The rise and fall of Williams

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Juan Pablo Montoya scored Williams' last win at Interlagos in 2004
Juan Pablo Montoya scored Williams' last win at Interlagos in 2004

If you tuned into an F1 race for the first time this year you wouldn’t suspect the blue-and-white cars mired in the midfield once were the sport’s most feared competitors.

Williams have known slumps in their time but it’s now six years since they won a race and you have to wonder if they can climb out of this trough.

Williams: wins, pole positions and fastest laps

The rise and fall of Williams
The rise and fall of Williams (click to enlarge)

Williams have had periodic slumps in form throughout their 35-year history, usually when in transition between engine suppliers:

1982-1984: Few race successes in 1982 but consistent points-scoring made Keke Rosberg world champion for the team. The switch from Cosworth V8s to Honda turbo power took a while to come good.

1988-1990: A split from Honda is followed by a joyless year with Judd engines. The team forge a new partnership with Renault and are soon winning again.

1998-2000: A double-whammy as both Renault and star designer Adrian Newey leave the team. Although a new engine supplier was found in the shape of BMW from 2000, arguably the team has been lacking on the chassis side of its operation ever since.

2006-present: BMW’s offer to take over Williams is spurned and they move in at Sauber instead. Williams spend a year with Cosworth, three with Toyota (requiring them to run Kazuki Nakajima for two seasons), then return to Cosworth power.

The future for the team

Can Williams get back on the top step of the podium? They don’t look like getting there are time soon as it seems the FW32 is only the seventh-quickest car out there.

The big four were always going to be out of reach but Renault are ahead of them as well and so are Force India – something which would have been unthinkable even 12 months ago. Williams must be thankful BMW and Toyota are no longer around or they’d be struggling to score even with points down to tenth place.

It’s not all doom and gloom for their supporters, however. Losing Toyota engines has at least allowed them to bolster their driver line-up. The loss of Nico Rosberg is unfortunate – he’s gone from strength to strentgh with Mercedes – but the combination of super-experienced Rubens Barrichello with promising newcomer Nico H???lkenberg is a good one, on paper at least.

They are throwing a lot of effort behind KERS development, even though the technology is not being used in F1 this year (a move the team opposed).

Its new technology centre in Qatar, where several engineers from the University of Cambridge have been recruited, is working on applications for the technology outside of motor racing. But their flywheel KERS could yet find favour in F1 as concerns remain over the safety of battery-based KERS, both in terms of what happens when a KERS car crashes and disposal of the chemicals in the batteries.

Today Williams announced it has purchased a majority stake in the company behind the technology, Williams Hybrid Power. It could a very shrewd move for the future.

Do you think Williams can ever recapture their all-conquering form of the eighties and nineties? Will their KERS development play a role in their recovery? Have your say in the comments.

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191 comments on “The rise and fall of Williams”

  1. I wish a nice big company such as Volkswagen or similar would buy a participation in Williams. It is very prestigious for any manufacturer to be associated with a class act such as Williams.
    It would be great if they could hook up with a large company such as Ford to license their flywheel tech and tune their road cars.
    Best wishes for Williams !

    1. Porsche, wo they are already tied in to with their Flywheel KERS Technology is a component company of what is commonly refered to as VAG (exact ownership layout of all bits is not necessary at thie point), and as such means they have tenuous links already with Porsche, Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Bugatti and Lamborghini.

      The VW golf is essentially the Audi A3, or Seat Ibiza. The Audi R8 is a Lamborghini Gallardo. The Skoda Octavia is an Audi A4. The Bugatti Veyron is a Volkswagen engineering marvel.

      So why would they need Ford? If the new engine rules can convince VW to get involved in F1, and with Williams already linked to Porsche with their KERS, I think switching to a collaboration with Ford would be a slightly backwards step overall.

      1. I did not realise their ties to Porsche – VW. This is excellent !
        Surely that important group can greatly benefit from the Williams expertise and research. Here there is a field of opportunity for Williams. The prestige of an asociation with Williams could be an important asset for the VW group.

