George Russell, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019

The game changed and they didn’t: The true cause of Williams’ decline


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“To be very clear we aren’t going down that road of a B-team. Any of you that know me well know that it would be over my dead body. You will never read in the press that Williams has turned itself into a junior team or a B-team.”

In these defiant words to her staff last year, seen in Netflix’s new F1 documentary, deputy team principal Claire Williams made it clear the team will continue to forge its own path in F1.

But facing the might of F1’s heavyweight teams plus their ever more closely aligned satellite operations, does Williams possess the drive to survive? Or is one of F1’s few remaining outfits which is neither an A-team nor a B-team at risk of becoming an ex-team?

Last in the championship, showing up late for testing, making changes at the top of its technical team on the eve of the new season. The state of Williams is a painful sight for its many fans and, no doubt, present and past employees and their families.

Much has been written over the past five years about the gradual decline of this once bulldog team which regularly took the fight to the likes of Ferrari and McLaren. Win or lose, Williams fought proudly, and always with genuine humility.

Claire Williams, 2019
“Over my dead body”: Williams refuses to accept ‘B-team’ status
However in typical F1 fashion, there is no single reason for the team’s slide, and no single individual can be held solely responsible. Indeed, as is regularly written in this sport: teams win together, and they lose together. On that basis there is collective responsibility.

Technical direction seems have been woefully lacking in recent years – make that almost a decade. Certain management decisions appear to have been suspect, not least the company’s acceptance of F1’s inequitable revenue structure in 2012, which now lies at the root of its spending dilemma, as Claire Williams told RaceFans last year.

The fact is that, as outlined in that interview, Williams has found itself squeezed between ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams – the manufacturers plus Red Bull, and their satellite operations. Thus Williams’s dilemma cannot simplistically be blamed on the actions of one individual. Their situation is a consequence of bigger rivals out-spending them, and smaller competitors aligning themselves with those manufacturers.’

However we can pinpoint when the downward spiral started. The date looms large in F1’s timeline for it is the day the sport of F1 as a whole changed forever, and Williams’s fortunes with it. That date is 1 January 1998.

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Jacques Villeneuve, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Williams, Melbourne, 1997
Williams’ last championship was over two decades ago
The previous year Jacques Villeneuve was crowned champion in a Williams-Renault and the team beat Ferrari to the constructors’ championship by 21 points – more than two wins under the structure of the time – despite the Scuderia enjoying the not inconsiderable advantage of having Michael Schumacher at the wheel.

It cannot be purely coincidental that those titles were the last Williams claimed. True, the team came close on subsequent occasions, but, in F1, second is simply ‘first loser’.

The beginning of 1998 marked the first day under the 1998-2007 Concorde Agreement. Significantly, this was the first tripartite covenant to govern the sport after Bernie Ecclestone acquired F1’s commercial rights from the FIA. Previous Concordes had been entered into between the governing body and the teams, the latter acting collectively under the Formula One Constructors Association umbrella. The new one added the commercial rights holder to the mix.

What was the difference between the new deal and what had gone before, and why was the date significant to William’s future? Simply put, the money distribution changed substantially, and the fact that where Ecclestone had previously acted (mainly) in the interests of FOCA, he now acted in the interests of his family trust SLEC, which held the commercial rights to F1.

Where before the teams shared 85 per cent of F1’s underlying revenues, from 1 January 1998 Bernie and SLEC – named after his then-wife Slavica Ecclestone – retained around 77 percent of the sport’s bottom line, with 12 teams sharing 23 percent between them. Subsequently most outfits sold out to Big Money: Benetton to Renault, McLaren a significant share to Mercedes, Stewart to Ford/Jaguar and Tyrrell to BAT.

[retrompuminardi01]The rest, bar Ferrari and one proprietary team, either folded (Arrows and Prost), or struggled to make ends meet – Jordan, Minardi and Sauber, all of whom eventually sold out, all of them variously so. The dogged exception was Williams, whose majority owner – the-not-yet-knighted-Frank Williams – carried on as before, determinedly keeping his team going via a mix of F1 revenues (mainly TV income) and sponsorship.

During the late nineties this was easy, for TV ratings were sky-high and thus commercial support a (relative) cinch to find, particularly as tobacco livery was legal in many F1 territories. When Williams, though, snared BMW as engine partner from 2000, a condition was that nicotine was shunned, but the Bavarians more than compensated for lost income by naming the team BMW Williams, and insisting on white-and-blue livery.

Thus Williams didn’t feel the squeeze, even after Bernie discovered pay-TV – until 2005, when BMW chose to acquire Sauber rather than stick with Williams. It cannot be coincidental that the last race won by Williams on pure merit was the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix – saliently the final round of that season – after a characteristically ballsy drive by Juan Pablo Montoya against the McLaren-Mercedes of Kimi Räikkönen.

There would be a 114th victory, eight years later in Spain after Pastor Maldonado defied all odds, but, as subsequent events proved, it was fluky and falsely flattering.

Sergio Perez, Force India, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Force India – now Racing Point – achieved more with Mercedes last year
Through it all Williams stuck to its constructor model: producing virtually the entire car in-house, sourcing only engines from outside, whether on a works basis (BMW), or as a customer – whether of Cosworth; of Toyota; back to Cosworth; a brief reunion with Renault power; then, from 2014, of Mercedes.

Meanwhile F1 evolved: the first team to adopt a “B team model” was Force India, which in 2009 signed a deal to acquire complete (Mercedes) back-ends from McLaren, which also seconded senior engineers to oversee the team. When BMW exited and Peter Sauber (re)acquired his eponymous team, a similar deal was struck with Ferrari; Haas, as we know, went one further in its relationship with Maranello.

