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. sumedh said on 28th April 2010, 17:36

    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 :)

    • Palle said on 28th April 2010, 22:47

      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.

  2. F1 Novice said on 28th April 2010, 17:37

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

  3. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th April 2010, 17:43

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

    • F1 Novice said on 28th April 2010, 17:44

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

    • James_mc said on 28th April 2010, 18:41

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

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

      • wasiF1 said on 29th April 2010, 2:32

        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.

  4. Antiriad said on 28th April 2010, 17:48

    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.

  5. Dennis said on 28th April 2010, 18:09

    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.

    • BasCB said on 1st May 2010, 7:04

      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.

  6. luigismen said on 28th April 2010, 18:54

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

    • ConcedoNulli said on 28th April 2010, 19:17

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

      • Skett said on 29th April 2010, 1:16

        Not to mention one of the best overtakers ever!

        • wasiF1 said on 29th April 2010, 2:34

          @ 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.

          • Skett said on 29th April 2010, 11:55

            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!

    • Nutritional said on 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Vishy said on 28th April 2010, 20:18

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

  9. MouseNightshirt said on 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.

    • MouseNightshirt said on 28th April 2010, 21:51

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

      • Dougal said on 29th April 2010, 23:10

        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.

  10. Mike "the bike" Schumacher said on 28th April 2010, 22:53

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

  11. Mark said on 28th April 2010, 22:58

    Feels a bit like the Tyrrell story to me…


    • James_mc said on 28th April 2010, 23:53

      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.

  12. Myron said on 28th April 2010, 23:34

    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.

  13. Williams just need a good engine.

  14. Nutritional said on 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.

  15. Nick F said on 29th April 2010, 1:26

    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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