        1. Check out the stories Keith has posted on here for more info as there has been a few things in the media these past few weeks. The most recent of these was Nico driving the Nordschleife in a Williams-Porsche Hybrid…

  2. Sadly I can’t see Williams challenging for wins anytime soon let alone dominating like they used to. It is probably more likely that they will go the way of the old Lotus team than winning championships again.

    Their best hope is probably if the resource restriction agreement does what it is supposed to do then they could be in a better position than some of the other teams.

    Other than that they would probably need to attract a billionaire backer or a manufacturer and either of those options may well prefer to own a team completely and rename it.

  3. I was hoping they would use KERS this year, but the new rules of banning refueling unfortiunetly made it impossible. If KERS will come back next year I honestly think Williams will be one of the teams to beat, if they keep Barrichello and perhaps have a new partnership with Porsche.

    1. Sorry, I ment unfortunately

  4. What do you people think of the influence of Williams’ technical director Sam Michael?
    I was never impressed by him.

    1. Stanzo, I agree completely. Although probably not fair to blame all their problems on him, I’ve just never felt he’s up to the job.

    2. the Sri Lankan
      29th April 2010, 8:26

      im with you there. somehow he just doesnt seem to be the same caliber as newey and brawn etc..

  5. I only will name 1 person in this all to support me saying “Yes” to the question if Williams ever will find the podium again:
    Toto Wolff.

    Im sorry to say so, but there HAS to be a reason why he entered the Williams team by buying some shares. Frank and Patrick (Williams and Head re.) never sold any of their shares back in the days of Honda, Renault and BMW (who where reportedly back then when they where suppliers, all interested in some shares). So why would they now sell some shares to some lunatic fan of motorsports? He has connections within the German automobile branche, and he worked intensively on DTM projects.

    My hunch, more my silent wish if Im honest, is that Toto has signed with the Grove based team to eventually bring Volkswagen into the Formula 1.
    There where rumours about this around race 1, sorry I cant find a direct link to any article anymore, but this Toto Wolff deal smells a bit fishy.. there has to be more to it. Call me a dreamer, but see the facts.

  6. I think if they can really make some good deals with the KERS Flywheel technology, then they might just have the funds to turn the team around and get back to the top.

    Their tie-in with Porsche off-track could be their way in to a deal with VW on track – surely using the Porsche brand…

  7. FW did sell a stake to Toto Wolff last year so I guess he knows the time when to wind-down.

  8. I have always liked Frank Williams and Patrick Head but I do think that they have gone too long without a win. Williams need more stability with enginge suppliers and a better commitment than they have had so far.
    Does anyone know the outcome of the FIA meeting yesterday in Paris? talk here in Italy is that VW may be interested in entering F1 and as an engine supplier before entering as full race team. This could help both Williams and VW.
    Up for debate was also a return to 1.5/1.6 ltr turbo. Any news would be good.

    1. I don’t have any info Rampante but I’ve heard those rumours a while back about VW too. I think Autosport ran a piece on it a few months back

  9. If you could time-transport AJ, Keke and Nige at their best, or even near their best, and put them in the current car, Williams would be back at the front of the grid where they belong.They just need a couple of genuine, mickey duck, balls out racing drivers rather than the miserable excuses they have been saddled with the past 5-10 years.

  10. when KERS is re introduced, the FIA could easily choose the Williams mechanical system. then all the teams would have to but it off williams. giving them some precious development money.

    1. I hope this is the case !

  11. I’d love to see Williams back at their early 90’s peak. That’s when I started watching F1 and I still have a soft spot for the ’92 and ’93 cars.

    Teams can go from the back of the grid to the front very quickly though (with the right rule changes of course). Just look at the Honda team. Two years ago they were at the back, now they are seen as one of the big four.

  12. Sush Meerkat
    28th April 2010, 14:27

    Williams KERS tech has application not only in F1 and road cars like err err Porsche, but industrial too such as big machinery, trains things like that.