The net result is that, of ten teams on the current grid, three – Racing Point (formerly Force India), Haas and Alfa Romeo (formerly Sauber) – are effectively ‘satellite’ teams fed by motherships, first-named via Mercedes, and the remaining two by Ferrari. Red Bull Racing effectively enjoys a similar relationship with sister outfit Toro Rosso. Count them – that accounts for 70 per cent of the grid, leaving three in the cold.

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They are, of course, Renault (formerly virtually bankrupt ‘Lotus’, now supported by the largest motor manufacturer by volume on the planet), McLaren (majority owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund, with a slice of Saudi money for good measure), and, er, Williams: still majority owned by the admirable but ailing Sir Frank, the man who signed the original company incorporation documents in 1977.

Along the way costs exploded but income remained, at best, static. Indeed, it is a tribute to the money men in Grove that Williams has survived at all, for every year the company posts profits, or, in a worst case scenario, light red ink.

Pierre Gasly, George Russell, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
The team look set to start 2019 on the back foot
In the interim, all its grid peers have changed markedly, and out of all proportion. From 1998 onwards Tyrrell mutated to BAR, Honda, Brawn and Mercedes – after the Three Pointed Star sold its McLaren interests; Stewart became Jaguar, then Red Bull; and Minardi changed hands twice Red Bull acquired the team, and renamed it ‘Toro Rosso’.

Renault’s backstory is more convoluted: having purchased Benetton, the French company sold to Genii Capital eight years later, then (re)acquired the ailing team. Sauber, having been dropped by BMW, finally found itself indebted to new investors who claimed ownership before restructuring and cutting a branding deal with Alfa Romeo.

By not being manufacturer-owned or with an own engine division Williams found itself betwixt and between: Larger than the satellites, yet smaller than the major teams, all of whom have wealthy owners, be they car brands or drinks companies. Thus Williams is neither satellite nor mothership, yet, crucially, carries all the overheads of the latter while not having access to parent company funding.

Heck, Williams still builds its own gearboxes – with aluminium casings…

F1’s commercial environment, too, changed massively over the past decade: Eyeballs dropped 30 per cent as pay-TV bit, compounded by new-gen viewer patterns and switch-offs due to increasing domination by the ‘Big Three’. Sponsorship revenues went south – forcing Williams to sign so-called pay drivers, with Maldonado being the first, but not the last. Where once sponsors were blue-chip, now they’re start-ups.

All the while the Big Three, against whom Williams had once fought so valiantly, pulled bonuses that alone substantially exceed Grove’s performance-based income. Exploding costs, inequitable earnings in the face of an ongoing global economic crisis and a stale business model could only spell one thing: regression. Consider the number of teams that disappeared or restructured since 2012: seven, including three start-ups…

Worse (for Williams): in the five years since the discriminatory revenue structure was introduced no team outside the top three – the primary beneficiaries of F1’s obscene bonuses – has won a race.

Thus, where once the legendary Williams team was once spoiled for choice having the pick of Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost, last year’s line-up saw a toss-up between Sergey Sirotkin and Robert Kubica for the ‘other’ berth, with Lawrence Stroll’s billions covering the primary seat for son Lance.

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Just as most ailments creep up rather than strike without warning, so the team’s slide did not occur abruptly. There have, though, been occasional bright spots, but mostly these flattered to deceive – and the team is now paying a heavy price for such deceptions. Once the competitive order was properly shaken out, it was clear Williams had been left on the wrong side of all F1’s divides.

Paddy Lowe, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
Paddy Lowe stepped aside after the FW42’s late arrival
Is Williams truly a 10th-place team, its championship placing last year and ranking during recent pre-season testing? On facilities, personnel, dedication and commitment – certainly not. Is it a front-runner? Equally negative. Midway? Well, its average championship classification over the past five years is fifth…

Given the company’s listed status the full story to technical director Paddy Lowe’s “leave of absence” is unlikely to be emerge and will ultimately be subject to non-disclosure clauses. But his departure is step in the right direction if for no other reason than the chemistry between employer and employee seemed lacking. Yes, Paddy started his F1 career with Williams, but a return to an old relationship is not always constructive.

In the short term there is likely to be a temporary allocation of responsibilities to existing senior staff while the company restructures the technical division.

There is simply too much potential within the Grove campus for Williams to follow fellow multiple champions such as Lotus, Cooper and Brabham into oblivion. But, in order to survive, Williams needs to reinvent itself and embrace the future rather than clinging nostalgically to the past. Times have changed, Williams has not, certainly not enough in its key performance areas.

The team must to decide whether it wishes to be a family-run listed company, or a top-performing engineering company managed by professionals who in turn delegate race team operations to seasoned racing professionals. Again, it is betwixt and between.

Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
F1’s ‘satellite teams’ are on the rise
Equally, it needs to decide whether to be a healthy satellite or weak constructor, regardless of the founder’s principles that F1 teams can survive as chassis constructors powered by outside engines and fed by strong sponsorship and equitable performance revenues. That model is dead, as attested to by the satellites, all of whom finished 2018 well ahead of Williams.

The record shows that the only other team to have operated to that model last year was McLaren, which went private after its divorce from Mercedes, yet needed shareholder injections of $100m last year simply to survive. That speaks volumes about both state of F1, and the inner core strength of Williams.

That the team has survived at all in the face of the raft of challenges outlined above bears testimony to the steely determination of Sir Frank, who in turn instilled it in all the dedicated men and women who toil daily in search of results despite F1’s shifting sands. Indeed, the innate stubbornness Williams is well known and respected for and which ultimately propelled it to such heights, is partly the reason for its refusal to adapt.

