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Williams to make changes and set new course for the future
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Williams to make changes and set new course for the future
Posted By: James Allen  |  02 May 2011   |  8:33 am GMT  |  51 comments

It pains many in Formula 1 to see the Williams team’s difficult start to the season. Around for over 30 years, responsible for some of the most celebrated moments of F1 history, they are still popular with millions of fans and are many people’s second favourite team.

But there is no getting away from the fact that the beginning of 2011 has not been kind to them. Like Ferrari and Mercedes they are a team which looked better in pre-season testing than in the races and, like Ferrari and Mercedes, the pressure is on to fix it, starting this weekend in Turkey.

Battling with Lotus (Williams)


Despite taking a bold approach to the rear end aerodynamics of the car, with a very low gearbox to allow better airflow to the rear wing, so far the car has not proven fast or robust enough to cut it with the opposition.

In qualifying in the three races to date, they have been consistent at least, with a firm downpayment on 15th place on the grid in each race and either 17th or 18th place with the other car. They have placed a lot of resource and effort into engineering the gearbox and making the driveshafts robust, but faced the old problem of having to get on top of reliability issues before being able to push development.

They are playing catch up on the latest blown diffuser technologies. Meanwhile some other steps have not matched up to expectations, such as the front wing. Technical director Sam Michael says that the car is better than it is being made to look and should be judged once it has all the intended pieces in place.

Upgrades on the diffuser should be on the car in Barcelona, while in Istanbul this weekend they have a modified floor, new front wing, new rear wing and new brake ducts to both cars. We will see whether that puts them closer to the top ten.

All teams have tricky moments, but normally they are only answerable to themselves, their shareholders and their sponsors. It is unfortunate for Williams that their situation co-incides with the flotation of part of the company so they now have institutional and public shareholders as well as an ambitious young shareholder in Toto Wolff.

In such situations changes need to be seen to be made to remedy the situation.

Williams chairman Adam Parr has already indicated that there will be some restructuring and the technical department is under scrutiny, with many expecting an announcement quite soon. The simplistic view is that the responsibility lies with Michael, but lead driver Rubens Barrichello has stepped in to defend the Australian,

“I have known Sam since our days at Jordan,” he said. “The problem is not that he is the wrong man for the job, but that he has too much to do.”

Williams is a team which, because of its past, has a large factory and therefore a big overhead. It still has ambition to be on the McLaren/Red Bull/Ferrari level, but is struggling to find its true level in modern F1. So sometimes it does not have the resources to do what it wants to do, or used to be able to do. And that means being prudent in deploying the resources that they have. It also means they are not always able to deliver the car in definitive specification from the start of the season.

That said, the development programme has been pretty good in recent years. Let’s not forget how the car performed in the second half of last season, with a pole position (albeit in strange conditions) and consistent top eight qualifying and race runs.

However there are suggestions that it’s not just about the technical team and that Parr’s position may be under review as well. No doubt some heads will roll at Williams shortly, but the team has a difficult balance to strike between taking the correct new direction for the future on the one hand and unsettling the team on the other.

Wolff was in China to check on progress (Williams)


According to Auto Motor und Sport, minority shareholder Toto Wolff is taking a keen interest in the changes and one senses that he is less loyal to Michael than Parr is.

AMS also suggests that Patrick Head is going to retire completely, which is not what he was saying at the start of the season after the team floated on the Frankfurt stockmarket. We will see if that is the case, or if he maintains an overview role, as he has done in recent years.

Parr told me at a pre-season media lunch that the team does not need to win to survive, but that the business model calls for them to finish in the top five or six in the championship as a minimum.

They have no points at the moment, but sixth placed team Sauber, have only seven points, so nothing is lost yet and the picture can change quickly over the course of a long season.

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51 Comments
  1. Bruce Hoult says:

    Looking at the results in recent years, if you could somehow design a car to be absolutely specialized and get 1-2′s on two tracks in the calendar (Monaco & Singapore? Monza & Canada?) then you’d finish anywhere from 4th to 6th in the constructor’s championship, even if you didn’t pick up a single point in the rest of the season.

