Nicholas Latifi, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

How Williams went from “rock bottom” to respectable in 12 months

2020 F1 season

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Although it’s early days yet, the indications after the first pre-season test is that Williams is well on the road to recovery after the annus horribilis it endured in 2019.

[f1tv2020testa]Williams arrived in Spain last year aiming to bounce back from a bruising 2018 in which they slumped to last in the championship. Instead they endured the embarrassment of failing to produce a car for the first day of pre-season testing, followed by the discovery that the FW42 was potentially a worse car than the previous one. “We hit rock bottom,” deputy team principal Claire Williams recalled this week.

Just about the only high point of the season that followed came when it grabbed a point in Germany. Even that, on the 40th anniversary year of the team’s first grand prix victory, only came after two competitors were disqualified from a chaotic race for technical infringements.

Before testing, rumours swirled about that the team was again in similar straits, even suggestions its test car would be dispatched to Barcelona as “a box of bits” to be assembled in the garage. This proved utterly unfounded – indeed, as early as Friday a spy picture of the FW43 appeared. The car was sent to Spain over the weekend, and shaken down by the team on Monday, two days before testing was due to begin.

George Russell, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya
Russell was the first driver to hit the track on Wednesday
Come 9am on Wednesday when the Circuit de Catalunya opened for action George Russell’s blue, white and red car was at the sharp end, first onto the track. Although the team downplayed the symbolism, it was a fitting reward for the folk who experienced so much heartbreak last year.

Of course being, first out the box provides only brownie points, not championship points. But over three days the team ran consistently with Russell and Nicholas Latifi alternating at the wheel.

Bar the odd sensor issue, repairs to running damage and a power unit data “spike”, the FW43 performed faultlessly. Over the first three days of testing last year the team covered just 107 kilometres; at the same stage this year the FW43 has done more than 1,500.

The team has already lapped almost a second quicker than it did during last year’s Spanish Grand Prix weekend. Russell is bullish, not least because of the strides made in every area of car performance since the last race of 2019. That is the true measure of improvement.

George Russell, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
The FW42 was one of the team’s worst cars
On Friday Claire Williams, de facto boss of the eponymous outfit founded by her father, faced the press. Her demeanour could not have been more different from a year ago when, frankly, we were rather tough on her. “I’m smiling,” she said this time when asked by RaceFans how she felt, before admitting the year-on-year target was to “make progress.”

She is under no illusions that the road to full recovery to the team’s former title-winning status will be long and hard, but she has clearly delivered on her promise made last August during an exclusive interview of getting to a “the root” of the team’s problems and of creating “a new culture”.

At the time she insisted the changes she was making would deliver. “I think the work that we have put in that people don’t get to see, because it is all behind-the-scenes stuff, then you want to believe that the work, the change that has gone on at Williams, which I am so proud of, that it’s all going to shape the future,” she said.

The entire car process – from first concept through design and production to testing, racing and development – has undergone scrutiny, with wide-ranging changes implemented to drag the team up to F1 2020 standards. In short, the team had previously operated a decade out of date, and hence its slow slide down the grid as the sport became exponentially more sophisticated: each season had brought another retrograde step.

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Claire Williams, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya
Williams’ poor 2019 put the team’s leadership under pressure
“Behind the scenes at Grove over the past 12 months,” she said this week, “we’ve all undergone huge transformation and change. And what we would like to see now is the rewards of that change, because the business really is unrecognisable from where we were, from everything, whether it be structures, processes, policies, et cetera.”

There is still a long way to go. Contrast Williams’ position with that of its fellow Mercedes customer Racing Point. The pink team, once Williams’s grid peer, has built a completely new car drawing on different design philosophies for the final season under F1’s current regulations. Williams has effectively updated the FW42 to carry updated aerodynamic parts and running gear – akin to a ‘FW42B’.

Equally, it remains the only team to use a cast aluminium gearbox housing – Renault, the last of the others, moved to a composite casing three years ago. This is both a consequence of its ‘complete constructor’ model and a pointer to a lack of collaboration with a major team beyond sourcing power units from Mercedes. Racing Point, for example, sources (at least) a complete rear end from Mercedes, something Williams says she is still unwilling to consider.

[smr2020test]That said, when you’re pursuing lap time gains in the order of whole seconds rather than tenths, there are different priorities when it comes to building the 26,000 parts which comprise a modern Formula 1 car. Still, Williams will eventually need to move with the times in this – and other – regards, but that takes budget, which this year will be about at the same level as per last year, in turn well down on 2018.

Tellingly, a rival team boss told RaceFans on Friday that currently two teams are intensively (and successfully) recruiting personnel: Racing Point and Williams. That speaks volumes, for while the former received massive budget boosts courtesy of its new owners and tie-up to Aston Martin, the fact that Williams is playing the job market points to a quiet confidence not seen for a few years now.

Hence the trick for 2020 will be keep head above water and prepare for all change in 2021, when F1’s playing field should at least be levelled, if not completely so. In the interim, Williams needs to finish at least ninth – which testing performance suggests should be well within teach. That alone will be just reward for all the hard work over the past 12 months. Any further improvement will be a bonus.

2020 F1 season

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36 comments on “How Williams went from “rock bottom” to respectable in 12 months”

  1. Fingers crossed for 2021, I really hope Williams can take advantage of the opportunity.

    1. Jhett rouse
      5th June 2020, 1:58

      Well this article aged well….

  2. I guess part of the struggle was due to financial restraints. After loosing Stroll’s backing, sure 2019 must’ve been hard to manage.

    But with the arrival of Latifi, sun is shining again and they can move forward.