The inescapable fact is, though, that F1’s sands have shifted faster than Williams recognised to date, and one fears that the team has one last chance: during the next two years it simply needs to adapt; not, though, to the current Formula 1, for it is too late for that, but to the model Liberty plans to introduce from 2021. The issue is that no one, not even Liberty, yet knows what that landscape looks like.

That could be Williams’s saving grace. But only if the changes mean that all teams start the new era from zero.


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97 comments on “The game changed and they didn’t: The true cause of Williams’ decline”

  1. Skate to where the puck is going to be….

    1. but you still have to score.

      sorry i just wanted to piggy back on a good analogy.

  2. When you lose the backing of an engine supplier, things go south. It happened to Jordan with (Mugen) Honda, it happened to McLaren with Mercedes, Red Bull with Renault and it has happened with Williams in the past (first Renault and later BMW). The only way to be successful as a non-B-team is to get a factory deal with an engine supplier.

    1. @matthijs

      The only way to be successful as a non-B-team is to get a factory deal with an engine supplier.

      Even then, McLaren may say otherwise

      1. @eurobrun I know! But needing an engine supplier to become successful isn’t the same as being automatically successful when you have one.

      2. (@eurobrun but that was the idea behind it anyway. McLaren pushed hard for a new engine manufacturer to join them because they knew it was the only way forward. It didn’t work because of many reasons but you can’t be the logic behind it. It was that or being forever stuck as a B team. We could argue they’d be better off right now if they stuck with the customer Mercedes engine but it could’ve easily gone the other way and they could’ve been race win contenders.

        1. I don’t think the customer Mercedes deal would have worked well for McLaren either. Sure, since last season they would have had access to all the latest engine modes, but until then, probably not.

          Also, I think the utter failure of the last years might have helped McLaren see they really needed to change. I think that hit them during 2017, but even more so when in 2018 they clearly failed to build even a solid car, theirs was probably only better than what Williams had in 2018. But McLaren had inspiring leadership in Alonso (and to an extent in Brown) to push hard to get onward.

          Williams had Stroll and Sirotkin, they had Paddy who was largely invisible, so not leading. They have Claire who so far seems to inspire only by being Franks daughter.

    2. We all know that Williams have little money but they also seem to have sadly run out of any innovative design ideas and are just making up the numbers. What and when was their last good design introduction?

      1. Codger highlights one aspect not covered by the otherwise excellent article, the rules are so tight now, all the opportunities for a major innovation are gone, William’s successes were always driven by innovation.

  3. Andy Townsend
    13th March 2019, 12:25

    The problem with Paddy was he was not a Pat.

    Willliams seem to do well when the head technical man is called Pat.


    Mr Head and Mr Symonds.
    Both build great cars and won championships and why they let Pat Symonds go I don’t know.

  4. Had to quickly scan this informative article but will read it all later. Suffice it to say though this is yet another article that confirms for me why we should give Stroll this season in a presumably much better car the chance to show us something. Did he really have the car to do that last year? No way. The year before? It was better but he was a rookie. I’m not saying I know for sure he is better than we have seen, but I sure know he had little opportunity to change our minds and that will come this season. I know I am in the overwhelming minority, but I’ve never minded that.

    1. I’ll change my mind when he stops whining everytime something doesn’t go to plan and instead gives constructive Feedback.

      1. jv I have a feeling he had a lot to whine about at poor Williams, and as to constructive feedback, from our armchairs we wouldn’t really know about that and I imagine he is able and willing to provide that, and I’m sure it helps any driver if that feedback is something the team can act on to move the project forward.

      2. you’ve heard his feedback?

    2. I agree with that @robbie. Even when we account for all the money his father put behind him, he DID achieve a lot in junior ranks, so there clearly is indication of talent there. And I guess Perez did say he was surprised by how well his new teammate was doing (sure, the boss’ son and everything, but still).

      Yes, Stroll will have the chance to shake off his “pay driver” monicker at Racing point. Just like heavily mexican backed Perez was able to show he has the talent in a Sauber and has confirmed that by beating Hulk and claiming podiums with FI.

    3. He'[s had two years to prove himself, first against an aging Massa, who obliterated him, and then against another pay driver who would never had made it into F1 on merit, who matched him.

  5. At this point it seems they really look like they need manufacturer backing to get back in the game. If they can find another BMW type deal maybe they can claw their way back.

    1. But who makes an F1 grade hybrid system?

      1. Indeed, the current manufacturers made sure the engine formula doesn’t change so other engine manufacturers wont risk a Honda debacle comming to F1

  6. Great article, but I would take issue with describing Maldonado’s win a a fluke – If he hadn’t been Maldonado and crashed a lot he could have won a couple more races that year, or at least have had several podiums. The pace in the car was there, sometimes. At least in Maldonado’s hands, not in Bruno Senna’s.

    1. Sorry but that race win was all about lucking into the tyres and nothing about driver/car actual pace.

      1. @alec-glen wrong. Watch Valencia, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, And you’ll see that the Williams and Maldonado had great pace on those particular days. It was inconsistent, yes, but not lucky.

        1. He was very lucky Mclaren let Hamilton run out of fuel.

      2. @alec-glen
        Which is why he qualified 2nd for that race and spent the entire race of 4 stints on 2 different compounds battling Alonso for position. By lucking into the tyres. Sure thing, buddy.

