Are Williams really making progress or is Ferrari power just that bad?
Amid Ferrari’s struggles in 2020, Williams have been praised for their remarkable improvement over last year... But are they really making progress?
Ferrari’s grim situation - and how it benefits Williams
So far in the 2020 season, Scuderia Ferrari and their engine customers (Alfa Romeo and HAAS) have been experiencing some of the worst seasons in their collective Formula 1 history. Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto and his development team in Maranello have made it clear that their issues stem from their power unit - hence why Alfa Romeo and HAAS have been in the same boat as their engine supplier for much of the season.
Photo credit: Ferrari
That being the case, Williams have been put in a fortunate position; given that the British team uses Mercedes power - which is clearly the most effective on the grid - they now appear to be just as quick, if not quicker on some occasions, than those on the grid using Ferrari power.
Coincidental or representative success for Williams?
Notable examples of this ‘evenly matched’ performance include the Austrian Grand Prix (in which Nicholas Latifi finished P11 just behind Sebastian Vettel in P10), the British Grand Prix (where George Russell finished P12 behind Vettel in P10 again), the Belgian Grand Prix (where Latifi finished P15 behind Charles Leclerc in P14 and Vettel in P13) and the Tuscan Grand Prix (where Russell finished P11 just behind Vettel in P10 once more).
Photo credit: Williams
Impressive results upon first glance, but likely more circumstantial than anything else. Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and HAAS all developed efficient aerodynamic components and sturdy chassis this year, which sheds more light on the core fault of their cars - the power units.
Granted, Williams’ FW43 is darting around the track with Mercedes power, but that’s not a new partnership for the 2020 season; the team from which the Williams family recently relinquished control over has used engines from the Daimler Group since 2014, meaning that a sudden boost in performance is unlikely.
What do the drivers say?
Facts and statistics are a crucial element in car comparison and development, but the drivers and their feelings from the cockpit are far more relevant. Regardless of the FW43’s initial strengths and weaknesses, George Russell has made numerous comments throughout the eleven completed Grands Prix in 2020 thus far that the car feels exponentially improved compared to last year’s FW42.
Photo credit: Williams
In fact, Russell identified what he considers to be one of the car’s only weaknesses in its lack of downforce when tailing other cars closely, confirming that Williams developed a car which they feel is generally competitive.
Despite this however, much of Williams’ success in 2020 has been gifted to them off the back of another team’s misfortune. Take the season-opening Austrian Grand Prix as a prime example of this; Nicholas Latifi managed to finish P11 in his debut race for Williams, which was a glowing result for the Canadian, but dampened by the fact that there were only eleven classified finishers to sit amongst.
So, as painful as it is to condemn such a beloved team, Williams simply aren’t in the mix based on merit alone. Wonderful though it may be to see a team which has been presented with such challenging obstacles granted some refreshing results, they likely won’t last once Ferrari addresses their power unit roadblock.
Williams are likely confined to their current position until 2022
The majority of Formula 1 fans and supporters have an underlying soft spot for Williams, regardless of their primary affiliation. Everyone has that second or third team in the folds of their mind which, when their preferred driver is struggling, they can turn to and support until the checkered flag.
Williams is that team for millions of die-hard supporters, which is precisely why it’s so difficult to see them stumble and crawl their way through a season. But until 2022, when their true performance can be measured evenly against the rest of the grid, it is very likely that the team will be confined to this fate at every Grand Prix weekend.