Williams has had a history of steely determination, which has led them to nine Constructors’ Titles since they first entered the sport over forty years ago. The family-run team has a fresh driver line-up for 2019. Will it help them move back up the competitive order?
|First F1 Appearance||1977 Spanish Grand Prix|
|Team Principal||Sir Frank Williams
Claire Williams (Deputy)
Frank Williams began his career in motorsport as a driver, driving in Formula Three, before taking a role on the other side of the pit-wall. In 1966, he founded Frank Williams Racing Cars, buying in parts to send other drivers racing. One such driver was Williams’ close friend Piers Courage who took two second place finishes in his début season. The efforts of the team attracted interest from an Italian manufacturer, who provided them with a chassis for the 1970 season. The car failed to finish the first four races of the year and then at the Dutch Grand Prix, disaster struck as Courage was killed in a fiery crash. The event deeply affected Williams, who distanced himself from his future drivers. With no stand-out results from the remainder of the year, their chassis supplier left and the team were left with a year old chassis for the next season. Over the following seasons, various drivers and sponsors came and went, with Williams’ best result being ninth in the 1975 season, the first car to take the ‘FW’ name. By 1974 the team was struggling financially, and before the 1976 season, Williams made a deal with Walter Wolf, which saw him buy 60% of the team and the team was renamed Wolf-Williams Racing. Williams remained as team principal. After failing to score any points throughout the year, the team was re-structured and Williams was removed from his position. Subsequently, Williams left the team, with Wolf buying the remaining 40% and racing as Walter Wolf Racing. The team went on to win three Grands Prix in 1977 with future F1 champion Jody Scheckter.
Elsewhere in 1977, Frank Williams had moved to start work on his next project in Didcot. He started a new team named Williams Grand Prix Engineering, which races in Formula One to this day. Founded alongside Patrick Head, the team was initially uncompetitive and failed to score any points. For 1978, Head designed the car, and the team made strides in their performance over the course of the next two seasons. Australian Alan Jones had been hired for 1978, scoring the team’s first points at the South African Grand Prix. He was joined by Clay Regazzoni in 1979, as the team ran two cars for the first time. When the team went to their home Grand Prix, Jones and Regazzoni were at the front of the field. Jones’ car broke down, leaving Regazzoni 25 seconds ahead of the chasing pack. Williams took their first victory, and followed it up with a 1-2 at the next race, which managed to put a smile back on Jones’ face after he was furious about losing the lead with mechanical issues at the previous round. Jones went on to win the next two rounds and finished third in the championship. Regazzoni’s points saw him finish fifth in the championship and secure Williams’ place as runners-up in the Constructors’ Championship. The team went one better in the next season as Jones and Williams were crowned Drivers’ and Constructors’ Champions, scoring almost double the number of points as their closest competitors Ligier. The team repeated their successes in 1981, though they were beaten to the Drivers’ Title by Nelson Piquet. Keke Rosberg joined for 1982 and, despite winning just one Grand Prix over the course of the season, took the Drivers’ Title. The team slumped down the competitive order in following seasons, finishing as low as ninth in the overall standings in 1984. Williams’ iconic yellow, blue and white paint scheme first featured on their 1985 car, which was driven by Rosberg and new recruit Nigel Mansell. The pairing took four wins with Honda power, and brought the team back up to third in the title hunt.
1986 started badly for the team as, on his return journey from pre-season testing, Frank Williams crashed his car, breaking his neck and paralysing him from the shoulders down. The team soldiered on, and took nine wins over the course of the season. Nigel Mansell, who was partnered by Nelson Piquet, came close to winning the Drivers’ Championship but famously had a dramatic tyre blow-out in the season closing Australian Grand Prix, allowing Alain Prost to take the spoils. Williams took the Constructors’ Championship, with a particular highlight being a win at their home Grand Prix, where Williams’ wife Virginia took the team’s trophy on behalf of her husband. Williams himself had made an appearance in the paddock over that weekend, the first since his life-changing accident.
Frank Williams returned full time to the paddock for the 1987 season, which was just as well with the increasing rivalry between his two drivers. Piquet came out on top in the Championship, though Mansell won more races than him over the season. The team won the Constructors’ title once again. For 1988, the team switched to Judd engines, as Honda moved to McLaren to start their dominant partnership. With their new engines, Williams found themselves largely uncompetitive. They failed to win a race and slipped to seventh in the championship.
