Williams fall into F1’s vicious cycle

2011 F1 season review

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Maldonado impressed in Monaco

Williams have fallen into F1’s vicious cycle – one which has claimed other teams before.

Poor performance leads to falling sponsorship revenues which restricts development leading to worsening performance.

They reached a new low in 2011 as they fell three places in the constructors’ championship, only finishing ahead of the three teams that first appeared last year. Where does this once-great F1 team go from here?

Williams responded quickly to their desperate start to 2011. Technical director Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson were earmarked for replacement in May and have since found places at McLaren and Toro Rosso respectively. In a seismic move, Williams stalwart Patrick Head will also step back from his F1 duties and work elsewhere within the company.

In their places has come the controversial appointment of Mike Coughlan – a central figure in the ‘Spygate’ scandal four years ago. In addition to that, next year Williams will have access to the world championship-winning Renault engine, replacing the Cosworth power it has used for the last two seasons.

Williams team stats 2011

Best race result (number)9 (2)
Best grid position (number) 7 (1)
Non-finishes (mechanical/other) 10 (7/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 1,923 (84.86%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2010) 9th (6th)
Championship points (2010) 5 (69)
Pit stop performance ranking7th

Williams hopes for 2012 are invested in a car which must be both quicker and more reliable than the FW33. The aggressive rear packaging of the car with its low gearbox and driveshaft proved problematic.

The car had seven race-ending malfunctions during the season – several of which were due to transmission problems – and suffered repeated KERS failures.

When the car did see the end of a race it was rarely quick enough to reach the points. A Williams finished on the lead lap just six times in 38 starts.

Rubens Barrichello gave the team its first points of the year in Monaco, inheriting ninth place after rookie team mate Pastor Maldonado retired following a collision with Lewis Hamilton.

Barrichello finished in the same place in the following race at Montreal, calling on his vast experience in a very wet race. Those were his only two visits to the top ten all season.

Maldonado added his first and only point in F1 so far in the Belgian Grand Prix – a race he was fortunate to start after another run-in with Hamilton. Maldonado, who had lost time being passed by the McLaren at the final corner on his last lap, drove up alongside Hamilton’s car and made contact in a move somewhere between intentional contact and sheer carelessness.

The team started at the back in Abu Dhabi

He went some way towards redeeming himself on race day, rising from a penalised 21st to finish tenth. And that was Williams’ third and final points-scoring finish of a desperate year.

The season reached its nadir in Abu Dhabi where the team recorded its worst ever starting positions, the pair lining up on the back row after Maldonado was handed a penalty for an engine change and Barrichello’s car broke down in Q1.

The team has already announced it will retain Maldonado to drive the Coughlan-designed, Renault-powered FW34. But whether he has someone sufficiently experienced and capable alongside him, or Williams have to plump for another well-heeled driver, will signal whether they are continuing their alarming tailspin.

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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50 comments on “Williams fall into F1’s vicious cycle”

  1. I hate that Williams have slid to the back of the pack. The first GP I attended was the 1992 Potruguese GP where Williams dominated.

    Here’s hoping they can pull it back and start winning some races again.

    After my love of all things Mclaren, Williams is where my loyalty lies.

    1. ha! Bernie Shekelstone and Max were bailing these “monkeys at the back” as Lewis likes to call them, since the early 2000s…..at least from 02 to 09!!! Max even bent the interpretation of the rules about the double diffuser to suit some teams and not others, and Wallys was 1 of the favoured teams, but they still couldnt do anything with such an advantage in 09!! They been going downhill since 94!!….i mean seriously, how do you recover from that?!

      1. Ferrari went 17 years between the early 80s and late 90s without a constructors title – then won 5 in a row – Williams have another few years before they unleash the dominance! :P

        It’s sort of like RedBull have replaced Williams.
        We have a fast Mclaren and Ferrari – RBR are just filling the role of the fast blue car.

