Logan Sargeant, Williams, Yas Marina, 2021

Why 2022’s season of opportunity may have come a little too soon for Williams

2022 F1 season

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Long before Formula 1 teams began to fire up the power units on their brand new cars in anticipation of the new season of racing ahead, the opportunity offered by the rules shake-up in was a focus for the majority of teams.

With the major technical regulations changes implemented for this year, described by more than one senior technical figure in the paddock as the biggest in the history of the sport, teams across the pit lane see 2022 as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to launch themselves much further up the grid. While this launch season has not felt too dissimilar to those before, it’s important to remember the sheer scale of investment that have gone into the cars that sit under the covers at these reveals, with countless hours of human effort, numerous meetings, discarded design drawings and simulations counting towards the final product.

Today, Williams will become the sixth of the 10 teams to present some version of their 2022 car to the watching world. But, unlike many of their rivals, Williams will likely regard this upcoming season in a somewhat different light.

Under the new ownership of Dorilton Capital, 2021 was a refreshingly positive season for the Grove-based team that had slowly found themselves spinning their wheels, unable to find the traction to drag themselves out from the rear of the grid. Securing eighth place in the constructor’s championship was not an achievement to hold up alongside Williams’ mighty record of old. Coming after three consecutive last-place finishes, it was genuine progress.

Russell delivered shock results for Williams in 2021
But while Williams might ordinarily expect to carry that momentum into the coming season, the magnitude of the rules changes for 2022 means that there will be much weaker correlation than usual between where the teams ended 2021 and where they will begin this year.

Therefore, the biggest question mark around Williams this new season is, with all the opportunities offered by Formula 1’s brave new era, will they truly be able to make the most of them for 2022?

When the Williams family made the respectable decision to agree to sell the team that had remained family-owned for over four decades over to Dorilton, it was August of 2020. While the immediate financial injection would have been certainly welcome, even 18 months of lead time is an incredibly limited timeframe in which to overhaul a struggling team, hire new talent and install the infrastructure necessary to best exploit the opportunities presented by the rules changes of 2022.

New CEO, Jost Capito, oversaw an immediate investment into the team’s facilities soon after the takeover was completed in the summer of 2020. “A lot of new machines came in at the end of last year, so the machine park is absolutely up to date,” he told RaceFans. “Also, 3D printers, all installed last year so they are not under the budget cap matrix. From that point of view we are in a much better position.”

With Capito admitting that many of Williams’ facilities and operating systems needed “modernising”, it means that a large bulk of the team’s development work on their 2022 car would be done with tools that were subsequently replaced or are set to be replaced in the years ahead. After all, Formula 1’s recently implemented financial restrictions cap ‘capital expenditure’ to a maximum of $45 million over the four seasons leading to the end of 2024 adds another dimension of challenge to any team trying to build themselves into a more formidable force in this modern formula.

A new technical team is in charge at Williams
Beyond the team’s facilities, the organisational structure and technical team personnel was a major focus point for Williams’ new leadership. Most notably, Capito – a former Volkswagen Motorsport director – brought over previous technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison to take up the same role with Williams early last year. Having delivered three World Rally Championship titles for the German marque over four seasons together, the pair had a strong and successful partnership already established.

The aerodynamic team also received a major restructuring – hardly a surprise given that aerodynamics are the area that have received the biggest overhaul under the new regulations. Williams’ aero department has brought in talent from Mercedes, Alpine and AlphaTauri as well as promoting many of its long-time staff into new or redefined roles as they prepare to tackle the new ground-effect era of Formula 1.

Beyond the technical staff, there’s another major change of team personnel for Williams in 2022 – the driver line-up.

The team will retain the services – and commercial backing – of Nicholas Latifi for a third season. But Williams have also lost their talisman in George Russell – summoned to answer the call of destiny at Mercedes.

Despite his youth, Russell had established himself as a true leader within the team over his three years at Grove. As well as consistently outperforming both Latifi (and, before him, Robert Kubica) on the other side of the garage, Russell had developed quite the talent for putting his Williams into positions it felt like it had no right to be – his remarkable run of consecutive Q2 appearances to begin 2021 and his podium by virtue of qualifying on the front row in Spa the best examples of such.

Instead, Williams have brought in Alexander Albon, fresh from a season supporting Max Verstappen’s world championship-winning campaign from behind the scenes in 2021. While Albon’s second chance on a Formula 1 grid has been welcomed by many, it remains to be seen how much the former Red Bull race driver will be able to galvanise his new team and carry over the learnings from his simulator exploits over the last year to help compliment Williams’ growth in other areas. With all the usual speculation over Red Bull’s future driver line up resulting from them having such an abundance of young talent under their wing, how much of a long-term prospect Albon will be for Williams into the new era remains to be seen.

