I’ll never forget Jerez 1997. Jacques Villeneuve was a great little driver, and the courageous audacity with which he leapt into the danger zone to secure his first and only title will never be forgotten. Brilliant.
But without taking anything away from Jacques (or Damon), after Damon Hill smashed everyone a year earlier, everyone knew that the battle was probably more fairly characterised as “Michael Schumacher versus [Insert Name of Competent Williams Driver Here]”.
In short, through the 80s and 90s and even into the new century, Williams was not just A force to be reckoned with in Formula 1, it was very definitely one of THE greatest F1 forces of all time. Senna was fighting WILLIAMS. Schumacher fought WILLIAMS.
Sir Frank Williams was the MAN.
So it’s sad beyond words to contemplate the forthcoming and seemingly inevitable fate of this great little group of racers from Oxfordshire. Dead last in 2018, they may have the incredible talent of Robert Kubica’s one-and-a-half hands to rely on this year, but it seems unlikely that Williams will pull off any kind of recovery now. And it will probably be the exact opposite of a recovery. They just don’t have the money, the top people, or even – two days into winter testing – a running CAR. Even the 2019 livery is horrible.
I fear that 2019 or 2020 could be Williams’ last on the grid.
Can they hang in there? The guys (and one particular girl, but we’ll get to that) in charge, not to mention the hundreds of staff and thousands of fans, must be crossing every finger and toe that Liberty Media somehow gets the budget cap through for 2021. I can’t see it happening. But it really is their only chance.
If Williams can keep paying the bills, and stop the spiral into completely ridiculous levels of performance, they at least stand a CHANCE of not being dead last in 2021 and beyond.
My advice to Williams? Sack Claire Williams.
How many times since she took over from her brilliant but ailing Dad have we heard Claire wonder openly if she’s up to the task of having the fate of this amazing group of people and brand in her hands? Do we need to lose the Williams name from above the garages for everyone else to agree that her hunch was indeed right all along?
With the demise of Monisha Kaltenborn in mind, and the similar way in which she wallowed in Sauber’s decline until she left, let me say right now that this has absolutely nothing to do with whether women can run F1 teams. Of course they can. What this has to do with is the fact that Claire Williams has been at the helm for the entire duration of this alarming descent into the abyss.
Paddy Lowe, too. But as weird as Paddy is, and as obvious it is to blame him for Williams’ situation (and especially the FW42 delay) instead, he has at least proved himself SOMEWHERE. He is an incredible, brilliant engineer. Who’s going to argue with that? I’m quite sure he is very much centrally involved in how Williams does business, which means he’s up to his neck in the team’s current predicament. But does he at least deserve a shot at taking full responsibility and accountability? For that, he needs to be the boss.
I mean, ask yourself honestly … you have an F1 team. You can pick a team principal. Do you select Paddy Lowe, central to Williams’ sensational active suspension of 1992? Paddy Lowe, a leading figure during McLaren’s Mika Hakkinen years? Paddy Lowe, one of the architects of Mercedes’ current dominance? Or Claire Williams, daughter of a legend? Claire Williams, press officer?
Sir Frank has a tough decision to make.