      2. Yeah they were terrible after 94 i mean they only won 2 constructors and drivers championships 29 races and 74 podium places just terrible.

      3. Yeah, Brav is right.

        The downfall started with Newey’s departure in 1997. BMW brought them back for a while until 2003-05. Since then, it’s just miserable.

        I feel really sorry for them, and I hope them can catch a ride again to the front.

        1. I was being a smidge sarcastic. They obviously have had a down turn but i would say that was 2003 onwards. Before that they were doing just as well as mclaren this year and you wouldn’t say they are failures.

    2. I don’t like Williams, but it’s sad to see a team with such history fall behind. I hope they reach the front of the grid as soon as possible.

  2. I can’t see how the season could have been any worse for Williams. Without the new teams, they would’ve been last in the championship. Who could’ve predicted that in the 90s or even mid-2000s?

    Sadly, Williams is starting to remind me of the once so great teams, like Brabham, Tyrrell and Lotus, who all declined slowly but surely.

    1. Although Williams do still have all the latest technology and infrastructure needed to compete at the top. They have said they know why the 2011 car didn’t work and wasn’t fast and they know how to rectify this for the new 2012 car.

      They are one step ahead of the grid in gearbox design now, if they can design a car that gives good downforce and get over the gearbox teething problems, they could easily pick up plenty of points, especialy if other teams copy the williams gearbox and have the same hurdles to overcome.

      1. I think they were one of the only teams who’s 2011 car was SLOWER than their 2010 car…

        1. Williams are a team who even with their season this year, it’s entirely possible they could win races next year. So long as maldonado doesn’t take his team m8 out. They have everything they need to make a winning car.

          1. I don’t know that they have a winning driver yet. Only Maldonado is signed.

      2. I help you hoping (or praying – with that name @the-last-pope!) you are right there.

        But Ferrari told us during the last winter they knew where it went wrong as well, but instead their car was further off the pace than it had been last year, the same goes for Mercedes. And its not as if Williams itself didn’t say the same in the past.

        Remaining hopefull, bud sceptical and sad for it, I’m afraid.

    2. Sadly I agree with the Tyrell/T.Lotus comparisons, and theres no getting away from it either.

      If anything, Williams problems are even harder to get out of then the above mentioned teams as the game has moved on since they folded, and more money is needed then ever before.

      These are worrying days for Williams and I fear that the worse has not yet come. As a longtime fan, I worry for them.

  3. I think this year was a one-off extremely bad year. I dont think they can return to the top, but 4th, 5th or 6th could be their usual finishing place as it had been for the past a few years.

  4. Makes you wonder about the abilities of companies to keep up with the times. Not just in motorsports but business as well.
    What is the mistake, not keeping pace with the latest great idea? Hiring, or retaining the talent? etc.?
    But once that edge is lost seems like it is almost impossiible to regain it.

  5. Wow. It’s so sad.

    Just think, 15 years ago today. Williams had just won yet another championship with Damon Hill. They had won 4 of the last 5 constructors championships and their Williams-Renault combination looked set to dominate further into the future as well.

    How things have changed.

  6. I want Williams to put a donation button on their website. Much more lucrative than floating shares :)

    1. I want Rubens to do that, so we can all buy him his drive! I’d put a tenner in for him :)

  7. Tyrrell

  8. The FW33 was a disaster, I can’t see it getting any worse for them unless they close shop completely. It must be frustrating for Frank to think of ALL the money he wasted on that car. He could have just bought a few concrete blocks, strapped them to the sidepods of the FW32 and got the same results this year.

  9. Williams need to get Sutil. He is the only driver that brings sponsorship and the ability to lead a team. If he doesn’t bring enough money then Petrov or Senna are options too.

  10. If Williams get fans to pay for their photo to be displayed on the car that would definitely generate some money (Like Red Bull did for British GP 2007).

