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.

F1 in numbers

More F1 in numbers

191 comments on “The rise and fall of Williams”

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

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

      2. ConcedoNulli
        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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

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

      2. 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…

        1. 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.

    2. 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

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

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

  4. Accidental Mick
    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?

  5. 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.

    1. Sounds like a very good package, I would like to see that

      1. Volkswagen may join in F1 in the future does that mean they are bringing Porsche & partnering with Williams.

  6. Its interesting to note that even in their most successful years, the team has had more poles than wins. Suggests to me either unreliability or absence of the best racing drivers.

    Didn’t Patrick Head have a policy of ditching drivers after they had won a WDC and not keeping one driver for too long in the team?

    I haven’t followed the Williams team as much in my short period as an F1fanatic. But it surely is one of the most cherished teams of the veteran F1 fans. Perhaps they could throw more light on Patrick Head’s policies :)

    1. Yes, my impression of Williams is that they are a team with the firm belief that the car is the “winner”, the driver is just the pilot. Often F1 shows they are right – the best drivers can’t perform if the car is to slow: Lewis struggled first half of 2009, etc. But they tend to forget, that the very best drivers bring decisive feedback to develop the car over the winter testing and over the season. And I suspect they treat their drivers and employees too old-fashioned or disrespectful to be able to keep the best and get the best output from those they have. Only drivers with a very tough personality have lasted longer than one or two seasons with Williams.
      F1 is a team-effort and I think Williams is not very good at being just that: “a team”. For this reason I think they are going to be history sooner or later, unless they can change the company into a true “team”, like Brawn apparently did with Honda. But to do that they probably need to reorganize a lot and say goodbye to a lot of people starting high. To be successful in such a process You most often have to start with a new capable owner.

  7. Keith can you do one of those graphs that plot the “rise & fall” of teams as Adrian Newey passes through them ?

    1. There’s a graph a bit like that from last year here:

      Michael Schumacher vs Adrian Newey, 1991-2008 (F1 in numbers)

      1. Yes I saw that last year :) but it would be interesting to see peaks and any troughs when he moved on at March / Leyton House/ Williams Mclaren and now Red Bull

  8. Surprise, surprise – Sam Michael now says Williams wants KERS back next year:

    1. I don’t think they wanted it not to be used this year really did they ?

    2. And they announce new sponsors; Transport for London ;-)

    3. I’ve had enough with Williams and their KERS, if it ever comes back there’s better be worth the wait and the hype!

      1. As they saw that the flywheel system working good for Porsche that’s why I think they made this decision, & they are the only one who have developed flywheel system whereas everybody have gone for battery powered.

  9. As much as I don’t like to say it, Williams will never recover just like Lotus never did. The blame is to be put on Patrick Head’s shoulders for not moving aside for Adrian Newey in the mid-nineties.

  10. The car is not up to scratch at the moment. Barrichello mentioned something like this in an interview, the main problem is the hight of the car in combination with their aerodynamics. Rubens is trying to push the developpers in a different direction. I still think they did well to hire the Hulk. He’s a tremendous talent, just his qualifying needs improvement but he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and in lap times he was faster than Barrichello the last 2 races (resulting in beating Rubens in Maleysia!). But most of it is now up to Rubens of course, the Hulk needs to learn as much as he can, Rubens needs to push the team as hard as they can. It’s early in the season and like Alonso said: The championship really starts in Europe.

    1. But i read somewhere, that they will bring their first major update only at monaco or maybe even later in the season, i think Sam Michael mentioned it when being asked about the F-duct.
      So let us just hope, this is a gigantic step.

  11. I miss the days when Montoya was winning races for Williams, I was a huge fan of them then.
    Bring back Montoya to F1!!

    1. ConcedoNulli
      28th April 2010, 19:17

      Here here! Montoya was one of the few drivers willing to face down Schumacher’s bullying tactics.