  13. Williams had their biggest chance to bounce back to the top last year, but they didn’t take it, despite being one of the first teams to have a double diffuser. It didn’t help they had Toyota engines and Nakajima driving for them, of course.

    I can see them coming back, but they will have to wait until costs come down further (so they’re not outstripped by the bigger teams), and the engine rules change, especially if KERS comes in. William’s latest move to acquire the majority stake in its KERS company indicates to me that this is exactly what Williams are aiming for, playing the long game.

    1. And of course, with Volkswagen pioneering work in small turbos (the format F1 looks to be moving to for 2013), the timing could be even better, if they partner with VW.

      1. (Argh, triple post)

        But it would have to be a McLaren-Mercedes style relationship, worked over many years for stability. If VW want to come in and become a full team within a five years, then Williams will either disappear as a name or see all the progress disappear.

  14. Robert McKay
    28th April 2010, 14:49

    I read somewhere that Williams flywheel KERS is no use now in F1 because of the need for much larger fuel tanks in a no-refuelling formula, leaving them not enough room to fit the flywheel in – whereas batteries could be fitted in in much less obvious and smaller places.

    Dunno if that is the case – just saying I read it…

    May end up being that the KERS aspect is just a way of diversifying the business to other formulae/categories, giving them some money, and has no F1 application per se.

    1. It was Frank Williams himself who said that. If I remember correctly, he said something alon the lines of the combination of a race distance size fuel tank and the flywheel based KERS technology would make the car “as long as a London bus”.

      1. Frank Williams quote from earlier this month

        “We can’t use our own KERS because that’s a flywheel, which takes up more room, and the only place to put it is behind the driver,” he explained.
        “If the fuel tank is three times the size it was two years ago, and you want to put KERS in it, you’ll have your car longer than a London bus… So we’ll use it elsewhere.”

  15. It was sad that Williams-BMW didn’t win the 2003 World Championship.

    Juan Pablo Montoya was only a point adrift from Michael Schumacher with 3 Grands Prix before the end of the season, while the team actually lead the Constructors’ standings with as little as 2 races still to go.

    Ironically, what helped them develop Williams’ speed in the early days of their relationship with BMW, arguably cost them either of the Formula One titles: Michelin’s tyres of which the front versions were deemed too wide by the FIA at 75% of the season.

  16. Im suprised no mention was made of Patrick Head handing over the reigns to the young and inexperienced Sam Michael. He must be one smooth talker. Williams have not been the same since.

    1. I agree with this, why no mention of Sam Michael, even though he an Aussie i dont think hes top engineering material and i think hes a victim of the conservative attitude of Williams and Head.

      Webber alluded to this i think when he left saying and if you look at the Rise of Sam Michael and the fall of the team its a close link.

      average drivers and average engineering. a shame williams used to be innovators, they need an excellent and creative new engineering leadership, but i think with Williams the management hasnt moved on with the sport and will find it hard to keep up with the likkes of Red Bull for eg who are pushing the boundaries, Williams seems as average as ever, year after year.

      the BMW likn was a shame, good engine but BMW management really stupid! and not enough synergy between them.

      id love to see them rise up, they need a good engineer and designer to step up before that happens i feel and Head and Williams should kmove over and get a great new boss running the show…

  17. I think Williams can do it. With Rubens now in the team and with the ever-improving Cosworth engine, I think that they will be on the up. There have been flashes of brilliance over the last few years. (Rosberg has made it onto the podium and even Nakajima was going well at the British GP last year).

    But there needs to be more pace through sheer determination, upgrades and development which Williams can do.

    I hope that Barrichello drives the guts out of the FW32, as I would love to see the Williams back at the front. They are quite capable.

    Big budget manufacturers do not guarantee success on the track or in development, as Toyota and BMW have clearly shown. With an independent team, there is more freedom and more input rather than the mighty business decisions from on high that put paid to Toyota and BMW’s efforts (proving that Williams was right to turn down BMW’s offer to buy the team).