      3. Maldonado was much better driver than the stigma perpetuates. In that particular race, he was simply in the right place at the right time, and defended against Alonso beautifully…and cleanly.

        1. I agree, Maldonado was a very good driver. I think he could have landed a paid sat in F1 if he’d been more careful. Unfortunately he wasn’t, which meant he wasn’t wanted by other budget strapped teams.

          1. The problem with Pastor is that his sponsor (PDVSA) ran out of money, otherwise he could have landed any pay seat

        2. F1oSaurus (@)
          13th March 2019, 17:02

          @gpfacts The only reason it was “cleanly” was because Alonso wasn’t going full out. He had to think of the championship and couldn’t afford inevitably crashing with Maldonado if he really would have gone for the place.

          Either, way Maldonado has had one good result in his whole career. If he had been a good driver he would have had more than just the one fluke win. Yet he barely scored points in all of the other races that season.

        3. I used to hold a similar view of Maldonado – that he was actually a very quick driver who just lacked the racecraft and ability to stay out of trouble.

          However, his subsequent annihilation at the hands of Grosjean – who hasn’t exactly proved to be top level since – makes me think he just happened to have a very good car in 2012, which was the only year he did anything of note as a Formula 1 driver.

        4. Yeah, Maldonado cleary was able to be a great driver @gpfacts. It was such a shame that he never seemed focussed enough to be able to be on that level more consistently. But probably the car also contributed to making that hard.

          I think the fluke thing fits though @tflb, because we had both the fortune of the front running teams not being quite on their top game AND both the car and Maldonado hitting that form at the same time – neither were consistent, as results for the rest of the year show there were peaks and lows.

          Possibly in a different environment, with a more consistent car Maldonado could have been a repeat race winner. Alas he never got the leadership to guide him into controlling himself. I think you might underestimate Grosjean @kevinc, a driver who also has periods where he is great interpersed with lows, much like Maldonado. But it seems when he is on it, he is able to keep those highs going more consistently. And yes, having a good car is certainly a great advantage to hitting those highs.

      4. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
        13th March 2019, 17:50

        I do find it funny that anyone could imply the win had nothing to do with the driver or cars pace. Basically some tyres could have rolled around the track and won on their own then! :D The driver always has a fair bit of input as well as the car. Maldonado usually was quick, but just very inconsistent. That weekend was really solid and he controlled it really well on race day.

    2. I agree. I find it unfair to suggest Williams’ last win “on pure merit” was in 2004. Maldonado was not helped by any unusual coincidence. He started from pole and spent all of the race on one of the top positions. There was not a lucky SC, changeable weather, massive pile-up among top drivers or anything outside of competitors’ control that affected the running order. Yes, McLaren helped a bit by being wrong with fuel for Q but if your rival makes a mistake and you don’t- how does that make your win not on merit?
      Williams had a very quick car in 2012. Maldonado qualified in top3 on 5 occasions. He was unlucky to be hit with mechanical issues in both Singapore and Abu Dhabi (where finished 5th but with inactive KERS, before his KERS failed he was pulling away from Alonso), where he could have gathered two podiums. And in Valencia he would have scored another one if he didn’t decide to crash into Hamilton instead. But that’s not that important anyway. Even if they were the slowest in all other races, it wouldn’t take away the merit of being quick around Barcelona- a very average F1 circuit- not like Monaco or Monza where you can be more competitive than anywhere else by matching the track characteristics because these are rather extreme F1 circuits from one or another point of view.

  7. Frank Williams needs to let go of the reins and they need a real team principle. Franks string pulling art two removed to keep control of ‘his team’ is becoming terminal. It was bad enough when Patrick Head was around to act as a lightning rod but Frank’s daughter can’t do that.

    Williams is quite a big business centred around the race team, so if that goes base over apex then the whole shooting match is at serious risk.

  8. The article missed the 2001 to 2004 period. BMW made a wonderful engine, and Williams were in the top 3. In 2003 Williams were on target for a drivers championship with montoya until ferrari and the biggest poletician on most overrated actor in f1 ‘Ross brawn’ intervened. They politically forced rule changes to Michelin tyres before monza, a race williams were expected to dominate, and that was that for the season.

    1. kpcart, looking at the whole situation, there have been some questions raised about what Michelin might have been doing with their tyres and whether it was entirely above board.

      Whilst it is easy to say that it was a political decision, that superficial assessment does not really question what exactly Michelin were up to and whether their behaviour was entirely above board – the final decision might have been made ahead of the Italian GP, but it seems that the FIA might have been investigating Michelin’s behaviour for several months before that particular race.

      There is a suggestion that Michelin had been producing tyres where the rubber was effectively not entirely cured, and relying on the teams to heat cycle them on track in order to finish the curing process (which is why the FIA started asking the tyre manufacturers to start providing used tyres). That was put forward as the mechanism that Michelin used to enable the ridges to flatten out and increase the contact patch when the tyres were used in a race, but one that the FIA seems to have become concerned about amid questions of whether that might also impact the structural integrity of the tyres and therefore started raising possible safety concerns too.

      If that is the case, then Michelin’s behaviour does seem to have been questionable when set against the regulations of the time. We might want a world where things are black and white and it is easy to condemn or praise a particular person or team, but the whole environment seems to have been one of rather more shades of grey.

      1. As usual anon, a very interesting, informative post.

  9. This article has just made me angry all over again at how Bernie Ecclestone gutted the sport and how his buddy Max Mosely and the FIA let him.

    Where before the teams shared 85 per cent of F1’s underlying revenues, from 1 January 1998 Bernie and SLEC – named after his then-wife Slavica Ecclestone – retained around 77 percent of the sport’s bottom line, with 12 teams sharing 23 percent between them.