In 1989, Williams began a new and successful chapter, taking Renault power for the next nine seasons. After finishing runners-up to the dominant McLaren pairing in 1989 and 1990, Adrian Newey joined the team’s design department, while Nigel Mansell returned to the team having spent two seasons at Ferrari. Beginning at the 1991 Mexican Grand Prix, Williams had a streak of four straight victories, and then won a further three races later in the season. Mansell finished second to Aytron Senna in the Drivers’ Championhsip, and the team lost out on the Constructors’ crown by just fourteen points. The following year, Mansell dominated the championship, taking all but two poles and winning nine Grands Prix. He finished 52 points ahead of his team-mate Ricardo Patrese, who was runner-up in the overall standings. 1993 saw an all-new driver line-up with three time Champion Alain Prost joining the team alongside former Williams test driver Damon Hill. Hill impressed in his début season, scoring three Grands Prix in a row in the latter half of the year. It was Prost who ultimately came out on top though. The Williams FW15C was nothing short of a work of art, with active suspension and traction control which was far more advanced than any other team had.
The Canon livery was gone for 1994, replaced instead by title sponsor Rothams International, who partnered the team until the end of the 1997 season. Gone too was Prost, who was replaced by Ayrton Senna. Having dominated the last two seasons, Williams were the pre-season favourites for the title and the legendary Senna was predictably the favourite to win the Drivers’ title. The team struggled in the early part of the season, however. The FIA had banned active suspension and traction control in an attempt to make the sport more human. The car was difficult to drive, though none of that stopped Senna taking the first three poles of the season. He had failed to finish the first two Grands Prix of the year however, and then the third round of the season, the San Marino Grand Prix, saw one of the blackest weekends in the sport’s and team’s history. Senna crashed out of the race from the lead on the seventh lap, suffering a fatal head injury. The incident had severe repercussions for the team itself, with legal battles continuing until 2005. At the next round of the season, Williams ran just one car in a mark of respect to Senna. Senna’s seat was taken by David Coulthard from the Spanish round onwards, though Nigel Mansell took over for the last three rounds of the season, winning his final race for the team at Adelaide. Hill was still in title contention at the final round, but a controversial coming together with Michael Schumacher handed the championship to the German. Despite the second car only seeing the finish of a Grand Prix six times over the season, the team once again won the Constructors’ Championship.
David Coulthard returned alongside Damon Hill for the 1995 Championship, where the team lost the constructors’ title to Benetton – their first title defeat since 1991. Canadian CART Champion Jacques Villeneuve joined for 1997 and impressed immediately, taking pole at his first Grand Prix and leading until he was forced into retirement with mechanical issues. Though both Hill and Villeneuve scored wins in the early part of the year, over the course of the season, it was the more experienced Hill who would be crowned 1996 Champion at the Japanese Grand Prix. The team dominated the Constructors’ Championship, scoring 105 more points than Ferrari. Despite his victory, Hill was not retained for the 1997 season, with his seat being taken by Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Newey was put on gardening leave for much of the 1997 season ahead of his move to McLaren. The relationship between him and Patrick Head became fractious as Newey wanted to become a technical director rather than a chief designer. Villeneuve won seven Grands Prix over the year, and wrapped up the title in a controversial showdown between himself and Michael Schumacher at the European Grand Prix. The team also took their ninth Constructors’ Title – the last so far in their history.
The team began to slip down the order in 1998, using Mecachrome and Supertec engines in the seasons before the BMW Williams partnership began in 2000. The young Jenson Button joined the team and, despite a few rookie errors, impressed. Button was not retained for 2001 however, and was instead replaced by Juan Pablo Montoya – a driver the team had kept an eye on for a number of years. The car for 2001 was quick, leading Ralf Schumacher to three victories and Montoya to his first career win. Though quick, the machinery was at times unreliable, which prevented the team from mixing with Ferrari and McLaren in the championship fight. They finished runners-up in the 2002 season, despite scoring only one win due to Ferrari’s dominance. They were once again runners up to Ferrari in 2003, in the most successful year of the BMW partnership. The team took four victories, and lost the championship by just fourteen points. Williams won just one Grand Prix the following year, with Montoya at the final round of the season. They slipped to fourth overall as the relationship between the team and BMW began to disintegrate, with each party beginning to point the finger at one another. The spat between the two became increasingly public throughout the season, and they parted company at the end of the season, after finishing fifth overall with no wins.
