Williams fall into F1’s vicious cycle

2011 F1 season review

Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Monaco, 2011

Maldonado impressed in Monaco

Williams have fallen into F1’s vicious cycle – one which has claimed other teams before.

Poor performance leads to falling sponsorship revenues which restricts development leading to worsening performance.

They reached a new low in 2011 as they fell three places in the constructors’ championship, only finishing ahead of the three teams that first appeared last year. Where does this once-great F1 team go from here?

Williams responded quickly to their desperate start to 2011. Technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson were earmarked for replacement in May and have since found places at McLaren and Toro Rosso respectively. In a seismic move, Williams stalwart Patrick Head will also step back from his F1 duties and work elsewhere within the company.

In their places has come the controversial appointment of Mike Coughlan – a central figure in the ‘Spygate’ scandal four years ago. In addition to that, next year Williams will have access to the world championship-winning Renault engine, replacing the Cosworth power it has used for the last two seasons.

Williams team stats 2011

Best race result (number) 9 (2)
Best grid position (number) 7 (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 10 (7/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,923 (84.86%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2010) 9th (6th)
Championship points (2010) 5 (69)
Pit stop performance ranking 7th

Williams hopes for 2012 are invested in a car which must be both quicker and more reliable than the FW33. The aggressive rear packaging of the car with its low gearbox and driveshaft proved problematic.

The car had seven race-ending malfunctions during the season – several of which were due to transmission problems – and suffered repeated KERS failures.

When the car did see the end of a race it was rarely quick enough to reach the points. A Williams finished on the lead lap just six times in 38 starts.

Rubens Barrichello gave the team its first points of the year in Monaco, inheriting ninth place after rookie team mate Pastor Maldonado retired following a collision with Lewis Hamilton.

Barrichello finished in the same place in the following race at Montreal, calling on his vast experience in a very wet race. Those were his only two visits to the top ten all season.

Maldonado added his first and only point in F1 so far in the Belgian Grand Prix – a race he was fortunate to start after another run-in with Hamilton. Maldonado, who had lost time being passed by the McLaren at the final corner on his last lap, drove up alongside Hamilton’s car and made contact in a move somewhere between intentional contact and sheer carelessness.

Start, Abu Dhabi, 2011

The team started at the back in Abu Dhabi

He went some way towards redeeming himself on race day, rising from a penalised 21st to finish tenth. And that was Williams’ third and final points-scoring finish of a desperate year.

The season reached its nadir in Abu Dhabi where the team recorded its worst ever starting positions, the pair lining up on the back row after Maldonado was handed a penalty for an engine change and Barrichello’s car broke down in Q1.

The team has already announced it will retain Maldonado to drive the Coughlan-designed, Renault-powered FW34. But whether he has someone sufficiently experienced and capable alongside him, or Williams have to plump for another well-heeled driver, will signal whether they are continuing their alarming tailspin.

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50 comments on Williams fall into F1’s vicious cycle

  1. Yeah well… Williams is a team i really like because of how they operate, and i’ve said this over a fair few times at this blog. It makes me really sad to know that a team like Williams is having to struggle as they are. I sincerely wish them luck…

  2. sbl on tour (@sbl-on-tour) said on 9th December 2011, 21:53

    dont know what the answer is, but I dont think sutil or senna would make any difference and as for petrov, gawd forbid!

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 9th December 2011, 22:07

      Right, because when you single-handedly preserve 5th place in the WCC standings, driving what was arguably the worst car on the grid, then God forbid that you deserve another chance.

      • The Last Pope (@the-last-pope) said on 10th December 2011, 14:50


        I just can’t understand why some people rate Petrov so lowly.

        • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 11th December 2011, 9:20

          @the-last-pope – People feel that, based on his 2010 performances, Petrov did not “deserve” to drive a car as good as the Renault R30. They think he “robbed” someone more deserving (Nick Heidfeld being the driver most often cited) of a competitive car, and that putting Petrov in it was a waste of a seat. They also tend to resent the way he was openly a pay driver, conveniently ignoring the way half the grid have personal sponsors these days.

  3. Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 9th December 2011, 22:03

    I think what Williams need to do is forget about their “aggressive approach”. They’ve been peddling it for years now, and all it has done for them is amke them consistently inconsistent. When the FW33 was launched, some of Sam Michael’s comments gave me the distinct impression than elements of the car – like the microscopic gearbox – had been designed because they were “aggressive” rather than because they made the car faster. Williams should be looking at what the front-running teams were doing this year, and borrow inspiration from them. It might stifle creativity, but “creativity” led to their worst season in history. I’m expecting that the FW34 will take cues from the McLaren MP-4/26 and Red Bull RB7. It’s a safe, conservative strategy that will let their drivers perform and maybe get them back on-track. Because another season like 2011 might kill them for good.

    • The Last Pope (@the-last-pope) said on 10th December 2011, 15:06

      I think though it would be a mistake to revert back to a conventional gearbox. I’m sure we will see other teams attemping their own lowline gearboxes. Williams now need to evolve their mechanical side to build in better reliability, and just fix their aerodynamic problems. I believe the removal of the blown diffusers will make things much simpler for them and they can concentrate more on “flexing” front wings.

      • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 11th December 2011, 9:25

        @the-last-pope – I have no problem with the miniscule gearbox. I’m simply saying that I think the root of Williams’ problems is the way the team has been talking up their “aggressive design philosophy” for the past few years, and they only thing they have gotten from it is a few seasons of consistent inconsistency before rounding it off with their worst-ever season. They need to give up on this “aggressive” approach, because it clearly isn’t working – and sometimes, it feels like they’re emphasising this “aggression” rather than actually building a decent car. They seem to have gotten it into their heads that “aggression” equals speed, and it’s taken them years to work out that this is not the case.

  4. Dev (@dev) said on 10th December 2011, 8:30

    Williams have what it takes to get back to the top but they need invest heavily into aero side. They need to forget about everything else just focus on aero.

  5. themagicofspeed (@) said on 10th December 2011, 12:35

    Sadly, Icthyes was right, i fear. They sink to new lows each year. They look like they need to be put out of their misery. It’s very sad.

    I think it is time to enjoy watching Williams while they last, because in just a few short seasons, they will probably be gone.

    The fact that they are ditching Barrichello for a lesser driver (probably for pay reasons) and taking on pay drivers (Maldonado) tells you everything…oh how the mighty have fallen.

  6. i personally think williams has been in trouble since 1994. yes, they won some titles in 96 and 97, but they weren’t against the toughest competition. ferrari and mclaren was gathering momentum, benetton was falling.
    it seemed that williams didn’t really try to push and take advantage of the weakness of the other teams. even if the engine was great, it was clear that renault was slowly pulling out of F1 since they started to supply more teams or later change name to Mecachrome or supertec. Damon hill and villeneuve weren’t that great to push a team, “just” good drivers in a good car, same for montoya. actually, at the 1st opportunity, they left.

    then BMW came in, bringing back some success but also their controversial management and when they left, with all their money and ressources, williams became an empty shell, struggling to line up top drivers and engine.

    maybe the renault engine deal will bring some improvements, but there is still a question mark on the technical staff and the drivers. I still don’t understand why they let Hulkenberg go. another short term related mistake maybe.

    • The Last Pope (@the-last-pope) said on 10th December 2011, 16:36

      You forget Williams where hit hard by Senna’s death with all the visits to the italian courts with the manslaughter charges that continued for years, then there was the departure of Adrian Newey to McLaren which actually occured slowly from 1995 to the end of 1996.

      Despite all this they still managed to totaly dominate in 1996 and again take both titles in 1997 up against a Reborn and very strong Ferrari/Schumacher team.

      Its not like they’ve been lazy or didn’t sign good enough drivers. Damon Hill and Jacque Villeneuve (and HH Frentzen) were considered 3 of the top drivers of the time. Same with Montoya, it wasn’t just ‘some’ success, he almost won the championship! Even now, since the 1990’s They have always had at least 1 highly rated drivers. They have just been very unlucky with the engine supplyers and sponsors leaving.

  7. bearforce1 (@bearforce1) said on 11th December 2011, 5:48

    It looks bleak but haven’t other teams had tough times before, I am thinking Ferrari. Hope they get it together, the more the merrier.

  8. tasimana said on 11th December 2011, 5:59

    Has anyone seen the movie Senna. The year before he moved to Williams they dominated. A few rule changes later and Williams struggled with Senna sadly losing his life in a car that had poor handling. So much can change year to year so here’s hoping. Sutil would be good for Williams as he’d be pretty motivated.

    • Prisoner Monkeys (@prisoner-monkeys) said on 11th December 2011, 9:21

      A few rule changes later and Williams struggled

      Some of those rule changes were introduced specifically to end Williams’ dominance of the championship, and to give everyone else a fighting chance.

  9. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 11th December 2011, 14:26

    Where to start.

    Michael’s ‘tight rear-end’ quip was probably the highlight of their season. I will always respect a team for trying to innovate and improve but they have been by far the biggest disappointment this year. I don’t even really feel like I’m in a position to be able to judge their drivers fairly, they’ve not had much chance to compete. Maldonado probably does deserve another season, he’s not the first and won’t be the last to make rookie mistakes. They would do well to hold on to Barrichello, his experience at such a difficult time and their change of technical staff would really benefit from

    I’ll end on an optimistic note. At least they can’t do much worse in 2012.

  10. Gagnon (@johnniewalker) said on 11th December 2011, 19:53

    I don’t like williams, but its all possible that they can win race next years or in 2 years……. I remember team HONDA when they sold it to brawn……. the season before car were horrible and they said all season that next car will be at the front. They sold it to Ross Brawn and every know what happened. and I dont think that Honda had all the infrastructure that williams have. I dont think in williams ends at all…….

  11. Williams in 1979 was why I got into watching Formula 1. After many highs it’s sad that I’m going to give-up (as F1 moves to Sky) with them on such a low.

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