Williams have found themselves in a tough spot once again in 2019 but it is about time things changed.
25 years ago it was almost impossible to think that Williams would one day race at the back of the grid but that is now the reality for the Grove based team.
So far this year the team have failed to make it out of Q3 and have always started on the back row of the grid when there have been no penalties for other drivers.
But how did Williams end up at the back?
Fall from grace
The short answer is money. After BMW pulled out of their partnership with Williams at the end of the 2005 season the team struggled.
On their own they do not have the financial muscle to fight with the top teams and between 2006 and 2011 the team found themselves firmly in the midfield.
The team acknowledged that their budgets were restraining them but Claire Williams took on the Team Principal duties from her father Frank and worked about maximising the team’s potential.
Williams showed signs of improvement in 2012 when Pastor Maldonado scored his only Formula 1 victory in Spain but it remains the last of Williams’ 114 wins.
In 2014 Williams switched to Mercedes-Benz engines and with a top power unit, some new sponsorship money from Martini and two reliable drivers in Felipe Massa and Valterri Bottas, the team once again found themselves fighting at the front albeit not for victories.
They finished third in the 2014 and 2015 Constructor’s championships and looked to be rebuilding the foundations of their once successful team but in 2016 the team began to slide back down the table.
Williams finished fifth in both 2016 and 2017 and dramatically fell to last in 2018. This year they are last again and are also the only team not to have scored a point all season.
The reasons for failure
Budget could be a reason for Williams’ decline but issues started to creep in much earlier than their financial issues so to solely lay the blame at that door would be wrong.
Williams lost their Martini sponsorship for 2019 which brought in a reported $15million a year and that is a big hit for what is now a small team.
They have taken on telecommunications start-up, Rokit as a title sponsor, on a multi-year deal, for 2019 and while there has been no confirmation of the amount of money they are injecting into Williams, it is unlikely it is near the amount Martini paid.
Williams could argue that this is the reason they are struggling but it doesn’t answer why they fell so hard when they were receiving decent prize money for their results in the Constructor’s championship as well as Martini’s money.
In an attempt to recover the lost ground at the front Williams tempted Paddy Lowe away from Williams and made him a shareholder of the company.
This appeared to be a real coup for the Grove based team and it generated a lot of excitement and a real statement of intent.
Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Under Lowe’s leadership the team produced a nightmare of a car last year.
The drivers found it so difficult to keep their Williams on the track and reported on numerous occasions that it was unpredictable.
The team kept introducing upgrades in order to rectify the issues but instead found themselves even more confused as they didn’t work in the way they expected.
In the end, the only way the team could make their car at least remotely drive-able was to remove parts.
Clearly, this is not how a team should be operating.
With last year’s car such a disappointment Williams decided to stop development and focus on 2019. Lowe felt the team needed to completely overhaul the car and that they could get themselves back in the midfield.
Once again, things did not go to plan. Williams missed the first two and a half days of testing and when they did make it on to the track they found themselves seconds away from the cars in front.
Money has not been the cause for these problems. Racing Point, Alfa Romeo and Haas all manage to remain competitive on similar budgets.
It is the management of the team that has allowed these problems to manifest. Lowe has now lost his job as a result of the car’s performance, although he has been able to save face and resigned from his position.
But was it all Lowe’s fault? Perhaps not but he put his name to the car and he took responsibility for overseeing its design and creation.
Formula 1 and Williams legend, Patrick Head has now been brought back into help and he is currently acting as an advisor. His no nonsense approach will surely fire the staff back up and he will provide some much needed common sense to steady the ship.
But if Williams are to ever recover they need to make changes and they need to make them now.
Is Fry the answer?
One man that could be the right person for the job is Pat Fry. It was reported last week that Fry has been put on gardening leave by his employer McLaren.
He has an impressive track record having worked with both Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard as a race engineer. Fry was also chief engineer for McLaren and he was also the Technical Director at Ferrari before leaving in 2014. He then re-joined McLaren in September last year on a short term contract.
Fry’s experience makes him the ideal man to replace Lowe and to improve the team. He won’t work miracles and get the team flying straight to the front but he should be able to provide Williams with the tools to at least get back in to the midfield fight.
With George Russell leading the team from a driving perspective, Williams will be able to rely on him bringing regular points back to the team if he has a car that allowed him to do so.
Rumours have also circulated in the last few days that Williams are considering switching to Renault engines. There has been no official confirmation that this is true but if it is, it is another sign that the management of the team is all over the place.
Potential engine supplier switch?
What can the team gain by switching engine suppliers now? To be fair to Renault they have caught up with Ferrari and Mercedes but they still have reliability issues to resolve.
Mercedes arguably have the most powerful engine and the most reliable one and with Williams in such a precarious state it makes no sense for them to change suppliers unless they are able to get Renault engines at a much reduced rate.
With Mercedes, Williams knows that it has an engine capable of providing the right power and performance and so that should outweigh the need to change things yet again.
It would add more uncertainty to a team that is already in turmoil and at times like this you need stability.
The only way for Williams to get out of the hole they have dug themselves into is to regroup, work together and continue to find improvements, however small.
If they don’t, the once great team may find themselves unable to remain on the grid. If that were to happen it would be a disaster for both the sport and the fans.