at high speed.
The changes were implemented in Baku but due to the street circuit safety measures, the difference with the bargeboards were more evident at Paul Ricard.
Ocon chasing Latifi - (Photo: motorsportmagazine.com)
George Russell qualified a respectable 14th and ended up in 12th place at the chequered flag, his best result in Formula 1 taking into account the fact there were no retirements throughout the race.
He told Sky Sports F1, "It was a really great race from within. I managed to do a couple of great overtakes and I did a really nice one with Tsunoda at the end which for us, finishing ahead of these cars, the Alfas, Ocon and overtaking Tsunoda on track and finishing 12th on merit, I would go as far as saying that is probably our best ever race together.
It is a shame nothing happened in front because as I said 12th on merit is ordinarily quite a good result, but nevertheless I’m really pleased with that. It is a good way to start the three weeks.”
The Mercedes junior has been linked with a move away from the independent racing outfit to the reigning World Champions since his audition at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix where he was heartbreakingly thrust out of contention for the win following a pit-stop blunder and eventual slow puncture. Out of contract at the end of the season, Russell wants his new contract wrapped up by the summer break whether it is with Williams or Mercedes.
However, the arrival of silly season doesn't worry team principal Capito, with him stating that Williams is becoming "the team where drivers want to go to". In between Friday's practice sessions in France, he explained to journalists the dynamic with Russell and Williams.
“He is happy with us this year. It’s not the performance of the car he would like to have, but he sees the team is moving forward and he sees that in the future. That’s why he’s very confident and not bothered by this, I am sure.”
Still chasing that elusive World Championship point, Russell and Williams go into the second weekend of a triple header full of confidence after the P12 the previous weekend. A former F2 and GP3 winner at the Red Bull Ring, the Brit will be banking on another positive weekend that can bring him good fortune.