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

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  1. If you make it almost company policy NOT to retain the services of a driver who has just won the drivers/constructors title(s), what do you expect?

    Mansell ’87 > no points in ’88
    Hill 96
    Villenueve 97 > no points in ’98, ’99, ’00

    How you build a consistently high performing team if you don’t focus it around a winning driver? Ferrari had Schumi, McLaren had Mika..

    • that Mansell stat is obviously wrong. gaah.

    • Nutritional said on 30th April 2010, 12:30

      If I recall correctly, Frank Williams is on record as believing that it has always been his cars and not the drivers who have won championships for his team. Again, I’m not sure is a perfect paraphrase. I don’t think it’s a smart opinion either.

  2. Scott Joslin said on 30th April 2010, 16:37

    The Williams story is in a depressing chapter of its life.

    It saddens me to see a great team that was so strong in the 80’s and 90’s slowly fading away like that of original Lotus team.

    I think they are ultimately paying the price for not saddling up to a major manufacturer. I accept that BMW didn’t work on many levels, not least because of the differences at the top of both organisations, but what used to be the teams strength in its two leaders, Frank and Patrick, now seems to be there weakness.

    Who am I to say they are out of touch but they always seem to be the grumpy grand parents at the party. I know they have passed on power and control to other key individuals, but there seems to be very little improvement, instead it seems to be going backwards each year.

    Their decision to use Cosworth engines summed up their aspirations for me, and if Frank and Patrick had anything about them they should sell the rest of the business to party that can compete financially without the scars of war that the current team carry.

    I agree also with some comments that their driver selections have also contributed to their downfall. I remember watching documentaries about Williams were they always said they always looked to have real racers in their cars, well that hasn’t been true of them for the last 10 years since say Montoya. How the likes of Ralf Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld, Alex Wurx, Antônio Pizzonia,Kazuki Nakajima, and H.H.Frentzen managed to find seats there is beyond me.

    Their driver selection policy also lost them Adrian Newey, who as we know moved to Mclaren because he was furious at the dropping of world champion drivers like Mansell and Hill, while they were at peak.

    I would love to see the Williams name return to the top step of the podium, but I just cannot see it happening unless there is an imposed budget cut on the teams to help Williams out.

    Williams have produced some legendary drivers and cars, but that is all in the past, I feel that we should celebrate that and let someone else try and take the team further.

    However knowing what fighters Frank and Patrick are, its doubters like me that motivate them to continue to prove us all wrong.

  3. Its just poor management. Nothing to do with resources, they sure haven’t got less than Force India! Infact, its time they handed reins to someone new and competent instead of just dragging on with PH and FW. The old man needs to take some rest and get someone new who can turn it around. Its still possible, but I think the 1st step is to get rid of that Cosworth and somehow lure VW into the sport(those Audi plants could do something good!). They could try for the FO 108X but Mercedes wouldn’t supply to any more teams as far as I can see. Force India were fortunate to have struck a deal before Merc stepped in with their works team. Ferrari engines are not the best and neither are the underpowered Renaults.
    So, an engine change and a change at the top of the management is what can save them from fading away.

  4. ciaran said on 30th April 2010, 19:15

    I don’t think Williams should worry.Great F1 teams will always have bad times.Ferrari went 4 years without a win and 21 years without a championmship.McLaren also went 4 years without a win and 9 years without a championmship.Williams will come back to glory sooner or later.

  5. It’s not about the engine, pit wall strategies,or the drivers. It’s (as always) all about the car design and sponsorships.

    If Williams have any ambitions to see the top again they need to come up with a pool of cash, offer Adrian Newey a full partnership (Williams-Newey Racing?) and get to the front of the grid. THEN sponsors will take notice and come back, not a moment before. THEN they also have a shot at a better driver selection.

    They have unfortunately rode their legacy as far as it can carry them, and with the debt they are accumulating their future looks bleak.

    What has become of the new German investor/partner they recently touted (can’t recall the name). No specifics as to the money he’s come up with or the percentage of the team he bought. Any hope on that front????

  6. Nick Lawton said on 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…

  7. The Limit said on 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.

    • the Sri Lankan said on 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

  8. 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.

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