Lance Stroll, Williams, Albert Park, 2018

Williams was ‘participating, not competing’ in 2018

2018 F1 season review: Williams

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After fighting for fourth in the constructors’s championship last season Williams never looked like ending 2018 anywhere other than last.

“It’s been very frustrating for everyone,” admitted Lance Stroll, the team’s leading points scorer, at the end of the year.

“We all come to compete but this year we haven’t really been competing. It’s been more of a participation season rather than an actual season of competition.”

The FW41 was intended to be a significant departure from its predecessor. It was, but in the worst way possible. The team realised they were in trouble within the first few minutes of pre-season testing, according to chief technical officer Paddy Lowe. The car’s shortcomings, he said, were “everything from suspension to tyres and everything else – it’s always multi-dimensional”. There was no quick fix and the team never found a long-term solution.

Deputy team principal Claire Williams owned up to the depth of the team’s plight. “You don’t get to tenth without having a number of issues,” she said. “It’s probably clear to see that our aerodynamic package is the key to that”. The team’s inexperienced driver line-up was resigned to coping with one of the worst cars Grove has produced. Both complained it was difficult to drive with poor stability at corner entry.

Williams F1 team budget 2018
Williams F1 team budget 2018
In Melbourne, Williams were already the slowest team on the grid, a situation which persisted for much of the season. Indeed, at eight of the races this season they were slower than they had been last season and on average they only improved by three tenths per lap over 2017. They scored points on just three occasions. It was clear from an early stage they had little to gain from concentrating on their current car, and what upgrades they did bring had a modest effect. By the end of the season they were scrapping with McLaren for the minor places.

The nadir came at the team’s home race. Around the flowing sweeps of Silverstone, following an upgrade aimed at tackling their lack of performance,both cars suffered from aero stalls when the DRS closed. Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin spun in qualifying and were forced to start from the pit lane after reverting to the previous specification wing. Despite this problem over the course of the whole season reliability wasn’t an issue.

There were few positives to take from the season. Mercedes power meant that they were at least competitive at Monza and Baku. The latter has historically been a strong track for the team and it was here Stroll claimed their first points of the season. He was joined by Sergey Sirotkin in the points at Monza thanks to Romain Grosjean’s disqualification.

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“We’ve still had out little highlights along the way,” said Stroll. “I know they’ve been hard to see from an outsider’s perspective because we’re battling for 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th if not 19th, 20th every weekend. “But there’s days when we did pick up a couple of points: in Italy, in Azerbaijan. I got into Q2 those few times, those are the highlights throughout the year.”

Williams pit stop practice, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2018
Pit stops were one thing Williams did well
Considering their lack of performance on the track it barely mattered that their pit stops were among the best in the field. This has been a strong aspect of the team for the past few years – in 2018 tied with Mercedes by the most fastest pit stops with six apiece.

Heaping misery upon misery, the team lost several key members of staff. Long-time chief designer Ed Wood stepped down for “personal reasons” in May and head of aerodynamics Dirk De Beer left around the same time. At the end of the year head of performance engineering Rob Smedley also moved on, and is tipped to reappear at another team.

Tough choices had to be made, Claire Williams admitted. “In order to effect change, you need to make changes and you need to make some hard decisions,” she said. “We’re going through that process at the moment but it’s not a case of rushing into it.”

But the team’s commercial setbacks were perhaps most troubling of all. Lawrence Stroll has taken his millions to Force India, though this is suspected to involve a pay-off, and has allowed the team to replace his son with a more well-regarded driver. Sirotkin’s exit means a loss of funds from SMP Racing as well, though Robert Kubica has brought backing from PKN Orlen and the arrival of Mercedes junior George Russell means cheaper power units.

Title sponsor Martini has also departed. Claire Williams is putting a brave face on it. “We’re a strong enough brand to be able to stand on our own two feet,” she asserted, adding “I don’t care if it’s a title sponsor that comes in to replace them or it’s 10 partners that give us a million quid each – as long as we have the budget to go racing, then that’s all that matters.”

