F1: Australian Grand Prix – What’s happened to Williams?

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George Russell's Williams FW42 during the pre-season test in Barcelona. Image Sourced from f1network.net

The name Williams is one of the most iconic names in Formula One history, and one of the most successful with 114 Grand Prix wins; to date, only Ferrari (235 wins) and McLaren (182) have more.

However in recent years the Williams team is far beyond a shadow of its former self, with the team dropping to the back of the grid in 2018.

Furthermore, the team seem to have slipped further back in 2019, so what’s gone wrong with one of the most iconic F1 teams, and is there a fix?

The 2018 season was tough for Williams, with the team only picking up seven points courtesy of Formula Three champion Lance Stroll.

With that said, the new campaign looks like it is going to be even tougher for the Grove based team, after they missed the first two and a half days during pre-season testing as their new challenger – the Williams FW42 – was not being ready, which spread rumours of uncertainty over the team’s future.

The recent Australian Grand Prix has showcased the scale of the mountain that Williams have to climb if they want to be even close to being competitive again.

Despite the best efforts of the reigning Formula 2 champion George Russell and former Grand Prix winner Robert Kubica, the team qualified almost a second and a half slower than the nearest car at the tail end of the grid.

In fact, Williams’ times in qualifying were actually slower than what they’d previously achieved at Albert Park in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

On top of this, Kubica crashed during Q1 due to the bizarre reasoning that there was a sudden increase of grip:

“In quali something strange happened. Well not strange, something positive, but we need to understand the reason,” Kubica explained.

“I was struggling with grip and then suddenly when I left the garage in Q1 for my third run I felt much better grip and I could actually drive the car for the first time today.

Williams’ current situation is so bad they’ve only gained a second on their 2016 qualifying time in Melbourne; in comparison, other teams have gained three seconds and in some cases, as much as four seconds within the same period.

For example, Alfa Romeo (formerly Sauber) gained 2.2 seconds in the last year alone.

This is an incredible down spiral in performance for Williams and shocking to think that this was a team finished third in the Constructors’ in 2014 and 2015 respectively with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas at the beginning of the Hybrid era.

But the team has fallen so far that is has become reminiscent of the early Williams cars, when Sir Frank Williams was first starting in F1 in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

One argument for their struggles is caused by a lack of funding, with frontrunners Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull budgets threefold to that of  Williams.

However, Racing Point (previously Force India) have had even worse financial issues for the past few years, with the team having to be brought out midway through 2018 to make sure the team could survive and finish the season.

But throughout these financial issues, the team was regularly able to punch way above their weight and finished fourth in the Constructors’ in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

On top of this, Racing Point would’ve repeated this at the end of 2018 had they not changed ownership and renamed the team.

Now this could be claimed as an exception, but seeing as they can pull it off so regularly, they must be doing something right.

So, is there any hope of a fix for Williams to stop their downward spiral in performance?

Well there is one option is to follow in the footsteps of Alfa Romeo and McLaren in resctructing the team.

Just look at Alfa Romeo’s impact on the Sauber team, where at the start of 2017 the Swiss team was a back-marker, just like Williams are now.

Since Alfa’s involvement with the team, mixed with the appointment of team boss Frederic Vasseur, the team has established itself midfield runner and has challenged the likes of Renault and Haas.

This is also being done to an extent at McLaren, with the team dropping Eric Boullier after their ill-fated spell with Honda.

In his place is ex-Porsche head Andreas Seidl, alongside new Technical Director James Key who previously worked for Toro Rosso.

Whether this will work to the same extent as it has for Alfa Romeo on track, is yet to be seen, although the early signs look promising.

Maybe this is the answer for Williams, as it is clear nothing is working.

The introduction of Paddy Lowe as Chief Technical Director as left little effect on the team’s overall performance, which has subsequently added to the pressure on the shoulders of Deputy Team Principal, Claire Williams.

But if Williams are to experience a resurgence, it needs to be soon.

Because the way things are now, there is a strong possibility of the famous Williams name disappearing from the grid altogether, which would be an incredible loss to the sport.

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