      1. Not to mention one of the best overtakers ever!

        1. @ Skett

          Back in the old days he with Kimi were the only guys who could challenge Schumi, it’s a shame that we don’t see him anymore in F1.

          1. Indeed it is, but I’m not sure how he’d do with this whole lightweight thing they’ve got to do now more than ever!

    2. Nutritional
      29th April 2010, 9:06

      I think Williams would have been far better off in 2001-2004 if Villenuve had stayed with the team after 1998. And that’s not to say anything against Montoya either. I think the combination of the two drivers in Williams’ BMW era would have quite possibly improved their fortunes. Considering they both had CART racing backgrounds, and simply by how they both raced in F1, I think they would have had similar needs in terms of car handling. That would have helped Williams in terms of developing the chassis. In addition, the rivalry between the two probably would have been intense, which would have pushed them harder on the track. Moreover, it never hurts to have a world champion on your team to keep manufacturer and sponsor interest in your team.

  12. I think all small/private teams need ace designers and some smart business deals – like Force India did with Mercedes.

    Williams at the moment have sorted neither.

  13. What about McLaren? Now that Mercedes has a team of its own will it go the Williams way?

    1. I don’ think so, they may become a manufacturer sometime in the future.

  14. MouseNightshirt
    28th April 2010, 21:50

    I think it’s important to realise that Williams are the only “business” team on the grid before this season (with the exception of Sauber, HRT and Lotus added this season). Their pure existence as a company, as an entity, is to race cars.

    Ferrari: Sells cars
    McLaren: Sells cars
    Renault: Sells cars
    Mercedes: Sells cars
    Sauber: Was formerly BMW… which sold cars
    Red Bull: Sells energy drinks
    Torro Rosso: Sells energy drinks
    Force India: Sells flights and beer
    Virgin: Sells flights, seats on trains, cola, telecommunications, dreams, fairies and trips to outer space.

    1. MouseNightshirt
      28th April 2010, 21:51

      That should have read “were the only “business” team.

      1. Just to be picky, Mclaren don’t yet sell cars, although that is only a short time away. And Lotus is part owned by Proton, who sell cars.

        Williams currently exist for F1 and F1 alone, and Hispania now join them on that list. And despite ownership, Force India are an F1 tea, who happen to be owned by the guy who owns an airline and some beer. Their operations are independent of each other.

        And Virgin is only part owned by Richard Branson, and again is independent of any other veture the Briton has.

        And with the expansion of their facility in Qatar, and this tie-in with Porsche, it is fair to say that Williams are begninning to branch out in the technical world in a way that will mean they are no longer just an F1 team and nothing else.

  15. Mike "the bike" Schumacher
    28th April 2010, 22:53

    Maybe they should stop making golf clubs and just focus on winning.

  16. Feels a bit like the Tyrrell story to me…


    1. I’d have to agree there. A more successful version, but showing similar signs of a successful era including a dominant period and then a slow decline into mediocrity.

      A shame as for me growing up they were the team to beat, not McLaren.

  17. I like what you do, specifically the graphs, but can I give you one suggestion. Why not try using alternating colors (not the defaults in excel)? The graphs tend to be small and we don’t always have the best view of the information.

    PS Williams will come back by next year with a podium finish. I believe they have quite periods but in the end things will shift around they will bounce back as a top team.

  18. Williams just need a good engine.

  19. Nutritional
    29th April 2010, 0:29

    KERS wouldn’t be enough to save Williams if KERS comes back in to the fold. What Williams really needs is factory backing again. Factory engines and the hoards of money that come with that are indispensable in Formula One. And, if Williams design team is lacking, they should do what’s always been done if F1 – fire them and find new ones. I do hope they find it back to the top. The FW16 and FW19 are two of my all time favorite F1 cars.

  20. A big rule change and the coming cost caps could help them and change the order of the teams. I don’t think they will get back near the top before that happens. So I guess that means 2013 is there next big chance.

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