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Williams team stats 2018

Best race result (number)8 (1)
Best grid position (number) 10 (2)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 5 (3/2)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,274 (89.81%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2017)10 (5)
Championship points (2017)7 (83)
Pit stop performance ranking4

Williams’ slump to 10th in the constructors’ championship is the lowest they have ever finished a season. Is it now a case of ‘the only way is up’? Lowe believes the pain 2018 has led to some useful self-examination at Grove.

“It’s been a very difficult year for Williams. Extremely difficult. But in many ways, which sounds curious, it’s a good year because it’s provided a context and reason and a motivation to make significant changes to how we do things.”

The final race of the season saw the team qualify in the bottom two places for the fourth time in 2018. “We don’t want to do [it] again,” said Lowe, “it gets people’s attention that there’s a lot of work to do.

“It’s not trivial work, it’s not some small thing that gets you. There are substantial changes needed in the company to get us from here to where we want to be towards the front. And I don’t think that mindset has been present for many years in the team, if ever.

“That is the mindset that’s necessary. Williams is a team of great heritage, 41 years now in Formula 1, some terrific success, but almost all of it in the first 20 years. That history and that heritage is both a great asset for us and it can also be a burden because for every bit of experience comes with sometimes an inability to consider change. And Formula 1 is characterised as a very fast-moving business.”

One of the sport’s most historic teams faces an immense challenge just to get back into the midfield fight next year. The pressure on Lowe and his team to turn things around after this disaster of a season will be enormous.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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41 comments on “Williams was ‘participating, not competing’ in 2018”

  1. They’ll do a lot better in 2019, they actually have a pair of drivers.


    1. @joeypropane That alone isn’t enough if next season’s car is going to be equally uncompetitive to the FW41.

      1. @jerejj
        It actually is.

          1. @jerejj
            Have you done some actual maths here or are you just guessing?
            If they improve as much(or as little, whatever you wanna phrase it as) as this year and get back the 1sec deficit they lost from having Massa/Bottas they will indeed be competetive next year. At least in qualifying but it goes without saying race results would follow.

        1. Overall in qualifying yes, there’s the possibility to get much better results than stroll and sirotkin did with the same car, with a kubica at his best and russel since he seems like a good junior driver, which could translate in more races on points, nothing extraordinary ofc with that 2018 car.

        2. @rethla See anon’s comment below.

          1. @jerejj
            Anons posts about Williams car developement you mean?
            I have seen em and its nothing new really but great posts and a good read. Williams struggle is highlighted by throwing away all fighting spirit and renting out their seats to whomever.

        3. @rethla What I meant was that anon’s post indeed emphasizes the shortcomings of the car and how even a potentially more competent driver couldn’t really achieve anything with it, so I quite highly doubt the outcome of the season would’ve really been any different with different drivers.

    2. @joeypropane Well, Russell is probably an upgrade on both but is inexperienced, and Kubica is probably a step sideways or slightly backwards but with more money than Sirotkin. So I don’t think it’s a massive leap.

      1. On the other hand, I don’t think Sirotkin or Stroll have the slightest idea how to improve the set up of a car.

        Kubica, however, had a strong understanding of how to get the best from his car– if he can translate that to the hybrid turbos, Williams may stand a chance of figuring out where the car is wrong.

        From the sounds of it the FW41 had so many problems that disentangling them was nearly impossible– but a more experienced driver might help with that.

        1. Well, Sirotkin got the highest ever score on Williams’ technical knowledge test so I don’t think what you say is necessarily true. By Williams own admission (And Kubica’s I believe) the FW41 was so flawed it didn’t matter who the drivers were, it was unfixable.

          1. @tflb, and Kubica said as such when he drove that car in the pre-season tests in Barcelona, before reiterating a similar point when he drove the car again in FP1 of the Spanish GP – that the behaviour of the car was so erratic that it was impossible to predict how it was going to react.

