Williams

Williams

Team Details

  • Headquarters: Grove, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom
  • Team manager: Sir Frank Williams
  • Constructors' Championships: 9
  • Races: 623
  • Wins: 114
  • Pole Positions: 128

Hard as it probably is for some of F1's younger fans to imagine, but there was a time, not so long ago, when Williams were sitting pretty. A time when their level of domination was on a par with that achieved by Red Bull in recent years; when Dietrich Mateschitz's team wasn't even a glint in his eye, all the world's top drivers beat a path to a different door.

In fact, there wasn't just one but three ages of Williams: the turn of the 1980s, the middle years of that decade and then a five-year spell in the 1990s when Sir Frank's team piled up success like it was going out of fashion. Which, thinking about it, was precisely what happened to them in subsequent years. There was Pastor Maldonado's win in the 2012 Spanish GP but last season's showing - ninth in the Constructors' Championship - showed that Williams have emphatically not moved forward.

But neither are they in the sort of trouble some of their rivals appear to be. Diversification away from F1 (in the shape of Williams Hybrid Power and their technology centre in Qatar) has brought in more income, as did their stock market floatation in 2011. Furthermore, and unlike some of their current rivals, Williams don't need to bring in expertise from third-party suppliers; everything they need bar engines is already under the roof of their Grove HQ and while their pockets aren't as deep now as they once were, there's surely more than enough resources in place to do better.

Isn't there? One would think so, yet it's not like they haven't been here (or rather down there) before in recent times. Putting a finger on the malaise is tricky: there has been chopping and changing of senior personnel in the last few years - and at a more rapid rate than rivals, perhaps. But they aren't the only team to experience staff turnover.

More than anything, the feeling is that Williams have never really recovered from their link-up with BMW, which promised much at the start of the 21st century but ultimately failed to deliver. The fact that the German giant promptly went out and bought Sauber suggested that attempts to assert itself did not go down too well with Williams, whose status as a true independent team is not in doubt. Yet in an era when manufacturer influence has increasingly held sway, it's an attitude that has appeared anachronistic.

Yet it's also indicative of a bloodymindedness that has served Williams well in times past - particularly during the early years when Frank Williams were bywords for struggle against the odds. Putting teams together piecemeal and running his operation from a phone box at one stage, Williams first entered F1 in 1969 but had to wait a decade before he finally started to reap his reward.

The breakthrough came after two crucial changes. Firstly, Williams persuaded engineer Patrick Head to come on board while he also landed a lucrative sponsorship deal with Saudia Airlines. Head's FW07 was immediately on the pace when introduced in 1979, with Alan Jones taking the title the following year. Two constructors' titles also came the team's way in this period while Keke Rosberg won the World Championship in 1982.

Williams' second run of success came in the mid-1980s after they secured a Honda engine deal, with Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell duelling for glory and creating headlines aplenty. Two more constructors' titles came the team's way, while Piquet became World Champion in 1987. Either he or Mansell should really have won it the year before as well, but their squabbles enabled Alain Prost to stay in touch - the McLaren driver then cashing in when Mansell's tyre failed in iconic fashion during Adelaide's season finale.

With Piquet then departing, Honda went with him. But, once again, Williams didn't spend too long in the lurch - their new partnership with Renault subsequently proving the most successful in the team's history. Five more constructors' titles were to come in the 1990s, with Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve all scaling the heights of success. It's a run that took in technical innovation (they led the way in the field of active suspension, before its cleverness saw it promptly banned) but also tragedy, with Ayrton Senna losing his life in a crash during the 1994 San Marino GP.

There was no reason for Williams to greet the 21st century with anything other than optimism when BMW came on board in 2000, but things didn't work out as they had hoped. Granted, the timing was unfortunate - the Michael Schumacher/Ferrari partnership was just about to cast a deep, dark shadow upon all of its rivals - and while there were flickers of promise at times (and excitement as well from Juan Pablo Montoya) a disappointing 2004 season suggested that momentum was ebbing. By the middle of the following year, the plug had been pulled.

And despite standing second only to Ferrari in terms of success, Williams have since struggled. Given how much of their success came after he was rendered quadriplegic in a road accident early in 1986, it's easy to overlook the effect that ordeal might have had on the team boss. Now 71, Sir Frank remains in charge, although it's his daughter Claire who spends more time at races. The team's spiral downwards also coincided with Head's decision to step back from a hands-on role, with current Red Bull design chief Adrian Newey also instrumental in their 1990s successes before departing for McLaren.

Flitting between engine suppliers almost by the season in recent times, Williams have now settled on Mercedes-Benz, which sounds like a good move if the pundits' predictions will have you believe. Yet Mercedes will prioritise the challenge of their own Silver Arrows and it's clear that Williams - who previously moved from Cosworth to Toyota and back before another spell with Renault - are no longer seen by manufacturers as the preferred partners they once were. Can they resurrect themselves again?