    1. Andy says:

      Force India seems to bought into that idea

  2. CGM says:

    Bit confused by Michael’s statement that the car should be judged once it has all the intended pieces in place as I don’t recall any previous reports quoting him saying that all the pieces aren’t qute ready and won’t be for a while (or similar). Then again, maybe that aint the sort of thing you’d say whilst the Team is in the middle of a float… Having said that, all the best to them as we need them chipping-away at the top-tier teams instead of sliding down the grid.

  3. Lee Grant says:

    It’s very sad but Williams has gone the way that Lotus did; years of glory which eventually faded & ultimately died.

    I hate to sound cruel about a thoroughly British institution but James’ article implies that Williams needs to re-invent itself

    They obviously have talent available to them but it always seems that their car is heavily compromised in some way due to a budget implication – using this engine or that driver in exchange for a horse-choking amount of cash.

    It seems that they’ve struggled since the BMW days but that could hardly be called a roaring success.

    I hope they can sort this out and that the new bits being bolted onto the car in the next few races can push them up the grid.

  4. Jeff says:

    Formula One is a harsh sport. Success breeds success and with a steady decline in Williams budget and no top notch drivers (sorry Rubens but its time)its hard too see a turn around.

    Their best bet is to be bought up by somebody who loves the sport and has the cash. Sam Michael may need more head count but if the cash is not available then its not going to happen. They have stood still for too long.

    They need a Dietrich Mateschitz.

  5. MISTER says:

    I hope and wish them to get back in the fight for the top10 places. Just like the Ferrari and Mercedes, we would like to see Williams in the middle of the action.
    In the end, battling and pushing is what we want, not struggeling to finish races.

    James, any news on the progress Mercedes and Ferrari made in these past weeks?

  6. O.S. says:

    Nice article James, it clearly has not been the start for the team many hoped for after testing.

    However, without sounding too optimistic last year’s start of season was hardly encouraging.

    Barrichello’s first half of the season :
    10 8 12 12 9 Ret 14 14 4 5

    Hulkenberg’s:
    14 Ret 10 15 16 Ret 17 13 Ret 10

    If they can get both Rubens and Pastor into Q2 in Turkey and threaten Q3 I believe they’d be happy, given the following:

    If we think of Q3 as usually comprising both Red Bulls, McLarens and Ferraris – that leaves four spaces remaining in the top 10.

    Last year Petrov as a rookie struggled to break into it – I can’t see that being a problem this year given his improvement.

    Force India seem to have upped their game, Sauber also seem to menace the top 10. Ditto Torro Rosso.

    So if we take both Mercedes, both Renault, both Torro Rosso, both Force India, both Sauber and both Williams cars that leaves potentially 12 cars fighting for the last 4 places in Q3. On present form Williams don’t stand much of a chance of beating those other teams.

    I don’t think the problem is an absolute decline with a dog car – more of a relative issue with these other teams taking great steps over the winter.

    To finish 6th in the championship would require beating Force India, Sauber and Torro Rosso.

    Can you see that happening?

    1. UnThisIsGettingReallyAnoyingOC says:

      AFter 3 races anything can happen. After 3 races last year Hamilton was mucking around Button had more luck than an Irish leprecharn, Vettel was couldn’t get through a race without his car braking in some way, Webber couldn’t get through a whole Gran Prix (quali in Bah, race strat in Aus and pole until first corner in Mal). Alonso and Massa were formation flaying and Petrov was onto his 15th chassis. Oh and virgin looked to be ok… or atleast better than HRT.

      What happened? Flying flopped, Hamilton worked his problems off the track out, Button went back to normal luck, Webber remembered how to drive again, Vettel self inflicted pain:car inflicated ratio went the opposite way. And a Virgin came 12th while petrov managed to out quali Kubica several times, put in the odd great race, dic with Hamilton in Hungary and Malaysia? and decide the world championship!

      Stuff happens quickly and without warning in F1 in pace terms. Lotus’ 1 second of updates could work and they could be out of Q1 into Q2 for the first time on pace not weather. Or they may not. Williams could finish a race! Torro Rosso could get quali pace into race form, Mercedes could continue their form, Renault may get more podiums.