With that in mind, Williams have also begun to look hard at their young driver academy and make the changes they feel they need to cultivate the talent that they will want to bring into the team over the seasons to come. Their two newest signings – Formula 2 rookie Logan Sargeant and reigning GB3 champion Zak O’Sullivan – reflect the ambition of Williams to start building a junior driver programme that will be able to stand alongside those of rivals like Alpine, Sauber or McLaren.

Albon is reunited with his 2018 DAMS F2 team mate Latifi
But that, again, will come to fruition over the seasons to come – not in 2022. For this season, Williams will at least benefit from an increased level of technical cooperation with Mercedes. By purchasing Mercedes-designed gearboxes and hydraulics systems, it has freed up resources for the team to increase their focus on other areas of the 2022 car’s development.

One major benefit for Williams is that – thanks to their finishing last in the 2020 constructors’ championship – they have been able to make use of more wind tunnel time than any of the ten teams while working on the FW44 over the last 12 months. They will not have that same luxury this year, but it will have made the challenge of preparing an entirely new car so heavily dependent on a radically different aerodynamic concept that little bit easier.

Williams remain very much a team in the process of rebuilding, with their resources, technical team and future driver prospects all very much ongoing projects. While there’s no reason they can’t make big strides this season, 2022 is certainly not the be-all and end-all for the team. Success may be in Williams’ future – they may just have to remain patient for now.

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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9 comments on “Why 2022’s season of opportunity may have come a little too soon for Williams”

  1. Some good points in there. On the other hand, they can be really glad that the introduction of the new rules was posponed to this year, since last year they would have had an incredibly difficult job making a completely new car since they would have to do it all with old infrastructure and without the reinforcement to their aero department in place!

    1. It won’t bring them to championship contender but still gave them the opportunity to make a leap instead of small steps. Recent history with McLaren shows how painful the process might be to climb up the leaderboard in stable regulations where chasing tens is key. By having solved some of the issue, Williams has at least the possibility to do something and are probably not worse than Haas or Alfa which have been their contenders of late. If anything, they have the possibility to take a few more depending on the reshuffling after new regulation, will be interesting to see start of the season and trend during first half (I believe that teams ability to develop through the season will play a big role and show some indication about longer term performance).

  2. I’m not sure about the “far less pressure than their opponents” part. I don’t think you can work for years, and I mean years, having no pressure or expectation. We’re not talking about Minardi here, although they were always under extreme pressure; only with different set of goals. I don’t think Williams can, after many bad years, still consider it a success if they finish a race or score a point. The only thing separating them from the very bottom was Haas, and who knows, they may have a better season (even with only one competitive driver). They need to keep improving or we know how it usually ends in F1, after a few terrible years… That especially goes if you’re owned by Americans, a fund no less. Haas was/in considering selling or closing his team for at least 2/3 of time it exists.

  3. I’d love to see them move up, it’s easy to forget there was a time not too long ago when Robert and George were told not push because of a lack of spares, that’s the kind of thing that was happening at Caterham etc just before they hit the wall. I’m assuming Williams were really on the brink (I assume it was easier for Williams to find investors than for the three 2010 ‘newbies’, but still, the accounts team must have got some grey hairs from it).

    On a slight side note, I can’t believe Williams finished 7th in 88′. I knew the Judd engines were rubbish for the era. But still Mansell was second at Silverstone that year, and it’s sandwiched between the Mansell-Piquet Honda years and the ‘all conquering years that came later). They finished behind March. Even Rial finished 9th in 88’ and they only had one car.

    1. @bernasaurus The 1988 season is one Williams fans want to forget. It was a very strange season, blighted by reliablity issues. Mansell only finished 2 races, both of which happened to be 2nd place finishes, Patrese had a bit better luck reliability wise but never managed a podium. It was a very strange season

      1. It was a transitional season for Williams indeed, but they knew it would be hard, it was a tough one for Williams at the time, as they lost the Honda Turbo engines late in the 1987 season, letting them with no choice but to look for an aspirated engine. Things were made worse by the exclusive agreement Benetton had signed with Ford to have the new aspirated V8 Cosworth DFR engine, which was the most powerful non turbo engine , which left them wit the Judd CV, which was reliable but not impressive either. So they were usually behind all McLarens, Ferrari and Benetton from the start. It was a transition year for them. They were already in talks for the new Renault aspirated engine (and later they had the master stroke of hiring a certain Adrian Newey from March!)

        1. Wow, didn’t know newey was at a minor team at first, it’s like taking schumacher from jordan, or alonso from minardi etc.

  4. @geemac consider my mind blown, if I was to have guessed, i’d have said 4th, maybe 3rd. Looking at the results, even for an era notorious for unreliability (unless you drove a McLaren), the fact either Ricardo or Nigel bothered turning up is remarkable with how often they broke down.

    At least with all the walks back to the pits they’d have easily got their 10,000 steps in. But then they didn’t have fitbits then, or cars that worked.

    1. I suppose there were the money though!

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