    I mean how on earth was this allowed to happen?

    1. @puffy
      Its a question that I can’t answer! In particular Ferrari. How did they let this happen back then? No wonder they don’t want to let go of their advantage now.

    2. José Lopes da Silva
      13th March 2019, 13:41

      I remember reading that at the time and the press saying that sport might be heading to much commercial. Those reports were correct.

      For Ecclestone this was business, he created a good sport (for us to watch) for money and he destroyed it for money.

      Although FIFA (unlike FIA) is not losing control of things, the same might be happening to football.

    3. @puffy when Bernie originally bought the TV rights he offered an equal share to the teams and they turned him down, not realizing how important TV revenue would become. So it seems the 1998 decision was in keeping with that theme.

    4. I agree, I just can’t believe how he was able to get away with it, makes me angry that – over time – it has reduced the sport to, well, there’s just no way you can call it sport now. How did the teams let him do this to them?!

      No recent winners outside the big 3 tells you everything, and there’s no way back (as Liberty will find out soon enough).

      1. that’s not only a F1 thing, in the last ten years, for example, Bayer Munich have seven titles and Barcelona and Real Madrid have won all but one titles in Spain. It seem to be common in most sports.

    5. A stark reminder of why it was good that we finally got rid of him, isn’t it @puffy,

  10. Also, Im angry this article missed the pay disputes and sackings the team did for pay realignments many workers had to re apply, which is the real reason of 2019 delays, a worker recently leaked about how workers were asked to work more than their pay. the team IS a modern f1 team, they produced about 10000 parts for the car. They still make their own gearboxes. They have the resources, but have had a HR failure which is affecting their performance sadly.

    1. Google shows up nothing, I’d be interested to see your sources.

      1. BlackJackFan
        14th March 2019, 4:06

        Have you not noticed… kpcart’s integrity prevents him from revealing his sources… ;-)

    2. Interesting Kpcart. Since this is the first time i read anything about that, would you point towards sources for this? I guess it might be the part about money concerns that @dieterrencken mentions in the article tough

  11. Well, I knew you hate ‘clickbait-y’ things, but having a headline that summarized the whole article content too perfectly leave no room for discussion…

  12. I hope we’re not seeing the demise of Williams.

    Initially I rather was for the idea of the so-called ‘satellite’ teams as buddying up seemed like a good idea to keep teams surviving and expand the grid numbers – but they are quite literally A and B tiers. Toro Rosso will never beat Red Bull. Alfa-Romeo-Sauber-Ferrari will never beat Ferrari, nor will Haas – and it’s enormously unlikely Racing Point will ever beat Mercedes. The only thing these ‘B’ teams do is secure the supremacy of the ‘A’ team.

    I’d rather see more teams like Williams that are individual, that aren’t tied at the hip and heart to another entity and if the ‘only’ way to survive in current F1 is to relegate yourself to being a ‘B’ team then there’s a lot wrong with current F1.

    1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
      13th March 2019, 13:45

      Whilst I’m no fan of A and B teams either, that is the lay of the land at the moment. It is what it is, and in that light I disagree with Claire Williams’ outright refusal to countenance becoming a Mercedes B team, at least in the short/medium term.
      If they did so, they could stand to inherit the de-facto Mercedes works team status with which McLaren had such great success in the 90s/00s, if and when Mercedes decide they have had enough return on their investment, and wrap-up their factory operation.
      In the cold light if reality, the old guard independents won’t be winning any titles until then anyway, so it seems like a reasonable strategy for treading water and turning profit in the meantime, rather than charging boldly into the valley of death.

    2. The other issue with this is how it could potentially affect the racing. If Lewis pits from 2nd or 1st for tyres, and comes out in 10th behind a Racing Point, is that car really going to fight him for that position in the same way it might fight Vettl, or let him by easily to continue his run back up the order?

      I don’t want to see a race series with 3 top teams and a host of support cars driving around.

  13. With regards to Paddy Lowe, I remember when he first joined Mercedes there being some argy bargy and noses put out (and Ross Brawn leaving). Were there ever stories of engineers not getting on with him?
    I guess when you’re winning, no one really cares about your management style, but when you’re losing, any unrest from the underlings will not be stifled so easily?
    Just speculating .

    1. BlackJackFan
      14th March 2019, 4:10

      There is a good ‘Rule of Thumb’ in show business: Be nice to people on the way up, because you’ll need them on the way down
      The principle works everywhere, and in everything.

  14. Any other team and Claire would’ve been fired ages ago.

  15. Management and HR lacking. They lack also development joint ventures, strange when they are a mothership of engineering. Aston Martin could have been a good tech partner :(

    1. True. Why did Williams turn down the Mercedes gearbox and insist on using their own made from rather antiquated materials?

      It is a Frank Williams thing about being independent. Fine in the 80s but deadly now.

      Without radical reform I fear Williams will not survive for much longer. They must modernise their management and approach taking whatever advantage and benefit they can within the rules.

      Better be more Haas than hasbeens.

      Live to fight another day.

      1. I guess the question is what are the cost differences and how much extra does it weigh?

        1. @drycrust, it seems that it is not necessarily so much of a question of weight as one of the torsional stiffness of the overall system, as that is one area where Williams have occasionally had issues in the past.

          There is one area where having an internal metal casing with an external carbon fibre skin can be advantageous though. If you want to build in some flexibility to adjust the rear suspension geometry over the season, then having the rear suspension impose that load through the exterior composite skin is advantageous as adjusting the suspension mounting point is simplified. A few years ago, even some of the major teams were using a similar process – if I recall well, I think that Mercedes might have done something similar in 2013 as they were trying to fine tune the rear suspension layout to reduce some of their problems with rear tyre wear.

