The rise and fall of Williams

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?â??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. Push the Button said on 28th April 2010, 12:58

    It’s interesting to see that Williams most successful periods were when the Brits (Mansell or Hill) were driving or, in the case of ’93, helped develop.


    • GeeMac said on 28th April 2010, 15:45

      You can add David Coulthard to that list too… he did millions of testing miles after Damon got the race seat in 1993.

  2. Jim N said on 28th April 2010, 13:01

    Williams always seemed to go better with rough drivers that could wring the cars neck, rather than smooth drivers. Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansel etc…. Ok Damen Hill was quite smooth, but far less so than Senna who struggled. I have no idea why, but I can’t see Williams coming back until they get a real talented driver who isn’t smooth…. (did somebody say Raikkonen?)

    • his_majesty said on 28th April 2010, 20:54

      Kimi sure didn’t! Watch me eat my words! I can’t remember who offered him a drive, but they were in a far better position than williams are. He obviously didn’t take it. He is a ragged driver though, you’ve gotta be to rally race! I think Barrichello and Hulkenburg are great choices. Barrichello may not be what he was in ferrari days, but he’s still showing he is on fast mo fo, and can set the car up, probably better than anyone else on the grid.

  3. I remember reading an article in autosport a couple of years ago I think which argued that Williams was in permanent decline and would go the way of Team Lotus and Tyrrel and would never win another race. At the time I though the idea the team I’d seen dominate F1 when I was little would never win another race, but with every passing season i get the sense that that article may have been right.

    This year the team is at the back of the established teams, and with Frank Williams and Patrick Head not getting any younger I do fear for the team in the long term.

  4. steph said on 28th April 2010, 13:06

    Williams have been disappointing of late but things should get better; Rubens still has the fire, experience and is supposedly very good setting up a car (also if he could get that dog of a Honda on the podium in the wet maybe something good could happen if some madness took place again) while the Hulk -not great so far- has potential.
    Williams know how to win and they desperately want to again. Long term Cosworth should be better than Toyota, although as they have just returned there could be some reliability issues.
    What they need is to really learn how to make the most of strategies. That is their big flaw on the track.
    They seem to understand the aero side and we can’t really judge how much Rosberg got out of the car last year. I know this is apparently a “clean sheet” but they seem to have a grasp on things. Long term things look better and Williams did sell a small part of shares or whatever so that is some new blood although perhaps they need some on the front line but they’ve got a long way to go for regular wins. Williams can do it though.

    • the Sri Lankan said on 29th April 2010, 8:32

      steph, are you serious? i could bet my left one a Toyota Engine is far more reliable if not faster that a Cozzy

      • steph said on 29th April 2010, 8:42

        Yeah I’m serious. Patrick Head said and James Allen reported the Cosworth block was more powerful, I;ve already said the issue will be reliability because Cossie have only just came back but long term for the next few seasons it’s a step up from Toyota in my opinion.

      • Nutritional said on 29th April 2010, 8:45

        Considering the rules on how many engines teams are allowed in a season. I’d be willing to bet that a Cosworth is just a reliable and, because of the limits put on engine performance, just as powerful as a Toyota engine. Either way, neither engine comes with huge sums of money for Williams to develope their cars with anyways.

  5. Scribe said on 28th April 2010, 13:17

    What really finished Williams was BMW pulling out so much money.

    Since then they’ve been trapped by a certain amount of debt, but they do seem to be rebuilding themselves, there arangment with Porche seems to be going well, an Hulkenburg needs time.

    What they need is a Mercedes style partner, a manufacutor that understands the sport, will supply them with engines, but won’t approach the deal all hostile. Williams is making noises about trying to attract VW for the new engine regulations, I’d love to see them make it back, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.

    • Scribe said on 28th April 2010, 13:21

      Just thought I’d add a rather interesting quote from Joe Saward in here

      “It is worth noting that there has been a quiet switcharound of roles at Williams in recent months with Adam Parr becoming the chairman of the company. Alex Burns is now the chief executive, while Sir Frank Williams remains team principal.”

      in fact here’s the article
      seems the company is finally diversafying from the rather dead buisness model of pure racing, either you’ve got a backer with a buisness or you’ve got to have a way of making money.

  6. Bartholomew said on 28th April 2010, 13:19

    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 !

    • Dougal said on 28th April 2010, 15:27

      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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. Stanzo said on 28th April 2010, 13:36

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

    • MattJ said on 28th April 2010, 15:40

      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.

    • the Sri Lankan said on 29th April 2010, 8:26

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

  10. Beri said on 28th April 2010, 13:41

    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.

  11. Adrian said on 28th April 2010, 13:41

    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…

  12. tobinen said on 28th April 2010, 13:46

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

  13. rampante said on 28th April 2010, 13:48

    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.

    • steph said on 28th April 2010, 14:16

      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

  14. W154 said on 28th April 2010, 13:57

    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.

  15. sato113 said on 28th April 2010, 13:57

    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.

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