Williams: A return to form?
This article will take a look at the recent struggles of Williams, the new takeover of the team, its drivers and what the 2022 rules will mean for them.
Williams Racing is the third most successful team on the Formula One grid. However, the team has endured an uncompetitive spell in recent years. The downward trend began in 2017, where their points tally was 83 compared to 138 in 2016. In 2017, they only scored one podium in fortunate circumstances at a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Unfortunately, matters only became worse for Williams in 2018, where they accumulated just 5 points. Last season was their worst in the team’s illustrious 42 year history when Robert Kubica recorded the team’s solitary point in the rain-affected German Grand Prix.
Williams has always been a very proud, independent family-run outfit. However, on-track performances have proved that this business model is no longer a sustainable option in modern-day Formula One. For the very survival of the team, change needed to happen and very quickly.
Sale of the Team
Under the leadership of Deputy Team Principal, Claire Williams, the team was put up for sale in May after it recorded a £13 million loss in 2019 as the team finished last in the Constructors’ Championship for the second consecutive year. In August, the team was acquired by a private investment firm, Dorilton Capital. This change was longer overdue, but mostly importantly of all is that the Williams name will still remain in Formula One and it will still operate out of its factory in Grove. While Dorilton will now review the areas of the team that require investment, it is can perhaps be said that the team will no longer seek to recruit ‘pay drivers’ in favour of those with a proven track record in the junior categories. This will only enhance the team’s performance going forward. Dorilton has a track record of investing in building and improving companies, and so the future is looking brighter for Williams.
Earlier this year it was announced that Williams will retain both George Russell and Nicholas Latifi for the 2021 season. This should be viewed as a good decision now with the sale of the team, as it provides continuity and stability going forward which will be essential when the restructing of the team begins.
In George Russell, he is a clear star for the future and a potential world champion if he is provided with the correct machinery. His raw speed over one lap is undeniable. He has accumulated an unblemished record of 30-0 in qualifying against Kubica and now Latifi. While he is yet to score his first world championship points, he was very unfortunate to miss out on finishing P9 last time out in Mugello had it not been for a poor restart following the final red flag. Russell comes across as an articulate, down to earth and hard-working individual. Unfortunately for Williams, this makes Russell a very attractive proposition for Mercedes for a 2022 race seat alongside Lewis Hamilton. Russell confirmed that he signed a three-year deal with Williams back in 2018, and so it seems that he could have options this time next year. I feel that a Hamilton/Russell line-up would be refreshing for Formula One should the Mercedes domination continue when the new regulations come into force. The only man stopping Russell is Valtteri Bottas. It is clear that Bottas and Hamilton have a good working relationship, without any no politics inside the team which they previously experienced with Rosberg/Hamilton. Would Mercedes want to risk upsetting the dynamic in the team by allowing a hungry young talent to take the fight to Hamilton? I feel that they should take a chance on Russell. He clearly has a long future in the sport and Hamilton at 35 is not going to stay around forever. Let’s wait and see.
While Nicholas Latifi is still unproven in the sport. However, he must improve his qualifying performances against Russell, while in terms of race pace he has come very close to the points on two occasions: Austria and Monza. Although, in Austria he finished 11th out of 11th after nine car retirements. It is difficult to fully assess Latifi at this stage of the season, but does he fully deserve a second season in Formula One when the likes of Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg are looking for drives for 2021? He spent four seasons in GP2/Formula 2 trying to prove himself to the F1 paddock. He brings with him sponsorship money, which clearly made him more attractive for Williams at the end of 2019. Should Russell leave at the end of 2021, it seems hard to picture Latifi as being capable of leading the team further up the grid.
Hopes for the future
Formula One is set for a huge shake-up in 2022, with some of the biggest changes ever seen in the sport with the objective being that there should be closer and fairer racing. This is set to particularly benefit Williams, especially the introduction of spending restrictions for performance gains. This will pull the teams which are further up the grid towards Williams. The all-new regulations can only be a good thing for a team like Williams, which have been severely restricted by their budget in comparison to the giant spending of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull. But can they become winners again? At the moment, this still seems to be a long way off. Like McLaren, their last victory was way back in 2012. Can they become points contenders again? Most certainly. However, it is a well-known fact in Formula One that a team introducing changes in an attempt to improve their competitiveness takes time, a lot of time. F1 is a constantly moving goal post. No team ever stands still. The new technical regulations alongside the spending restrictions give Williams with an opportunity to develop a car which finds and exploits any loopholes in them. The new era that is coming for Formula One should mean that there is more optimism than ever at the team.