The Struggle Continues for Williams F1 Season

It is fair to say the last two seasons at Williams F1 have been nothing short of catastrophic. The impact of its back-of-the grid performances hit home last week when the team announced its financial results for the first six months of this year.

From finishing fifth in the constructors’ championship in 2017 to 10th and last in 2018 resulted in a loss of revenue of just over £14million, from £60.7million down to £46.3million, compared to the same period last year.

The knock-on effect for EBITDA (earnings before tax, depreciation and amortisation) resulted in Williams posting a loss of £16.8million, compared to a small profit of £0.2million for January-June 2018.

Group CEO Mike O’Driscoll said the results reflected “a challenging half-year for our F1 operations”. He added: “Although we are enduring another tough season on track, we have seen some recent signs of improvement, and we continue to attract interest from potential partners as one of the longest standing Formula One teams.”

The departure of Martini as title sponsor, and the exits of drivers Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin, who both brought with them considerable funds, naturally had a major impact in the Williams F1 season.

Some of that financial chasm has been filled in with the arrival of a new title sponsor in ROKiT, who recently extended their partnership through to 2023, and from the backers of Robert Kubica in Polish oil refiner and petrol retailer Orlen.

At least Williams has taken a positive step with its announcement on Friday that it has signed a five-year extension to a contract with Mercedes that guarantees power-unit supply through to the end of 2025. 

The suggestion from O’Driscoll is that Williams is hoping it has hit rock bottom in terms of its losses and that the full end-of-year results will not be as detrimental.

A second successive 10th-place finish for Williams F1 this season, though, will have another impact on income, particularly given the prize money that will be paid to Williams compared to not just the leading teams but those in midfield.

It is hard to believe that after finishing third in 2014 and 2015, as the team embraced the current hybrid era, that so many wrong turns have since been taken.

Rather than building on such a solid platform, erosion in terms of poor car development set in, to the extent that one of the most famous names in F1 has crumbled to its knees in light of its embarrassing performances.

Instability in the car that manifested itself in 2017 became “very extreme” last season. Those words were used by Paddy Lowe, appointed as Williams’ chief technical officer in March 2017 after helping Mercedes win three consecutive constructors’ and drivers’ titles with Mercedes from 2014-16.

Lowe, though, ultimately paid the price for delivering another abysmal car this season when he was given a leave of absence just over a week before the season-opening grand prix in Australia before finally being released towards the end of June.

The Williams F1 season suffered the ignominy of missing the first two and a half days of testing due to the late completion of the FW42, a situation that deputy team principal Claire Williams described as “embarrassing”.

When Williams let slip during an interview later in testing that “Clearly we know the main culprits … not the main culprits, but the main elements to why we are delayed,” the writing was on the wall for Lowe, and so it proved.

Sadly, the embarrassment has continued on track, with drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica consistently being the slowest cars in qualifying, and often the last two to take the chequered flag.

At this stage, with two-thirds of the season elapsed, Williams has scored just one point from Kubica’s 10th-placed finish in the German Grand Prix, and even then that is the subject of an Alfa Romeo appeal against the penalties it received after that race.

After finishing seventh and eighth respectively, Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi were handed 30-second time penalties for a breach of F1’s clutch regulations. The appeal is due to be heard on September 24.

Certainly, at this stage, Williams is poised for the worst season in its history, which is saying something given it finished with just seven points from 21 races last term.

In short, the problems with this year’s car is that it requires more downforce and less drag, and like a slow-turning oil tanker, such issues take an inordinate amount of time to correct.

Claire Williams says the team has “made a lot of changes over nine months” in order to stem the tide of failure on and off-track, but as she pointed out it “is going to take us a long time to get ourselves back into the midfield”.

The hope is that 2020 represents an about-turn in fortunes. She said: “I’m just hoping that next year’s campaign is a whole lot more successful for us than this year’s because this is the second year of pain for Williams and we don’t want to find ourselves at the back of the grid next year. We’re doing everything to make sure that we don’t.”

From the perspective of all within Williams F1, their season surely cannot get any worse.

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Written by: Ian Parkes

Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose. – Ayrton Senna