      2. F1oSaurus (@)
        13th March 2019, 17:06

        Williams probably still have the hope/illusion that a manufacturer will back them again. For that to happen they need to be shown to be able to build their own car. So they are bravely building their own car, but they end up running last.

        Agree that they should probably put more effort into beating the midfield rather than pretending to be a potential top team right now.

      3. Sounds like too much Haasle to me.

        Of all the uninspiring new teams to enter F1, Haas took it to new lows. Their approach is novel in the amount of 3rd-party supplied parts and engineering – making it a low-cost global marketing platform for Haas machine tools. The result on track is the next-worst thing to a spec series.

        While Williams’ F1 model is obsolete, I appreciate them as a team far, far more than Haas or the other B teams.

        I hope Liberty/FIA has the gumption in the new 2021/2025/2029 regulations to ban the Haas and B team ‘constructor’ model and restore the garagista ethos. Unlikely, of course.

        At this point why maintain the pretense that there’s more than 4 teams on the grid? Let the big 3 and Renault run 5 cars each. With the proviso that Williams/McLaren supply the support races with their Fminus1or2 series.

        1. @jimmi-cynic, worse than the times when teams would buy entire cars from another manufacturer in order to compete, as was the case through until at least the 1980s? Or the system of customer cars that was in place just a decade ago in F1, when junior teams such as Toro Rosso or Super Aguri would be given the chassis from the previous year as the basis for their cars?

          The “garagista ethos” is one of those things where it is perhaps questionable as to whether it ever quite existed in the format that it is suggested to have existed and something which many would say died out decades ago.

          1. Good point, anon. But different point.

            Unless you feel that Enzo was upset because he was fighting Garagista myths in the shape of Chapman & Tyrell.

            My definition of a Garagista is a team that buys the engine, but designs and builds the chassis, suspension & transmission in-house.

            The Garagistas like Williams, Benetton and McLaren thrived while the big tobacco money was puffing up the teams – late 80s through the 90s. Now that big tobacco is banned from the sport, (Ferrari and McLaren excluded), and the lack of sufficient funding directly from F1 TV/hosting revenue, it does make the playing field even only for the big 3.

            Customer cars are supposedly banned. If they’re not banned, then sure, let’s GoFundMe RaceFans F1 now with last year’s Williams. Solves two issues at once.

            I dislike the pretend constructors like Haas who ‘construct’ their car through loopholes in the legalize. Red Bull’s 2nd tier Torro Rosso team, for me, is a less likeable approach. Nothing about Minardi survived that corporate marketing buyout.

            If indeed the “garagista ethos” has died out decades ago, then new innovative Liberty braintrust might consider bringing it back to better align with their new innovative Points for Fastest Laps they pulled out of the 1950s innovation bin.

          2. The Super Aguri and Toro Rosso models you refer to were suspect at best and eventually outlawed. Although the garagiste model is now dying, it lived for over 30 years – beginning with FOCA’s emergence as a force under Ecclestone. We know what the C represented: Constructor.

          3. BlackJackFan
            15th March 2019, 2:05

            I would have said the “garagiste” era pretty much started in the late 50s, coincidentally with the advent of rear engines. Cooper were one of the first to build a car (in their back yard) utilising a bought in engine (Coventry-Climax / Bristol) and gearbox (Citroen) that were not derived from any other racing car manufacturer. Enzo despised them primarilly (I think) because they didn’t make their own engines…

  16. History is full of companies that failed to adapt to their changing world and ultimately disappeared as a result. Williams must realize there is no shame in aligning themselves with a larger team to reduce their costs and remain competitive in the second tier. They could even include a plan to eventually break free and become independent again.
    On a larger scale, F1 failed to adapt when tobacco sponsorship was outlawed and a replacement industry was not found. Teams that were once flush with money, even the smaller outfits, suddenly found themselves with empty coffers and ever increasing component costs.

    1. This is the source of Williams’ problem. It is a management one. As a manager that mentors new business managers, I preach the idea of asking the question, “Does this change make sense for the business, or am I doing this to make me feel good.” Pride is an excellent thing to have about your business, but it is not a good basis from which to decide the future of your business. As others have said, you must adapt and sometimes that means becoming something you never intended, in the beginning, to be. In one sense, we can say that we don’t envy Williams’ managers positions right now, because there are no easy solutions, but to a professional manager this is a perfect opportunity for the same reason. Great adversity is an excellent motivator for change, and I hope someone in their orbit sees that and takes advantage.

  17. The only way for Williams to reinvent themselves is to go Formula-E

    Thank you, very nice article and spot-on

  18. Dieter/Keith,

    I would be keen to read your opinion about the relation of F1 and the movements around climate change. What kind of a future has a sport which is all but against all efforts to stop CO2 emission and sustainability. My take on this is in either way F1 will be ceased in 10 years, either due to one way or to the other. If the world finally makes up its mind and introduce measures to decrease CO2 then F1 will be the first to shut down (or at least the way we know it today). Noone will have interest to invest into a technology which will be replaced. If this will not happen, then earth will have the final call. FE has the rights to run an all electric series for 100 years, so I’m not sure if Williams is the only team fear of going concern problems. I assume the next gen engine concept will be the last containing combustion based engines.

    1. You say no one has any interest in investing in a technology that will be replaced “reichbalazs”. But when we look at where these current engines are headed, and look at the real world around us (not that of bold predictions) you realize that having more efficient ICE-hybrid engines that F1 is fine tuning is something that offers a lot to long haul transport, at least in the next 20 years but probably for much longer.