    1. The same could also apply for shareholders.

  11. Team Lotus all over again

  12. sid_prasher (@)
    9th December 2011, 19:15

    Really a sad decline and I don’t see them recovering with the personnel they have chosen…apart from the engine deal they have nothing to look forward to.

  13. I’m predicting a Sutil to Williams announcement tomorrow morning or the day after. Just thought I’d throw that out there, it seems more talk has arisen today, whether it’s credible or not I’m not sure.


  14. Williams are a former great but beyond romanticism and concern for the jobs of everyone in the team, I wouldn’t be sad to see them go. Others have gone before them: Tyrrell, Brabham, the original Team Lotus, going further back you have teams like BRM who bit the dust. There’s a saying that time waits for no man, well F1 waits for no team. Renault briefly took Williams’ place at in the big 3 with McLaren and Ferrari, now Red Bull are there. One day it may be Mercedes again, or someone entirely new.

    Sad for the fans but if there’s one thing worse than a historic name dropping out, it’s watching them struggle. This year Williams looked like a team that needed to be put out of their misery. I just hope that if the fall comes, they get bought out and someone can carry it on under a different name, like the loss of Jordan.

    1. I completely agree with everything you’ve said @Icthyes . Brilliant post

      1. @Steph @Icthyes Yep. Well put. This game is all about the money and there is no way Williams can compete with the constructora and Red Bull. It is sad, they’re like the old man of the grid, there is little energy to them.

  15. any real fan is also a williams fan. nothing would be better than seeing them regain their winning touch.

  16. Yeah well… Williams is a team i really like because of how they operate, and i’ve said this over a fair few times at this blog. It makes me really sad to know that a team like Williams is having to struggle as they are. I sincerely wish them luck…

  17. dont know what the answer is, but I dont think sutil or senna would make any difference and as for petrov, gawd forbid!

    1. Right, because when you single-handedly preserve 5th place in the WCC standings, driving what was arguably the worst car on the grid, then God forbid that you deserve another chance.

      1. Exactly!

        I just can’t understand why some people rate Petrov so lowly.

        1. @the-last-pope – People feel that, based on his 2010 performances, Petrov did not “deserve” to drive a car as good as the Renault R30. They think he “robbed” someone more deserving (Nick Heidfeld being the driver most often cited) of a competitive car, and that putting Petrov in it was a waste of a seat. They also tend to resent the way he was openly a pay driver, conveniently ignoring the way half the grid have personal sponsors these days.

  18. I think what Williams need to do is forget about their “aggressive approach”. They’ve been peddling it for years now, and all it has done for them is amke them consistently inconsistent. When the FW33 was launched, some of Sam Michael’s comments gave me the distinct impression than elements of the car – like the microscopic gearbox – had been designed because they were “aggressive” rather than because they made the car faster. Williams should be looking at what the front-running teams were doing this year, and borrow inspiration from them. It might stifle creativity, but “creativity” led to their worst season in history. I’m expecting that the FW34 will take cues from the McLaren MP-4/26 and Red Bull RB7. It’s a safe, conservative strategy that will let their drivers perform and maybe get them back on-track. Because another season like 2011 might kill them for good.

    1. I think though it would be a mistake to revert back to a conventional gearbox. I’m sure we will see other teams attemping their own lowline gearboxes. Williams now need to evolve their mechanical side to build in better reliability, and just fix their aerodynamic problems. I believe the removal of the blown diffusers will make things much simpler for them and they can concentrate more on “flexing” front wings.

      1. @the-last-pope – I have no problem with the miniscule gearbox. I’m simply saying that I think the root of Williams’ problems is the way the team has been talking up their “aggressive design philosophy” for the past few years, and they only thing they have gotten from it is a few seasons of consistent inconsistency before rounding it off with their worst-ever season. They need to give up on this “aggressive” approach, because it clearly isn’t working – and sometimes, it feels like they’re emphasising this “aggression” rather than actually building a decent car. They seem to have gotten it into their heads that “aggression” equals speed, and it’s taken them years to work out that this is not the case.

