In the series behind the scenes in F1 we highlight a person who is not much to see in the foreground, but does...
ROKiT Williams Racing
Relegated to the last two places on the grid, the Williams of today is not an accurate reflection of historically one of the most successful F1 teams of all time. With sponsors fleeing and a lack of technical officers, the question is whether Williams can realistically be expected to make a step in the right direction in 2020.
|Team Leader||Claire Williams|
|Technical Leader||Paddy Lowe|
|Name of car||FW43|
|Amount of World Cups||16|
Who will be driving for Williams in Formula 1?
Just as in 2019, George Russell will feature for Williams in 2020. The Briton was by far the team’s strongest driver during the 2019 campaign, although he was the only driver on the grid to end the season without scoring a single point. He is not to be expected to repeat this feat in 2020, however, and the question is whether he can actually be challenged by his new teammate this year.
Next to Russell will be Canadian rookie Nicholas Latifi. The son of billionaire Michael Latifi, the sponsorship money Latifi brings with him is a big reason why he got the seat, as Williams can use that kind of money in its current state, as they remain firm on their ideals of developing most of their car themselves rather than buying them. In terms of ability, Latifi's CV will not blow anyone away, although he did finish runner-up in last year’s F2 championship.
Three times the charm
Two unsuccessful attempts to get a Formula 1 team off the ground was not enough for Sir Frank Williams to throw in the towel back in the ‘70s. The Brit joined forces with Patrick Head in 1977 and appeared at the start of the Spanish GP with a car which they had essentially bought.
After some poor results, Williams decided to roll up his sleeves to get his own car on the grid. With the FW06, driver Alan Jones won the team’s first points during the South African Grand Prix in 1977 by finishing fourth. From that moment onwards, the team started gaining momentum.
With a Ford V8 in the back of the car, Williams stormed to second place in the constructors’ championship in 1979 as Jones took four victories. One year later, the Australian was crowned world champion and Williams was at the top of the constructors’ championship as well. The constructors' title was won again in 1981, but Nelson Piquet beat Jones to the drivers' title. The Aussie finished third in his last year at Williams.
Despite taking the title with Keke Rosberg (father of 2016 champion Nico Rosberg), 1982 was not a good year for Williams. The results dropped off significantly, with the Ford V8 being the culprit of this dip. Williams switched to Honda power units (turbocharged V6 engines) and began an upward trajectory again in 1985, clinching the constructors’ title in 196 and 1987. Nelson Piquet won the championship just like in '81, but this time in the service of Williams.
Honda brought some success, but the Japanese manufacturer separated from Williams after 1987. For one year, the British team competed with a V8 (without turbo) before getting a Renault engine. Races were won again and in 1992, a dominant era started for Williams, mainly thanks to their (in)famous active suspension. Nigel Mansell won the title, and Alain Prost won it again for Williams the following year (retiring straight after).
Williams also reeled in three constructors' titles on the bounce with 1995 as the only exception: Michael Schumacher and Benetton snatched it away that time. In 1996 and 1997, Williams again that came out on top again, while the drivers’ championships were also won by Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. The aftertaste of Ayrton Senna’s fatal crash in 1994 had somewhat been washed away by Williams’ success, although the driver will live on in the team’s heart forever.
The fall of a giant
If the mind behind the car, in this case Adrian Newey, leaves the team, that spells trouble. Combine that with the end of an engine partnership and that spells disaster. Williams suffered both setbacks in 1998 (Newey switched to rivals McLaren and produced title-winning cars) and has to make do with subpar engines for a few years.
In 2000, the power unit situation improves again because of a partnership with BMW. With Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher behind the wheel, the results started to slowly improve in 2001. The FW32 was extremely unreliable but could occasionally produce wins because of the BMW engine’s speed.
In 2004, the relationship between BMW and Williams started breaking down to a point of no return, with both parties claiming the other brings too little to the table. Williams ripped their contract with BMW, which ran until 2009, and switched to Cosworth engines in 2006. Nico Rosberg replaced fellow countryman Nick Heidfeld spot and Mark Webber stayed with Williams for another year. Another year of struggle was ahead, leading to the power source in the back of the Williams getting replaced after just one year.
Not until Williams got Mercedes engines in 2014 (the start of the turbo-hybrid era) did the results improve again. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were on the podium from time to time (Pastor Maldonado’s win in 2012 had been the only one in five years) and the team finished third in the championship in both 2014 and 2015. It didn’t last long, however, asd the FW38 in 2016 ‘only’ got P5.
The Mercedes-bound Bottas was replaced by Lance Stroll the next year and although the same P5 was achieved in the championship, Williams did it with just 83 points. The FW40 was hardly an improvement at all, making the 2018 season the most painful year ever for Williams. Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll only combined for seven points and for the first time in the team’s history, it was dead-last in the championship.
Both Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll disappeared from Williams, with the former leaving Formula 1 entirely. Robert Kubica and George Russell took their places. A Mercedes-junior, Russell got his feet wet in F1 at Williams before potentially making the step to the factory team, while Kubica returned heroically after eight years of absence following his horror-crash in 2011.
Williams still managed to do even worse in 2019 as Kubica and Russell only managed to score one point between them, and the future doesn’t look rosy for the team as of now.
Williams in 2020
With the Michael Latifi cash injection, the Grove-based team could start closing the gap they currently have with the rest of the grid, but it is clear that Claire Williams does not have the infrastructure within the team to make strides. The team is in a negative spiral and now has to rely on pay-drivers to keep afloat.
The massive regulation changes in 2021 could be the ideal opportunity for Williams to start with a clean slate and close the gap with the competition. Therefore it’s unlikely the team will waste too much of its resources on the 2020 challenger, the FW43. The lack of (financial) resources force Williams to make choices: gamble on 2020 or start with a clean slate in 2021. Seems like a straightforward choice, doesn't it?
Which engine does Williams have in Formula 1?
Williams uses the Mercedes engine, but famously develop most of the other parts themselves. The British constructor has the possibility to buy more parts from Mercedes but opts not to. This approach hasn’t seemed to work very well in recent years.
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