Jenson Button had signed to re-join the team for 2006 but decided to stay at his current team BAR, with Williams receiving around £24 million dollars for the contract to be cancelled. The team took Cosworth engines for the 2006 season, but proved to be unreliable and finished just sixteen times from 36 starts with both cars. The team finished eighth in the championship – their worst showing since their début season. For the next three seasons, Williams were powered by Toyota engines, and scored a few podiums with Alexander Wurz and Nico Rosberg. With little results to speak of at the end of in the 2009 season, the team ended their partnership with Toyota and returned to Cosworth power.
A pole for Nico Hulkenberg, Williams’ first since the 2004 season, was the highlight of 2010 for the team. A lacklustre 2011 saw the team amass just five points before they enjoyed a brief return to the top at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Pastor Maldonado won the team’s first race in eight years, and it was a universally popular win. The occasion was marred slightly however by a fire in the Williams pit building which luckily no-one was injured in. Claire Williams was appointed as the Deputy Team Principal in 2012. 2013 saw the team struggle once again, scoring just five points.
A change of colour scheme as a result of new Martini sponsorship followed in 2014, and the team returned to the front end of the grid, thanks to being powered by the dominant Mercedes engine. New signing Felipe Massa scored a pole position at Austria and the team were regular podium finishers throughout the season on their way to third place in the Constructors’ Championship. Another third place followed in 2015, and the team enjoyed leading a 1-2 at the British Grand Prix, before rain spoiled their chances of taking victory. 2016 saw the team embroiled in a season-long battle with Force India for fourth in the championship with Ferrari and Red Bull now firmly out of reach. Just one podium came in Bottas’ final season with the team on their way to fifth in the final standings.
For 2017, Williams were forced to adapt to Valtteri Bottas leaving for Mercedes with late notice, and did so by re-signing Felipe Massa. The team, with rookie Lance Stroll partnering the experienced Brazilian, were unable to challenge for podiums as frequently as in recent years, but ended up being the only team outside the top three to stand on the rostrum in 2017, thanks to Stroll’s smooth performance in Baku. After much speculation, Williams finally confirmed their 2018 driver line-up on 16th January, with rookie Sergey Sirotkin partnering Lance Stroll.
For the first time since 2012, Williams’ driver line-up started the season with zero wins between them. Robert Kubica was also signed as the team’s test and reserve driver, and competed in some Free Practice sessions throughout the season.
2018 was a season to forget for Williams. Their drivers scored only seven points between them in a car which was off the pace at most circuits. Paddy Lowe’s efforts as the team’s new Chief Technical Officer couldn’t help them from slipping to last in the Constructors’ Championship. Issues with the car from the very start of testing were never truly ironed out, though they were able to show turns of pace thanks to their Mercedes engines on the power-heavy Baku and Monza circuits.
After the end of their Martini sponsorship deal at the end of 2018, Williams feels like somewhat of a blank canvas for 2019. The team have an exciting new driver line-up this year, with reigning Formula 2 champion George Russell joining Robert Kubica, who returns to F1 after an eight season absence. Whether the machinery will be competitive enough to give them a fighting chance at points is another matter – but it certainly can’t get much worse than last season.
WILLIAMS’ RECENT F1 HISTORY
|2010||6th (69 points)||0||1||Rubens Barrichello, Nico Hulkenberg|
|2011||9th (5 points)||0||0||Rubens Barrichello, Pastor Maldonado|
|2012||8th (76 points)||1||1||Pastor Maldonado, Bruno Senna|
|2013||9th (5 points)||0||0||Pastor Maldonado, Valtteri Bottas|
|2014||3rd (320 points)||0||1||Felipe Massa, Valtteri Bottas|
|2015||3rd (257 points)||0||0||Felipe Massa, Valtteri Bottas|
|2016||5th (138 points)||0||0||Felipe Massa, Valtteri Bottas|
|2017||5th (83 points)||0||0||Felipe Massa, Lance Stroll, Paul di Resta|
|2018||10th (7 points)||0||0||Lance Stroll, Sergey Sirotkin|