      I agree that the top 10 usually is

      RBR x2
      McLaren x2
      Ferrari x2

      That leaves 4.

      But we can rule out severla drivers/teams.

      HRTx2
      Virginx2
      Lotusx2
      Willaims (guess who!)x1

      Force India, Sauber and Torro Rosso will all go for it depending on the track, you wont see both Force Indias and both Saubers in it for example I’m guessing as they are better at different tracks. THe top 3 teams only hold the advantage over all tracks because of their outright speed.

      Renaultx2 depending on track aswell
      Barichello if Williams can get the car working.

      Oh and Mercedes it really depends if their updates work.

      While I see what you’re trying to do, I don’t think it’s possible as how long the straights are and the corners tend to favour one team over another/

      ADMINS/MODERATORS: The same thing is happening again… I go to post click submit and it refreshes and doesn’t show the post as waiting for mod it just disappears… THROUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW

      1. Christopher Snowdon says:

        In short then, anything could happen?

  7. Tom in adelaide says:

    The driver line-up hardly helps. Is there a less marketable pairing on the grid?

    1. mtb says:

      Yes, but can they attract/afford a top-line driver?

    2. kowalsky says:

      you are right. Maybe trulli and kovalainen, but just maybe.

    3. Stefanos says:

      Rubens out-performed Hulkenberg last year – and Hulkenberg is very fast. However, as I have writen here in the past, going down the pay-driver route clearly shows them up as amateurs with little or no aspirations. Maldonado is absolutely nowhere. Even Sauber’s pay-driver is doing better.

      Add to this the IPO in Frankfurt… The response has been exceptionally bad and Christian Sylt’s recent article in the Telegraph summs it all up.

      Ever since they put Parr as CEO, the team has rushed from one ill-conceived decision to another. And for Parr to even suggest that he decides on Michael’s job is contrived and arrogant. Its him that should go.

      Is it too late? Quite possibly it is very close. They need to sell the entire team ASAP to someone with deep enough pockets and the stomach to start from scratch and rebuild the team (a-la force india). However, if that was really possible, Sauber would have done it long ago, as would STR, and Williams would not have had to resort to the IPO in order to give Head an exit. The major mistake was not selling to BMW (delusions of grandure took over, perhaps?).

      A bit of a tragedy, really.

  8. Phillip says:

    I agree that a change at the top maybe the best thing for the team, some new blood and a fresh outlook on where they are and what they need to do to get back on track. The problem is, who do they get replace with?

  9. Bmuz says:

    I don’t see the point of “heads will roll”…. Surely working with what they have and evolving is better than starting from scratch with new people that aren’t settled in and comfortable, unless they get super lucky and find themselves a dream team. By the way I’m not really a Williams fan.

    1. kowalsky says:

      i am. And i am sad to see them struggle. I have a lot of memories from the 80′s and 90′s, when they were racing and winning. I was at silverstone in 1987 when they dominated the weekend, and mansell had one of his finests victories. I was a fan of mansell rosberg and montoya. The only black spot in their curriculum is the fact that the greatest of them all died in one of their cars. And that’s a lot of crap to carry.

  10. TM says:

    “they are still popular with millions of fans and are many people’s second favourite team”

    I agree, and if only AV decided the championship they might win it! (A topical comment for those of us in the UK!).

    Jokes aside, I feel sad about the situation Williams is in. When I started watching F1 in the early 90s, Tyrrel and Lotus were both in similar stages and with comparable histories to Williams. At the time I didn’t know my F1 history, and probably assumed they’d always been mid to back-end runners. It makes me sad that new fans might think that of Williams.

    I really hope they rediscover their form and don’t go the way of Tyrrel and Lotus.

  11. Mattij says:

    Hi James,

    Could you give some insight into why 5th or 6th in championship is enough for them financially?

    Is there an “ensured” amount of awareness for partner brands in those positions? Is it that much more lucrative to be 6th than around 9th?