            Indeed, after that FP1 session, he said that it was more luck than skill that stopped him from crashing the car in the way that Stroll did – Kubica did go off track, but was lucky not to hit anything – because the behaviour of the car was almost semi-random, such was the unpredictable way in which aero parts would randomly stall.

            It is one thing to try adjusting the set up, but when you are getting unpredictable random stalling of aero components, that really is beyond what any driver can deal with – that is a fundamental design issue, and the blame for that has to sit squarely with the design team. It feels a lot easier for people to scapegoat the drivers – especially somebody like Sirotkin, since he isn’t there to defend himself now – but, frankly, there have been problems with the design team for years now, and blaming the drivers really feels like trying to shift the buck from where the problems truly lie.

        2. Sirotkin technical feedback, from what I read, is rather good. I remember a special piece written two years ago at the 2017 winter testing, where Sirotkin was a reserve for Renault. He broke down the testing forms of the top three from what he saw from the sidelines, and was pretty spot on about everyone.

          I don’t think he got a fair chance at being an F1 driver.

      2. Kubica had less money than sirotkin ffs. Kubica will prove you wrong. Don’t forget last year in his first official f1 test in 7 years he was 4th fastest in Hungary, and can only get better.

        1. Actually given that Sirotkin now has no financial backing and Kubica has €20 million +, I don’t think you’re right. Also, testing means nothing. I’m sure when Sirotkin thrashed Kubica in the Abu Dhabi test you were saying the same thing.

  2. Indeed, at eight of the races this season they were slower than they had been last season and on average they only improved by three tenths per lap over 2017.

    I remember someone was doing this analysis in detail early on in the season and the conclusion then was that Stroll is still faster compared to last year but because of Massa’s benchmark, the conclusion being reached was they were slower this year.

    Not sure if someone can do the analysis for full year.

    1. It is so weird and so wrong to read a williams car analysis without a mention of massa at all. It just makes the comparisons flawed because massa was so much better driver than stroll and especially if you compare qualifying times. The car looks attrocious if you compare massa’s 2017 times to stroll’s 2018 times but the car doesn’t look that bad at all if you compare stroll in 2017 to stroll in 2018. Imagine if ericsson and chilton had gone to mercedes after last year and lost the championships. Would you still say the car was worse? No. I have no idea why racefans keeps writing these poor williams analyses and ignore the effect of massa completely. It is just bad article. Sorry. (look at massa vs bottas)

      1. Massa effect (remove an a and it becomes mass effect!) mustn’t be underestimated ofc, but the improvements williams let stroll do vs 2017 stroll are too little, they still hint to a very bad car, because in f1 if you stand still you go backwards, while other teams improve by say 1,5 sec, if you improve by 0,5 sec you’re dead last!

  3. They had 83 WCC points last year, not 138.

  4. First of all, I agree with the asessment that it would have been better to mature one more year before stepping up to F1 for Stroll. And i do agree that Stroll seems to have grown as a driver, making less stupid mistakes this year.

    But I find it funny that Lowe highlights Stroll’s qualifying approach as having really approved, when actually Lance was beaten more often than not by Sirotking. Or did he just mean to say that you could see with Sirotkin how giving a driver more time to get there can help nail a good qualifying lap?

  5. I recall early on in the season asking why Williams didn’t just revert to the chassis from 2017, and someone said something along the lines that the 2018 chassis, as bad as it was, was still better than the 2017 chassis, and that if Williams did revert to their previous chassis they’d be slower than what they were with the FW41. They said the best option was to live with this chassis for the rest of the season and to build a better one for 2019. That seemed to me such a sad situation.
    Somewhere in the background, somehow, this “significant departure from previous designs” car looked good, probably even impressive on a computer and in Wind Tunnel testing of models, so it must have been a huge shock to see it performing so badly in real life. I guess what happened to Williams is a consequence of too much dependence upon computers and not enough ability to try out full size designs in Wind Tunnels and in private testing on a track.
    I believe teams will be allowed to use active suspension in 2019. Maybe if Williams had access to that technology at the start of this season things mightn’t have been so bad.
    I really hope the FW42 is competitive with the rest of the cars on the grid next year.

