It has been 22 years since Williams last won a world championship, and sadly, that doesn’t look like changing any time soon, but if they never win it again, the FW19 was a great car to end on.
Williams ditched Damon Hill at the end of the 1996 season, despite Hill taking the season by storm to win his one and only F1 world title, and Jacques Villeneuve was promoted to team leader, having made his F1 debut with the Grove-based squad the season before, taking four wins on his way to finishing second to Hill in the driver’s standings.
With the regulations remaining the same for 1997, the FW19 was an evolution of the FW18 that took the team to title glory in 1996 and naturally, Williams started the year as favourites to win both championships.
That pre-season promise turned out to be accurate when Villeneuve and new team-mate, Heinz Harald Frentzen gave Williams a front row lock-out at the opening race of the season in Australia, with Villeneuve qualifying 2.1s faster than Michael Schumacher in third, and many thought they would storm to victory.
But, not everything went Williams’ way. On the opening lap in Australia, Villeneuve was taken out of the race at the first corner by the Sauber of Johnny Herbert, and although Frentzen spent most of the race in contention for the win, his car suffered with a brake failure, meaning both cars failed to finish.
Despite this, Villenueve went on to win three of the next five races, taking the fight to the Ferrari of Schumacher, who was eyeing up his third championship title.
Eventhough Villeneuve suffered issues in races, the pace of the FW19 was laid bare for all to see, as it took pole position for the first six races of the season, with Schumacher going fastest in qualifying for the next two races.
The field began to close the gap to the Williams on one lap pace for the remainder of the season, and the team didn’t dominate as much in qualifying compared to the start of the year, but Villeneuve still took wins in Britain, Hungary, Austria and Luxembourg, and took the championship battle to the wire, having been disqualified from the penultimate round at Japan for failing to slow down under yellow flags in qualifying.
The final race of the season was the infamous European Grand Prix, and the world watched stunned as Schumacher deliberately turned in on Villeneuve in an attempt to stop the Williams driver from taking the lead of the race, and in doing so took himself out of the Grand Prix and world championship contention, before being disqualified from the championship as a result of his move.
Although Villeneuve was able to stay in the race, he too suffered damage from the impact, and was passed on the last lap by the McLaren pair of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, but third place was enough to guarantee himself his one and only world championship.
In addition to winning the driver’s title, Williams also won the constructor’s championship, but the 1997 season was the last of many things for Williams.
The FW19 was the last car to be designed by Adrian Newey, with the aerodynamic guru moving to McLaren mid-way through the season, and the car was the last to use the naturally aspirated Renault RS9 V10 engine.
And, not only was it the last time that Williams won a driver’s or constructor’s title, it was also the last time Villeneuve would win a Grand Prix, and the last time Williams would use the infamous blue and white Rothmans livery on its car.
Following the 1997 championship glory, the FW19 was consigned to the museum and was not seen running again until it made a return to the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year with Ted Zorbas behind the wheel, and although it was great to see Williams’ last title winning car back in action, it is a real shame that the FW19 was the last to win a championship for this great team.