    1. Pit straight weaver says:

      That they’d be happy with 5th or 6th says everything about what’s gone wrong with the team (or more specifically its pen-pushing management).

  12. jmv says:

    Williams need a talented designer.. like Mike Coughlan. His ban is expired, right?

    1. Pit straight weaver says:

      Wonder how much they wish they’d given Newey what he wanted (a share in the team, reputedly – ironic that they’ve now sold a chunk of the shares to anyone with dish on the open market)? Newey must be having ‘haha – told you so’ moments every qualifying session. With Newey still on board they’d probably be closing in on Ferrari’s WC record by now. BAD decision Frank…

      1. mtb says:

        Newey was allegedly unhappy with the treatment of Hill as well. Additionally, he appears to need a new challenge every once in a while.

      2. Ambient Sheep says:

        Yup, refusing Newey equity in the team back in 95/96 was the worst decision they ever made.

    2. mtb says:

      Was he ever banned?

    3. jmv says:

      YESSS I was right! Coughlan joins Williams. Does this make me an “F1 analyst”?

      1. James Allen says:

        Or an insider!

      2. jmv says:

        Thanks James, wish I was an insider. I only got inside the paddock once.. (or I stood at the entrance of the pitlane) that was after the Hockenheim in 2003, that Montoya won, and dominated. The perfect weekend with a Colombian friend of mine (only Colombian flag in the midst of all the Schumacher fans)

        Hope that MC can help Williams turn things around. He’s always put innovative eye catching components on the cars he worked with.

  13. Bill Ware says:

    The Williams Team’s fortune is the direct result of operation by committee. Developing a team that only needs to finish 5th or 6th to meet their BUISNESS MODEL! Are you kidding me?!! Adam Parr and his boardroom cronies have turned the once great marque into a laughing stock and they will be gone within two years. What a shame…

    1. Stefanos says:

      So true…

    2. F430-FOX says:

      If they keep Parr for another 2 years the company is gone too …

      I do not think that an F1 team can be efficiently run by a lawyer. Obviously you need someone with the right business qualification (see Domenicali at Ferrari), but you need to have your heart in Motorsport too.

      And I can’t see this with Parr. I never really liked him and I was never convinced that he is the right person to lead an F1 team – any team.

      May he continue to care about some business model, but please somewhere else …

    3. Clinton says:

      I could never imagine Ron Denis or Martin Witmarsh saying, “Mclaren exists to come 5th, maybe 6th”.

  14. Stephen Kellett says:

    I always thought the flotation was a bad idea, for many reasons, one of them being a short-term view caused by the share owners. From what you are writing this is now starting to show its ugly head.

    You will never achieve anything if you are constantly living in a blame culture and looking to protect your position rather than actually focus on fixing the problem by taking sensible longer plans.

  15. Dale says:

    The problem with Williams is just that Williams. He’s the one who appointed Michael and always seems to (nowadays) go for second string drivers and he’s the one who let Newey go (how history would tell a different story if he’d given Newey what he wanted and in my view deserved – Williams should have made Newey part of the team ownership).

    Compare Williams and McLaren, Williams led by Williams and McLaren by Dennis and just look at the two compoanies side by side.

    The only way Williams will ever rise again if if Williams goes and they ties up with a prime manufacturer of the likes of VW.

    The past is just that the past, Tyrell were once a great team and since I’ve been a follower of F1 (late 60′s) only Ferrari & McLaren and always been around the top.

    Williams should go as should Michael (& Head he past his best years ago, followers of F1 of old will know Head’s view on Carbon Fibre as just one example as to how he thinks).

    What had Williams really done since Newey (designs) left? For a time they had by far the best engine in BMW & did nothing which is why BMW went their own way.