    1. @drycrust, active suspension might have made a difference if the problems with the car were pitch related, but it sounds as if they were fundamentally a lot deeper than just that – problems with aero miscalibration seems to have been particularly rife.

      Private testing isn’t always the best way of solving that either, since then you need to work out how to separate a multitude of external factors which you cannot necessarily control – such as changes in wind direction and wind speed, temperature effects and so forth – from what you are looking for, and that isn’t always easy to do.

      Quite a few of the problems seems to be associated with internal airflow as well, creating issues with localised stalling of airflow resulting in excessive drag and inefficient cooling. The concept might have been good, but it seems that a lot of things went badly wrong with the execution of that plan – the only real benefit being that it gives them information on how to try to avoid those same problems occurring next year.

      Even that could be somewhat debatable though – in the pre-season tests, Kubica mentioned that both he and the Williams mechanics seemed to be somewhat at a loss as to why the car was behaving so badly. It may be that they know what the car is doing, but it sounds as if they still had some problems last year understanding why (though they possibly made some progress on that front during the season).

      Mind you, it is not the first time that Williams have had problems with their cars and seen those problems persist over multiple seasons. Part of the reason why their competitiveness declined from 2014 through to 2016 was the fact that, fundamentally, all of those cars were built around the same central premise, and therefore also carried forward some of the same issues.

      They had persistent problems with rear traction and stability on their cars right from 2014 through to 2016, and they admitted that they never really properly understood what was happening or really solved their problems. Instead of solving the problems with the FW36, on the FW37 and FW38, both of which were evolutions of the FW36, Williams’s designers simply tried to plaster over them by trying to bolt on enough downforce – they went for a brute force approach of just hoping that bolting on more downforce would disguise their instability and rear traction issues.

      Whilst it worked for a while, it could only hide some of those issues and it became a method that became a fairly expensive and inefficient solution to a problem they couldn’t really solve – and, in wet conditions, those problems only became even more obvious (hence why, in that era, Williams often performed so badly in wet races).

      With that experience in mind, it is entirely possible that their 2019 car might have similar flaws as well – they may fix some problems, but given the resources of the team are somewhat stretched thin, I would not be surprised if they are still nearer the back of the grid rather than the front.

      1. My thanks for your knowledgeable answer. It must be very frustrating for the team knowing they need to employ people with expertise they don’t have to fix the problems, but knowing they may not be able to afford them.

        1. @drycrust, glad that it was of interest to you.

          With regards to your comment about employing staff with expertise, I don’t think that it is just a question of being able to afford staff, but also about not quite knowing whom they wanted to bring in – or even if bringing in new staff would necessarily be the answer to their problems in the first place.

          In the case of cars like the FW36 through to FW38, the problem was in part because the team could never quite tell what exactly was wrong with the handling of those cars. From the components they were testing during various test sessions, it looks like one area they were focussing in on was dynamic changes in the aero balance, and the possibility that the centre of pressure was tending to shift forwards of the centre of mass under certain yaw and pitch conditions, in turn causing problems with rear instability.

          However, that might not have been the sole cause of their issues, as Williams have had other problems in the past that caused problems with erratic handling – sometimes that has been easier to solve, but sometimes more difficult.

          A good contrast here might be with their 2013 car, the FW35, where the problems with that car were eventually linked to a lack of torsional rigidity in the gearbox casing. That caused the rear suspension mounting points to shift and rotate during cornering and causing unusual shifts in the handling balance of the cars mid-corner.

          Now, in the case of their 2013 car, the cause was much clearer to identify and seems to have been mostly due to one issue (the decision to go to a new lowline gearbox design).

          In the case of their 2014 to 2016 cars, it seems that they found it much more difficult to find a particular cause, probably because it was a combination of factors that might have been causing the issue. That then makes it difficult to decide what exactly might be the solution to that particular issue – is it necessarily just aero, for example? Could it also be an issue relating to the suspension kinematics, or perhaps it could be down to problems with set up configuration – or maybe a combination of the above factors?