      With our current infrastructure it is wholly impossible to see even all short range cars, let alone the shorter range delivery and cargo trucks go electrical anytime soon. We simple do not have the electrical networks or solutions to solve loading all those batteries. And we still have to have all the infrastructure for the current solution in place, since it will take at least 2-3 decades to phase out most of the equipment on the road. Hybrid is a very good solution to that (for trucks, busses and also for cars driving longer distances regularly), since it can allow short range travel to be electrical (the first/last part of a yourney) but switch to a relatively efficient burning cycle for the long trip in between.

      And unless we get hydrogen conversion facilities up and going for larger solar and (off shore) wind farms within a year or 5 – enabling ships to go hydrogen-electric, a more logical solution is to go hybrid there too. Since ships go for about 50 years though, that will still take another generation.

      1. If we look at the treaty of Paris, the world needs to half its Co2 emission by 2030 and to virtually zero by 2050. We yet to see any drastic measure to put in place but the more time passes the heavier these measures should/will be. So I’m afraid we are quite late to ponder on what would be a smooth and comfortable transition, it seems we are not in that position any more. Anyway in the world of sustainability I’m not sure how anyone would make oneself look reasonable by carrying out something with an image of waste, and self-indulgance as the Grand Prix and all the manufacturers involved. Sad to say, because I’m a long term fan, but this is what I feel considering the current situation.

        1. I would rather refer to the Paris Agreement on climate change:)

  19. What a superb article, @dieterrencken; I wish Frank and Claire would read it.

    I also appreciate the effort all of you at RaceFans have made to eliminate as much as possible typos from your articles. It really does make a huge difference.

    1. Thank you: because we run a tight ship, editing within deadlines was an issue of which we were well aware. Bu, as far as my column is concerned, we pulled the deadline forward, which makes it tight for me, but allows more time for subbing.

      1. Thanks, the effort is really appreciated!

      2. thank you. I always look forward to your articles. they always point out truths that many may hesitate to spell out and they are always grounded in reality and reason. much appreciated!

  20. For sure it’s an excellent article and there’s a lot of good insights of Williams decline. However, I got the impression that everyone is just concluding that they will be dead last this season due to the car not being ready in time and due to Paddy’s resign. For sure this is not ideal, but it doesn’t mean that their season is done. Last year the car was bad, unpredictable and inconsistent, and the driver pairing was the weakest they ever had. Reports for this year car shows that it’s a good platform, the car was reliable on testing, also I believe Kubica will improve every race onwards, with time in the car, he will be able to show his talent. George Russell has beaten the much hyped “new Hamilton” Lando Norris, and he won’t have any pressure to perform in Williams as everyone quotes them as dead last. In testing we couldn’t access the real pace from the car. So I’m not convinced they are 1s from midfield. Let’s see, but I believe they can turn this around, survive 2 more years decently and try to adapt for 2021.

    1. BlackJackFan
      14th March 2019, 4:17

      Well… I for one am hoping…

  21. Frank Williams’ (and Patrick Head’s) biggest mistake was to double down on his team’s identity as an independent, and in the process continually alienated BMW during their patnership (2000 – 2005); when instead he could have enticed the Munich based manufacturer to increase its involvement/stake at Grove. Doing so would have probably given the team a more stable/competitive future in the medium term (the way Ron Dennis and Mansour Ojjeh did from 1995-2009, during which time Mercedes owned 40% of McLaren).

    The sad (if not annoying) bit is, the split hurt them both: I firmly believe that had BMW bought a slice of Williams (instead of owning and operating their own team from 2006-2009), they wouldn’t have been forced to abruptly leave the sport during the Great Recession. Similarly, Williams wouldn’t have probably had such barren years from 2006-2013 (bar that one win in Spain 2012) had they continually received support from a manufacturer.

    The BMW Williams partnership was similar to the redux of the McLaren-Honda tandem from 2015-2017, albeit the former unravelling under a more competitive and favourable setting. In both instances, there was little chemistry or none at all between parties; and likewise, the advances of one partner to help the other one out were vehemently rejected (i.e. Williams berated BMW for offering their help in addressing the cars’ aero/chassis issues; whereas Honda shut down McLaren’s offer of inviting outsiders to help Japanese engineers solve their PU problems).

    As Adrian Newey said in his book: it isn’t that Frank and Patrick are unwilling to change, it’s just that they are unable to (or something to that end).

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      13th March 2019, 17:08

      @rafael-o BMW were unwilling to have the budget available needed to fight for the WDC. They insisted on a budget cap and if that didn’t happen they would leave. The budget cap didn’t pan out and thus they left.

  22. This article presents the domination of manufacturers as an obvious outcome of the current system. ( I don’t disagree). What strikes me is Hamilton’s change to Merc in 2012(?). At the time there were many naysayers. Perhaps he understood McLaren and Williams were going to continue struggling.

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      13th March 2019, 17:13

      @slotopen Indeed, Hamilton always said that the new engine regulations would favor the manufacturer teams and that he wanted to be in a manufacturer team.

      Besides McLaren was already declining at the time under the mismanagement of Whitmarsh. He really ruined that team in record time.

  23. Why now? I seriously think this is pure sexism. I see it in a lot of comments on here and else where. They seem more mean spirited toward Claire and when that woman was in charge of Sauber. A lot of condescension. This article should have been written 10 years ago. Williams was terrible then too. And I love all the basement jockeys on here telling people how to run their large multi-million pound business.