    Wiliams – RIP

  16. Pit straight weaver says:

    Sad, but like Lotus and Brabham and Tyrrell etc before them a once great team is, I fear, on its last legs. Almost embarrassing nowadays – Frank and Pat are getting really old and Parr/Michael have never, tbh, looked like challenging on a regular basis. Williams missed the last boat when BMW made them an offer. Accepting so-so drivers for money (Nakajima, Maldo, to name only the two most recent) certainly hasn’t helped, but I really wish Frank had resisted this route (just to keep total control). Unless they get a massive, Premiership-type, sugar-daddy to take them on, then I’m afraid they’ll never see another victory, let alone a period of sustained challenge. RIP Williams – thanks for the memories…

  17. Olivier says:

    It looks like the Williams engineers – no matter how bright they are – are loosing themselves into details. e.g. I have been hearing too many times how narrowly packaged their rear end is …

    What Williams need is a visionary designer. Someone like Adrian Newey. Someone who can give direction to those technical geniuses. Engineering is nothing without vision.

  18. Harvey Yates says:

    Reports of the death of the Williams team are premature. However, for a team that for the 18 years from 1980 won half the WCCs, an unmatched record (subject to official confirmation) it is a sad situation. Their last WCC was 13 seasons ago – and without doubt 14 is to come in 2011.

    They have always been frugal. I remember FW, in the days of active suspension, aghast at Ferrari replacing their reservoirs after every race while Williams refurbished theirs. Mind you, it might have cost them a race when they upped their rev limit for one race (Italy?) and the reservoirs on both cars broke, costing them a win.

    They have always gone against the ‘norm’ with regards personnel management. FW appeared to view drivers as a bolt on accessory. If the cost was too high they would then opt for a ‘reconditioned’ unit. This cost them many wins.

    They drove their own course through the (most recent) threat of a breakaway and this seemed to upset the rest of the grid. Honda pulling the plug in 1987 – something which I haven’t forgiven them for – took some effort on their behalf to overcome but the Judd-powered Williams was a fantastically well balanced car. I remember standing in awe at the way Mansell wrung every bit of performance from the chassis at the British GP in 88.

    They’ve had their fair share of greats. Piquet and Mansell gave us some superb memories but to me Jones was the most remarkable driver they had. He stunned everyone with how he performed in the car. His fearlessness was made for ground effects.

    It is hard to see one of the top three teams since the 3-litre formula of the 60s reduced to struggling to get into Q2. But they aint dead yet.

    1. mtb says:

      Was the ‘Piquet clause’ the sole reason that Honda dumped Williams? To my knowledge, Frank and Patrick have never had a great deal to say on the topic.

      Lotus’s best days were far behind by 1987, as evidenced by the cantankerous machinery that Senna was carrying around, so Honda’s decision always struck me as being as foolish as it was ungrateful.

  19. I’m sure Williams will work it out; I think all F1 outfits have to go through some kind of dark period or something similar. Only the team management are 100% aware of what went wrong, where and why. We, on our part, can produce long tirades using a bit of armchair expertise, but that’s all we can do really.

    I personally think they have got to chop Rubens (no offence) and give the second car to someone like Hulkenberg, despite his relative lack of experience, etc.. Established drivers just don’t have that desire and raw speed like the young lions who want to prove themselves at any cost. Rosberg/Nakajima pairing seemed to work a couple of years ago, why not go down the same path again?

    Also, true about Williams being “many people’s second favourite team”, at least that’s my case as I started watching F1 around 1991 as a kid, absolutely loved the liveries of those years, the cars (fairly dangerous cars, it has to be said) and the vibe. Current F1 might be more corporate but it’s still good fun and Williams surely deserves to be on the grid. 2013 might be their best chance to get a new manufacturer support and all…

    1. mtb says:

      I have always admired Williams for avoiding the corporate twaddle that forms the DNA of some teams, but the final laps of Jerez 1997 are something that I will never forget.

  20. F12010 to kill time until March says:

    Its true that the season has started poorly, I would give it until silverstone atleast. They made great strides in last year`s 2nd half with Rubens in particular. What he is missing in outright speed they are getting back in direction on car-development and experience.

    It is only natural that to take another steep forward from last season they have gone into some unknown territory, but I am sure they will sort the car out with time. I see it as a positive that they are taking the problems so seriously.

    Ferrari and Merc are also having problems, no budget restrictions there. But 6th is as much as they can get out of this season and I am sure they will battle close with Sauber and Force India for the best of the rest spot.