          It may be possible in some circumstances to then separate out what might be the factors, but sometimes not. If not, then bringing in somebody new might not in fact help – if you are not quite sure what you should be looking for, can you then be sure whom exactly you might want to bring in to help you?

          Even if you can then identify the potential issue, is bringing in somebody new necessarily the best fix in that situation? Asides from the potential delay in being able to bring that person in – the issue of “gardening leave” if hiring from another team is always an issue – there will still be a delay in then getting that person up to speed and productive enough to then start having an impact in a reasonable timeframe.

          It also depends on whether that person is simply moving into an existing role – which then creates the problem of managing that transition within your team and managing the people working there – or if you are restructuring the team and creating a new role for that person to step into: in the case of Lowe, his recent arrival was coincident with an overall restructuring of the team that was intended to improve its performance, thought that in itself has created a fair amount of short term disruption.

    2. It is not possible to switch back to 2017 chassis because the 2018 chassis required different parameters for certain things. The halo was not just a bolt on thing but required different things from the chassis for example. Simply put the 2017 chassis can not pass the new 2018 crash tests.

      1. Oh yes, I’d forgotten about Halo. Yes, you are right, that basically meant this year was a point of no return, so they were stuck with this chassis regardless of how bad it was.

  6. From 5th in the WCC in 2017 to 10th and last the following season. A demonstration of how quickly things can change in F1.

    1. Williams was p3 in 2014 and 2015. First they lost bottas and then they got rid of massa. What they got was stroll who was half a second slower than massa who was half a second slower than bottas. I don’t think any of this development is accidental or even surprising. Williams changed from hiring skilled drivers to selling their seats to pay drivers. Money instead of points. And it has worked perfectly.

      1. Indeed, however it seems an improvement driver wise for 2019, russel is highly ranked and kubica definitely was a good driver, we have to see how good he can be given his arm and how long it’ll take him to readapt to f1 (schumacher’s 2010 was less competitive than 2 following years, despite him being very old).

  7. Poor car… worst drivers, what did they expect? I bet Alonso (and many others actually) wouldn’t have let Williams finish last.

    1. Mmm, actually, if you swapped sirotkin with alonso for 2018, considering how many points alonso got out of mclaren and that he now would have scored for williams in any case it was possible, and sirotkin wouldn’t have done better than vandoorne at mclaren, it’s very likely williams could’ve been ahead.

      1. @esploratore What I fear is Williams’ car isn’t as bad as it seems. You have Sirotkin who can’t really be compared to any current f1 driver as it’s his first reason. Stroll was quite poor against Massa in 2017 (if you count lucky Azerbaijan aside). You could make an argument that he’s improved but I doubt it, I need to see it first.

      2. Alonso only scored as many points as he did this season because an unusually high number of cars retiring ahead of him at the start of the season.

  8. Lawrence Stroll has taken his millions to Force India, though this is suspected to involve a pay-off…

    If there was any kind of pay-off, won’t it show up in financial reports at some point as Williams is publicly traded?

    1. Do you really think Lawrence is a guy that deals in the open?

  9. Dutchguy (@justarandomdutchguy)
    20th December 2018, 22:40

    call me a pessimist, but I think we’re watching Williams’ dying years… We’ve seen big names lose their edge and ultimately go backrupt

  10. Kubica had less money than sirotkin ffs. Kubica will prove you wrong. Don’t forget last year in his first official f1 test in 7 years he was 4th fastest in Hungary, and can only get better.

    1. It’s a just a test, its almost completely meaningless to anyone that’s not part of the actual engineering team.

  11. With changes to car design rules, Lowe in his 2nd year at team, sirotkin money and Stroll’s contract ending money, I think williams can only get better. Add 2 actual f1 level drivers, I think they will be midfield next year

    1. you mean 1 actual F1 level driver and Kubica the pay driver!

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