    I am still not sure about Nico Hulkenberg. Young drivers who look good on paper need to put the results into practice. If they can’t then why persist? Good experienced drivers are the way to go, especially now because Williams needs experience more than ever.

  18. VW euros would help, a KERS partnership with VW/Audi, etc would be great for both companies. However, its the management. Why invest in a moribund team when you can for a partner that is run well, has invested in its facilities, and has a deep well of talent. If I’m VW, I’m trying to exploit the Woking-Stuttgart rift, or find the next RedBull (Force India?), and I avoid the musty aroma of decaying laurels.

  19. Isn’t fair to say that the fall of Williams from the late 1990s until now follows a rather coincidental correlation with the ever increasing costs and rising budgets of their competitors?

    When Ferrari were able to spend their way to the top of the pack in the early part of the century, teams had one option or another – buy their way on to their tales. Mclaren were able to follow suit, with Mercedes money, and Toyota and BMW weren’t short of funds. Toyota and Honda too threw a load at the sport, and even a small team like Red Bull has a much healthier budget than that used by Frank’s boys.

    With the plan to reduce budgets back to those more akin to the more level playing field of 15 years ago, where technical prowess and ingenuity was king, and not the size of the wallet, it may be just a couple of years before Williams are contenders again. And while it may not be because they have leapt forward, it is likely that a change in the regulations and a less money to spend, could give Williams a nice edge.

    They know how to spend £50million a year and spend it wisely, while Ferrari probably have the entire Williams budget just to keep them in Cappuccinos for the season.

  20. If a new team like Force India can improve so much then why can’t Williams? I believe it is largely due to a very conservative approach of survival/profits rather than agressive diversification.

    Williams team seems to be going through an identity crisis and reorganization. Patrick Head and Sir Frank Williams are both too conservative at this point, they need to get some new blood into the team. I know they don’t want to sell the team but they are moving in the right direction by getting an additional partner last year.

    I am very confident Williams will be a force to reckon in a few years.

    1. Do you think there is any connection between the move up the grid by Force India beginning at the same time as they signed a deal to be provided with Mercedes engines instead of Ferrari ones, and at the same time entered into a close technical partnership with Mclaren for other peripherals, a deal which sees some of the Woking staff based in the Force India offices?

      I’m sure having access to some Mclaren guys and a Mercedes engine would see Williams move up the grid as well.

      1. I can see a Williams – VW car down the road, with a Porsche engine

      2. I am not sure that is the reason behind Force India’s pace. Sure Mercedez engine has helped (a lot) but other than that I think it is down to the team.

        Why would Mercedez or McLaren want to help Force India? They are not their “B” team! If a few technical ideas borrowed from McLaren can make such an improvement, all it states is that other smaller teams (including Williams) are not spending enough on development. Again a very conservative approach for whatever reason.

        1. They use the McLaren Gearbox and Hydraulics and the Mercedes engine. Plus they had Simon Roberts on secondment from McLaren for over a year. It’s a little bit more than technical ideas though – thats a massive technology transfer.

          1. So Mercedes had some income from that and better spreading of development, while McLaren received money for the gearbox and hydraulics and had Simon Roberts at a high level trainee-ship to get him ready for the future development of their own team.

            And Force India gets relieable and excellent equipment as well as a brainwave of better running procedures.
            If this would have been the concept by Dave Richards when entering, i have a hunch that he would have been pretty succesfull as well.

          2. In addition to what others have mentioned about a B team it is also a good place to give young drivers their debut, that after all is supposed to be the whole point behind Toro Rosso.

            Paul di Resta, who is now the Force India test driver and actually gets to drive on race weekends, is from the McLaren Mercedes driver stable, and while his drive may not be a condition of the deal, the Mercedes linkup defiantly helped get him the seat.

          3. My point was time is not a factor, resources and commitment defenitely are. Having said that I suppose I need to do some reading and it does look like a partnership with McLaren seems to have helped Force India move up.

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