    Renault are podium contenders now and Merc will be on a roll very soon I am sure. Regular top 10 finishes will be difficult for those 2nd tier teams..

  21. mtb says:

    What is the general view in the paddock regarding Sam Michael? When he first took over race operations, quite a few mistakes were made during pit stops and with race strategies. The decline of the team could be linked to his ascent, but matters are more complicated to that, and this view is most likely unfair to him.

    BMW often had a less than flattering opinion of the Williams chassis, which was often stated publicly. The chassis probably wasn’t as bad as BMW suggested, but it probably wasn’t great either. The Sauber BMW team certainly outperformed Williams.

    1. James Allen says:

      Did it? Montoya and Ralf Schumacher were regular race winners in those days, whereas BMW Sauber won only once.

      1. Phil says:

        Too true!
        And one could even argue that Willams and Montoya could have had a WDC had it not been for over zealous officals at Indianapolis.

        Where could have Williams been now had that happened!

      2. mtb says:

        I was referring to the period of 2006-9.

  22. James Walton says:

    Well, I hope that Frank, Sam, Michael and Patrick get into work early today and chew on all the above food for thought. Whatever they’ve been doing for the last few years, it hasnt been good enough, right now its little more than a fading memory. Might Mr Slim want the whole team? Let the share value gently collapse and then bid for 100% at that price…by then the real estate will be worth more than the team, especially as he controls the sponsorship..

  23. Jeroen says:

    I feel so sad about Williams, the have to be very careful with there next steps.

    Williams might not realise this but his loyal fan base and those fans still harbouring a soft spot for the team are rapidly evaporating.

    With new successful teams on the block and teams throwing a lot of money at becoming one, Williams are in danger of extinction.

    Their share float has only further compromised their future ability to attract an investor with deep pockets or an engine manufacturer, who both will not want to own a big chunk with a load of private investors.

    Williams should have ( like mclaren) sold 40% or so to a rich partner IMO. This would have saved them from having to attrack pay drivers and allowed them to attract and retain talent within the team.

    Now all they can do is either hope year on year they do a brawn or wait for anyone willing to fund them with the additional £30-50m they need to compete at the top.

    Lastly I would fire anyone if it was my team who’s ambition it is to fight for 5th or 6th

  24. Bruce Hoult says:

    Someone here had inside info?

    Sam Michael and chief aerodynamicist Jon Tomlinson are both gone from the end of the the year, and Mike Coughlan is in!

    1. James Walton says:

      Re-reading JA’s article in the light of what has just happened, I think he trod a very careful line between warning the world what was about to occur, and simply spilling the beans. Well done JA.

    2. Harvey Yates says:

      Can’t say I’m too happy about Coughlan coming back into F1. Poor signal there from FW.

  25. Barnard says:

    Sam Michael and Jon Tomlinson have now resigned

  26. Pit straight weaver says:

    So, one of the cheats of 2007 is back – having been away from F1 for three years and missing all the tech changes, do Williams really think he’s the man to help them catch the pack? Sam Michael has never impressed me, so the only surprise for me was that he had a 10-year run, but Coughlan? They’ll be signing up Pat Symonds next..
    Parr should make for the exit too, imo, but frankly (no pun intended), whatever Williams do now is probably too late, short of selling out to Gulf Arabs or Russian oligarchs (which would surely be beyond the pale for a control freak like Frank, and on current form I doubt anyone would think them much of a catch tbh). Nope, I reckon Frank and Patrick will be rueing missed opportunities with Newey and BMW into their old(er) age..

    Was a great fan in the 80s and 90s – liked them a lot more than Mclaren, but their treatment of drivers (no surprise they’ve never had double world champions, considering how dominant their cars have been at certain periods) was always an Achille’s heel, and that, on top of mistakes with Newey and, to a lesser extent, BMW, means I’m now happy to think of them as a once-glorious, storied Brit team along with Vanwall, Cooper, Lotus (yes, the real Lotus is an ex-team), Brabham and Tyrrell. Bring on the new teams.

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