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???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. Christian said on 28th April 2010, 13:58

    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.

  2. Sush Meerkat said on 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.

  3. Icthyes said on 28th April 2010, 14:30

    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.

    • Icthyes said on 28th April 2010, 14:35

      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.

      • Icthyes said on 28th April 2010, 14:38

        (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.

  4. Robert McKay said on 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.

    • Dougal said on 28th April 2010, 15:31

      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”.

      • 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.”

  5. Lustigson said on 28th April 2010, 14:50

    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.

  6. antonyob said on 28th April 2010, 14:57

    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.

    • Lore said on 1st May 2010, 14:02

      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…

  7. 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.

  8. DaveW said on 28th April 2010, 15:03

    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.

  9. Dougal said on 28th April 2010, 15:11

    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.

  10. Vishy said on 28th April 2010, 15:21

    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.

    • Dougal said on 28th April 2010, 15:34

      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.

      • Bartholomew said on 28th April 2010, 15:51

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

      • Vishy said on 28th April 2010, 16:04

        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.

        • MattJ said on 28th April 2010, 16:44

          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.

          • BasCB said on 28th April 2010, 17:11

            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.

          • 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.

          • Vishy said on 28th April 2010, 19:38

            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.

  11. Geoff said on 28th April 2010, 15:55

    I am pleased that Williams have been inefective for quite some time. They went downhill after firing the reigning champion Damon Hill.

    • Vishy said on 28th April 2010, 16:17

      I thought Hill left by himself? Also he got a hefty pay packet by Jordon. I remember Eddie Jordon saying later that he should never have taken Hill as he did not have any motivation whatsoever. Utter waste of money according to him.

      I am not saying there is anything wrong with Hill and infact I rooted for him the year he won the championship but you have to do justice to what you are paid. And for a small team like Jordon that was big disservice.

      • BasCB said on 28th April 2010, 17:17

        I think Hill left partly because he learnt about his replacement before even ending the year and the team offered him only a pretty meagre salary.

        It was a shame he did not get up to anything good at Jordan.
        Williams does have a tradition of not treating their world champions very good: Hill left,
        Villeneuve left – OK that was to get BAR on the grid but still –
        Before that, Mansell left and only got a drive in Indy.

        Rosberg also left i think and while Prost was only interested in the one year, still he left.
        Who knows, how long Senna would have been with them.

        • Dougal said on 28th April 2010, 17:51

          Mansell left because Williams signed Prost and good old Nige was still fuming over the Frenchman’s approach when they were teammates at Ferrari.

          And then Prost left after a single season because Williams were signing Senna and the Frenchman didn’t want to get beaten by a better driver than the one he faced as a teammate at Mclaren.

          • Nutritional said on 29th April 2010, 23:42

            Whenever I’ve read about the off season between 1992 and 1993, the authors have always made it out as Mansell was offered a low ball financial deal for 1993, he refused, Williams looked elsewhere, but then came back after they could not find any other drivers of Mansell’s caliber or better to drive the cars, but it was too late. I’ve assumed when they say too late that they mean he was already committed to race for Newman-Haas in the states.

      • ConcedoNulli said on 28th April 2010, 19:15

        Hill left and went to Arrows, where he very nearly won a GP (unlucky car failure). Then, the year after, he went to Jordan and won their first GP at Spa.

  12. GeeMac said on 28th April 2010, 16:02

    There were two blows which Williams were dealt if I remember right.

    The first was Renault’s decison to pull out of F1 at the end of the 1997 season. Losing the most powerful engine on the grid, and a great technical partner was a major loss.

    The second was the ban on tabacco sponsorship. If I remember right Williams were the first f1 team to be completely smoke free, and that loss of revenue has, in my humble opinion, hurt them. Badly.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th April 2010, 16:48

      Williams were the first f1 team to be completely smoke free

      No, but they were pretty much the first among the ‘big teams’ to go tobacco-free, doing so in 2000. But other teams like Stewart, for example, never had a tobacco sponsor.

      • Williams even went so far as being sponsored by NiQuitin a product to help people quit smoking.

      • GeeMac said on 29th April 2010, 9:54

        Quite right, I meant to say the first “big” team to go smoke free.

        I have always found it strange that you are not allowed to advertsise cigarettes on a racing car, but it’s fine to advertise booze on a racing car. Surely drinking and driving is more dangerous than drinking and smoking?

        The strange world we live in…

        • Nutritional said on 29th April 2010, 11:36

          I’ve never seen someone start smoking for any other reason than the fact that the people they gather with, or want to gather with smoke. In that light I’ve never understood why simply putting the name of a tobacco product, without any accompanying slogans, has been banned, especially when so many tobacco liveries are so classic in racing. Now, on I saner note, I know that just because some tobacco liveries are classic, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to let the tobacco companies advertise, but I really miss liveries like Rothmans, Camels, Marlboro, West, JPS etc. I find a lot of the new liveries just don’t look as good.

    • James_mc said on 28th April 2010, 18:40

      There was an interview in a magazine (F1 Mag?) a few months ago and FW/PH reckoned that they were really hurt in 1997/8 after failing to develop their car for a new formula and instead focussed on their championships of ’96 & ’97

  13. Wificats said on 28th April 2010, 16:28

    Although this is an absolute long shot, if the association between Williams and Porsche for providing hybrid drive works properly, it might make sense for Porsche (and by extension VW) to partner Williams in providing engines for 2013 when the new Engine regs come in, as Porsche have past experience on engines (specifically Turbos), and the new regulations will provide better feedback for manufacturers. A very long shot, but a nice idea nonetheless.

    • zoid9969 said on 28th April 2010, 19:46

      How would Porsche’s experience of turbos twenty years ago aid them in coming back to F1 now? F1 and engine technology have moved on a long way since then.

      As for Williams, it pains me to say this (surrounded by 13 years’ worth of Williams model cars), I think they’re on the way to oblivion. Every year, they make positive noises about being on the way back to the top and every year, it’s a huge disappointment.

      Imagine how Rubens feels – last year, he was in a race-winning car. Now, he’s tooling around at the back, with his team mate getting beaten by one of the Lotuses last time out.

    • Electrolite said on 28th April 2010, 23:25

      Williams-Porsche. Now THAT’S got a ring to it :P

  14. Accidental Mick said on 28th April 2010, 17:25

    Some mention has been made above about the driver line up that Williams have had over the years. One of their most succsesful combinations was Nigell Mansell who (in spite of his whingeing) had an almost insane determination to win and Damon Hill (their test driver at the time) who was considered an oustanding developement driver.

    I have no proof of this, just years of watching, but it seems to me that as soon as a driver gets talked about more than his (Frank’s) car, that driver leaves/gets fired. Any thoughts?

  15. F1 Novice said on 28th April 2010, 17:32

    I think we will see the re-resurgence of Williams in 2013 with a Williams-Porsche Works F1 Team with Flywheel 1.5 Twin Turbo lumps with Boost Buttons & Williams’ Fly-wheel KERS bolted on.

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