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”

Jump to comment page: 1 3 4 5
  1. Nick Lawton
    1st May 2010, 20:53

    On paper, it is difficult to see how Williams can pull out of their downward cycle of decline. What was once their strength (Frank Williams tenacious independent spirit and Patrick Head’s engineering nous) now seems to be the cause of stagnation or worse their main weakness. Certainly management issues appear to have been a cause of their problems: the falling out with Montoya (the infamous disciplinary letter), the divorce with BMW (ultimately unrewarding for both parties), the leaving on poor terms of Webber and Rosberg. Succession planning has not gone well, Sam Michael and Adam Parr have not delivered to the level of the team’s forefathers. They need a “game changer” to reverse their fortunes. Ironically, they were ideally placed to benefit from Max Mosley’s view of Cost Reduced Formula 1; the New Age of Austerity may yet prove to be their saviour…

  2. The Limit
    3rd May 2010, 1:37

    I think they will, but choosing Cosworth power I feel was a mistake. I buy into the theory that Williams were probably hoping Toyota would continue to supply them with engines for 2010, and when that failed to pan out, the only other option was with Cosworth. The problem is, Cosworth have been out of the game for a number of years, and already have their hands full supplying all the new teams.
    I always respected Williams for their decision not to sell out to BMW, which four years on looks even more of a shrewd move following BMW’s departure from F1. I value the fact that Frank Williams has always run his team in the true sense of an F1 racing team, and not as a marketing tool like the big manufacturers did. However, I feel the problems stem from the fact that they are simply handicapped by a lack of money compared to their rivals.
    Even Force India, despite being a privately owned team, have the huge resources of billionaire owner Vijay Mallya to count on. Toro Rosso have always benefitted from the Red Bull connection, so that in itself leaves only Williams and the new three teams.
    Its dangerous though to underestimate Frank Williams. Afterall, he has spent thirty five years in the sport as a team owner, and has seen plenty of people come and go in that time. He knows how to get the best from people and how to attract new talent to his squad.

    1. the Sri Lankan
      3rd May 2010, 5:53

      you couldnt have said it better. but to hell with it! i was only watching F1 for Toyota, now that they are gone i dont see anymore point

  3. Williams’ free fall is distressing to say the least. I recently wrote a piece about the reasons behind their decline, one of which is not the drivers needless to say.

Jump to comment page: 1 3 4 5

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments are moderated. See the Comment Policy and FAQ for more.