Williams: Past Power

When Jacques Villeneuve won the Drivers Championship with Williams in 1997 few could have predicted the rapid decline of one of the most famous names in Motorsport. A combination underperforming cars, rookie drivers, uncompetitive engines and dismal Championship results has meant that Williams are now a struggling mid-table outfit. Williams are a team living in the past, reminiscing on famous victories and have fallen behind and have let their rivals disappear into the distance. Williams are one of the most successful teams in Formula One but why has this glorious name been without a World Championship for over a decade?

The answer lies with their inability to modernise as a Formula One team.

When Renault stopped providing Williams’ engines at the end of the 1997, it marked the end of one of the most successful periods in their history. The team had just clinched their 8th Constructors Championship and with one of the most exciting drivers on the grid in Villeneuve. Where did it all go wrong?

The first mistake Williams made was deciding to use Mecachrome engines (old Renault leftovers) and as a result the team struggled in 1998 and 1999. The team then signed a six year deal with BMW in 2000 and while they enjoyed moderate success with the occasional victory and championship challenge, Williams already looked a shadow of its former self. Once dominant and at the forefront of cutting edge technology, Williams were falling behind at an alarming rate.

Following the departure of Juan Pablo Montoya to McLaren in 2005, Williams soon became unable to attract top quality drivers to their team and this resulted in poor Championship results and tarnished the reputation of what was once a prestigious name in Formula One. The team have tried to change this by adopting a brave approach and hiring various rookie drivers in recent times, but few of them have been up to the required standard. Top drivers are now no longer interested in driving for a team who regularly hire rookies and who are unable to provide their drivers with a car which is able to challenge for race wins and Championships.

Williams need to change their approach to Formula One if they are to have any future in the sport. They have not won a race in six years and are quickly becoming an also-ran. The team has failed to modernise with the global nature of the sport in every aspect from marketing, business and politics. In order to succeed Williams must firstly find a major engine supplier as their recent relationships with Toyota and Cosworth have proved to be unsuccessful. The team must then find a driver who is willing to restore their fortunes in the same way Michael Schumacher did with Ferrari during the dominance of Williams in the 1990’s as this is their only hope of reviving their on-track performances, however this seems unlikely. Their reluctance to modernise casts doubts over their long-term future in the sport and constant whispers over their commitment to Formula One will not impress potential sponsors.

The will and ability to bounce back is what makes a good Formula One team. Many teams have managed it in the past however it seems that Williams will be unable to do so. Williams must stop burying their head in the sand and realise that they are no longer one of the top teams on the grid. The only way to prevent Williams from suffering the same fate as Team Lotus is to move with the times. The team must realise that Formula One is no longer a sport for privateers; it is a multi-billion pound business where only the strongest survive. If they do not act quickly they will fall by the wayside and permanently damage their legacy in Formula One.

Andy Alston F1