    I’ve seen too many comments on Williams management, but there’s so much you can do when you have no cash to order the parts you need.

    Cracking the mold was really necessary, as it is to all long standing companies at some moment. It took the hardest beating to finally force Williams to refresh the structure, which can only be good.

    Similar to what McLaren faced after ditching Honda. And look where they are now.

  3. Paddy Lowe left.
    He got there, they went straight to the bottom.
    He left, they’re climbing back to the pack.

    1. So obviously Paddy was the problem. Its incredible that Merc dominated with him on board, as did Williams in the past. Makes oh so much sense.

      1. @megatron it does not, not disagrreing just pointing out that paddy was ushered aside by Wolff just like Brawn, maybe their time was over, that said their roles were largely non technical.

        1. @peartree, paddy was not “ushered aside”, he was given the opportunity to become technical director for another team and took the promotion. It just so happened that Nico decided to retire at the same time and so Merc agreed to delete his gardening period in order to gain Bottas to drive for them.

          Paddy has mostly been in successful teams for most of his career, still none of the information we have as outsiders can tell us whether or not paddy was the problem at Williams the last couple years. To my understanding Williams problems were largely aerodynamic ones, and paddy is no aerodynamicist.

          1. @megatron to be clear I did not, or have ever implied Lowe is responsible for Williams’ plight.

            he was given the opportunity to become technical director for another team and took the promotion.

            Hence the ushered side remark, it happens all the time in the real world.

  4. I wish them well, perhaps this season the tiresome Claire bashing could ease up ?

    1. Not unless she becomes a man, and even then it will continue.

      1. @megatron Nice comment. So true.

    2. @budchekov who’s bashing Claire? I’d love to know.

  5. Congratulations Claire. You are on the right track.

  6. I honestly think people are ringing the bells too early. Imo It’s still too early to judge where exactly Williams are this year. Sure , they’re better than last year , but we know how bad last year actually was. How much worse can you do than not having a car the first few days of testing ?

    1. Baby steps…
      First you need a car ready (✓)
      Second you need reliability (✓)
      Third you need reach Q2 ( )
      Then you need to finish the race ( )
      And not being lapped ( )

    2. A cat that has already shown it self to be quicker than the Spanish GP last year certainly shows its much better than last year and those sorts of comparisons are fair assumptions to make (given factors like fuel load and PU modes). It also shows they have a car that is able to switch its tyres on (hopefully not over heat) given the temperature differential between testing and race.

      Keep fighting Clare…

  7. I think it might be wiser to judge their improvements on the upcoming races…

    1. That’s the same for all teams.
      For now they solved some of the major problems from last year.

    2. @crooky369

      Williams will still be last, they will ultimately be judged on if they can make the 2921 grid and how well can they place in that wcc.

      1. I wonder if Formula 1 will even be around in 900 years.

        1. Good question, hard to say considering how little they’ve been around in comparison so far.

  8. Indeed, that applies to all the teams, maybe one of the Merc guys will end up with the steering wheel in their lap?

  9. They were already in a serious slump, but Paddy Lowe ruined them for good. It never made any sense to me when he left Mercedes, to leave a team that is winning everything, but later I realised he was probably been fired.

    1. Fired why? For helping Merc win several consecutive championships?

  10. Wasn’t a big fan of the livery when it came out but it quickly grew on me. Hope they’ll do really well, under certain circumstances I can see them finnish 8th in the Constructors’.

  11. Williams is my favorite team and I really like Claire and her story. I really hope they can be fighting for championships again before frank dies

    1. @carlosmedrano Very nice sentiment. I too have always had a huge soft spot for Williams, and have always only ever wished the best for them.

    2. Cristiano Ferreira
      22nd February 2020, 22:32

      I don’t know… maybe the team is only running until now because of Frank’s passion for F1 even if he is still a bit absent because of his health. One can wonder where Williams would be now if it were not for his problems with paralysis.

      To me, and i hope i’m wrong on this one, but i think when Frank is gone, the same will happen to Williams F1 team.

  12. Cristiano Ferreira
    22nd February 2020, 22:26

    I think Williams will still be backmarkers but in a more respectable manner than last season, when they were dead last in a Marussia or HRT way. Now i hope they could be at last in a Manor 2016 level of backmarker, where they could stick to competition a little more to grab the odd oportunity if it arrives.

  13. Such a shame Kubica had to suffer a terrible car and not have something more drivable. Oh well, it was a stepping stone to a 2021 Alpha Romero drive!

    1. First off all, it’s Alfa and not alpha. I don’t understand why this is so hard and second thing, I really doubt alfa would put Robert in when they got Schwartzman, Schumacher and Armstrong on the way up.

      1. A lot depends on Räikkonen’s decision and Giovinazzi’s performance this year. If one of them decides to end his career and the other one doesn’t persuade Ferrari he’s the right asset for the future, I think it might be possible for Sauber to go into 2021 with Kubica – Schwartzmann line-up (the young Russian is my personal favourite for 2021 seat at Alfa Romeo Sauber).

    2. Kubica could hardly handle the Williams and was dominated by a rookie, he doesn’t deserve an F1 seat. He is right where he should be.

  14. This is a nice video comparison of the laps in the 2019 and 2020 Williams. What is particularly apparent is the much smoother steering input that George is having to put in into the 2020 car as compared to the 2019 one which required a lot of minor corrections and see-sawing.

  15. They were a sec behind the next slowest, either they need someone to join them or a massive step up. I hope they have taken a massive step, the car looks good but so does most of them out there, the track is grippier this year. Likely still last.

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