  19. Williams have what it takes to get back to the top but they need invest heavily into aero side. They need to forget about everything else just focus on aero.

  20. themagicofspeed (@)
    10th December 2011, 12:35

    Sadly, Icthyes was right, i fear. They sink to new lows each year. They look like they need to be put out of their misery. It’s very sad.

    I think it is time to enjoy watching Williams while they last, because in just a few short seasons, they will probably be gone.

    The fact that they are ditching Barrichello for a lesser driver (probably for pay reasons) and taking on pay drivers (Maldonado) tells you everything…oh how the mighty have fallen.

  21. i personally think williams has been in trouble since 1994. yes, they won some titles in 96 and 97, but they weren’t against the toughest competition. ferrari and mclaren was gathering momentum, benetton was falling.
    it seemed that williams didn’t really try to push and take advantage of the weakness of the other teams. even if the engine was great, it was clear that renault was slowly pulling out of F1 since they started to supply more teams or later change name to Mecachrome or supertec. Damon hill and villeneuve weren’t that great to push a team, “just” good drivers in a good car, same for montoya. actually, at the 1st opportunity, they left.

    then BMW came in, bringing back some success but also their controversial management and when they left, with all their money and ressources, williams became an empty shell, struggling to line up top drivers and engine.

    maybe the renault engine deal will bring some improvements, but there is still a question mark on the technical staff and the drivers. I still don’t understand why they let Hulkenberg go. another short term related mistake maybe.

    1. You forget Williams where hit hard by Senna’s death with all the visits to the italian courts with the manslaughter charges that continued for years, then there was the departure of Adrian Newey to McLaren which actually occured slowly from 1995 to the end of 1996.

      Despite all this they still managed to totaly dominate in 1996 and again take both titles in 1997 up against a Reborn and very strong Ferrari/Schumacher team.

      Its not like they’ve been lazy or didn’t sign good enough drivers. Damon Hill and Jacque Villeneuve (and HH Frentzen) were considered 3 of the top drivers of the time. Same with Montoya, it wasn’t just ‘some’ success, he almost won the championship! Even now, since the 1990’s They have always had at least 1 highly rated drivers. They have just been very unlucky with the engine supplyers and sponsors leaving.

  22. It looks bleak but haven’t other teams had tough times before, I am thinking Ferrari. Hope they get it together, the more the merrier.

  23. Has anyone seen the movie Senna. The year before he moved to Williams they dominated. A few rule changes later and Williams struggled with Senna sadly losing his life in a car that had poor handling. So much can change year to year so here’s hoping. Sutil would be good for Williams as he’d be pretty motivated.

    1. A few rule changes later and Williams struggled

      Some of those rule changes were introduced specifically to end Williams’ dominance of the championship, and to give everyone else a fighting chance.

  24. Where to start.

    Michael’s ‘tight rear-end’ quip was probably the highlight of their season. I will always respect a team for trying to innovate and improve but they have been by far the biggest disappointment this year. I don’t even really feel like I’m in a position to be able to judge their drivers fairly, they’ve not had much chance to compete. Maldonado probably does deserve another season, he’s not the first and won’t be the last to make rookie mistakes. They would do well to hold on to Barrichello, his experience at such a difficult time and their change of technical staff would really benefit from

    I’ll end on an optimistic note. At least they can’t do much worse in 2012.

  25. I don’t like williams, but its all possible that they can win race next years or in 2 years……. I remember team HONDA when they sold it to brawn……. the season before car were horrible and they said all season that next car will be at the front. They sold it to Ross Brawn and every know what happened. and I dont think that Honda had all the infrastructure that williams have. I dont think in williams ends at all…….

  26. Williams in 1979 was why I got into watching Formula 1. After many highs it’s sad that I’m going to give-up (as F1 moves to Sky) with them on such a low.

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