      1. BlackJackFan
        14th March 2019, 4:25

        “Now”… because it’s necessary now. Ten years ago the situation was similar but not the same… and such article were written in the past…!
        “Sexism”… A very ‘PC’ remark that has no more validity than your defence of “that woman [who] was in charge of Sauber”… whose name you either don’t remember, can’t be bothered to check, or simply don’t know…!
        “the basement jockeys on here” are simply giving their opinion, as are you…! ;-)

  24. And calling Monisha Kaltenborn ‘that woman’ is hardly virtuous…but to answer your question ‘why now’: it happens to be ‘now’ that Williams is bottom of the logs and couldn’t complete a car for the first time in its history. Pray, tell: where is the sexism in that?

    1. BlackJackFan
      14th March 2019, 4:27


  25. This article says to me that F1 is in massive trouble, more so that Williams. If it has become dominated by companies that use it for a marketing exercise, then they are all one board decision away from canceling this marketing exercise and leaving the sport. What then happens to the small teams solely dependant on the large ones who have left? The whole sport could collapse.
    This article just reinforces my 25+ year support of Williams – they are the only true racing team left, not some rich country or multinational corporation – why would I choose to support either of those?
    Sadly in all sports people only like to support the successful teams regardless of who runs them and why.

    1. BlackJackFan
      14th March 2019, 4:37

      A hundred years ago motor racing was “dominated by companies that use it for a marketing exercise”, and they also sold complete cars to privateers, to boost their numbers on the grid. Many subsequent race-car manufacturers (ERA comes to mind) originated from a lack of cash to purchase ex-works cars as well as a desire (at least among the British…) to have a home-produced car… and by the 60s the privateers were in a majority…
      [NB: no doubt “anon” can provide a more detailed version of this…]
      Maybe the pendulum is just swinging again… If the manufacturers all decided to withdraw all we would need is a new version of the Ford Cosworth to continue with F1… and… in a parallel universe, Williams could reign again, as they would have the least to do to get back together.

  26. Where before the teams shared 85 per cent of F1’s underlying revenues, from 1 January 1998 Bernie and SLEC – named after his then-wife Slavica Ecclestone – retained around 77 percent of the sport’s bottom line, with 12 teams sharing 23 percent between them.

    Wow, I didn’t know that. I still think that losing Adrian Newey to McLaren was the main reason Williams lost their edge in 1998. From then on, their cars were mediocre at best. They were only able to challenge Ferrari and McLaren when they had a clear engine-power advantage in 2001-2003. Even in their exceptionally strong 2014 season they had the strongest engine by far.

  27. What a great article, was really interesting to read it thoroughly on a Wednesday evening. Thank you :)

  28. I was employed for decades in the supply side of the motor manufacturing sector, have followed the fortunes of Williams and watched about ten Grand Prix in various countries over the years and enjoyed the Belgian Grand Prix the most.

    Given the cost of attending any Grand Prix these days, I have booked to watch the French race from the Williams Factory as part of one of their hospitality packages to see for myself how the team operates from Grove simultaneous to the race.

    As an aside, CVC Partners who took every last cent they could out of F1 have now made an offer to Rugby Union to “realise the potential,” which I don’t see as being good for the paying customer/public.

  29. Thank you Dieter for a VERY illuminating article on Williams. After reading this alot of things have come into perspective for me in regards to the team and what a hostile environment it is for independent teams. I truly hope Williams find a way out of this predicament. I don’t think they can wait until 2021 though. It’s only been last year that Williams have fallen from grace and they get alot of abuse for that fall while Mclaren has somehow weathered it with less vitriol. Fingers crossed.

  30. What a great read.

    I have never envied Claire’s position – being “deputy” TP might sound like she’s in charge, but I really have wondered whether or not she really has been given the control she actually needs in order to get things done.

    In terms of their current woes, one can’t ignore the fact that as well as all the reasons stated in the article, their cars , particularly last year’s, have suffered from being badly designed. The question about that is was that because Williams have refused to become more closely aligned with a manufacturer or has it been because the designers haven’t been up to scratch.

    If it’s the latter, then despite what Paddy Lowe says – people need to be replaced.

    I’m hoping that they’ve at least brought a driveable car for 2019 (as distinct from their 2018 effort) as that might buy them some time to hold off until the new regulations are in force. If they haven’t, it may well be a case of a once great team leaving F1 because of its refusal to move with the times.

  31. BlackJackFan
    14th March 2019, 3:56

    Another sterling analysis, Dieter, which also uses the English language to put your writing way above most of the other stuff online.
    I also like your ‘confirmation’ of my long-held belief that it is Williams extreme stubbornness that took it to the heights twenty years ago that is partly (largely?) responsible for it’s fall…

  32. Wow, ace opening there @dieterrencken

    But facing the might of F1’s heavyweight teams plus their ever more closely aligned satellite operations, does Williams possess the drive to survive? Or is one of F1’s few remaining outfits which is neither an A-team nor a B-team at risk of becoming an ex-team?

  33. Another big issue since 1998 with williams is the fact that, even with works BMW engines, theyve only produced 3 cars capable of consistently challenging for victories (2001-03). Theyve struggled with chassis & aero development for 2 decades now (which is why BMW left them to it in 2006). Strangely enough since adrian newey left for mclaren

  34. Refreshingly different take on their current fortunes compared to those who focus on ousting Claire Williams to trigger a miraculous recovery.

    Sadly F1 today requires a mothership bigger than a Williams. Hanging on and waiting for F1 to change will only see their current predicament get worse, the modern day Minardi but 10x more painful.

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