Williams seems to have taken a rapid nosedive from its last year’s standings. From being the fifth in the constructor’s championship in 2017, the first two races have seen the iconic British team scrapping at the bottom of the grid.
With a technical director like Paddy Lowe, aerodynamics director Dirk de Beer and a power unit from Mercedes, one would expect Williams to be a strong contender in the midfield. But from observing the team’s winter testing and its performance in the first two races, the outfit looks like a clueless newbie team. It had two inexperienced drivers, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin and a one recently back to action, but experienced, Robert Kubica as the development driver.
At the beginning of the year, Lowe said the team is taking an evolutionary approach to car development, i.e. instead of starting from the ground up, they will build on their past success, incrementally.
So what happened?
Even Paddy Lowe is at a loss for words when trying to explain what happened at Bahrain. He said: “Everyone in the field has their problems. But we have bigger ones.”
The team’s position in the first two races came as a shock to the British engineer. “The car was not as fast as we wanted at the winter tests. But the data gave reason to believe that we would be in 6th or 7th place. That’s why we’re surprised that Melbourne and especially Bahrain failed to confirm that forecast.”
Team boss Claire Williams said: “I hope the show at the first races was not representative. We know there are three shortcomings and we need to work on them as soon as possible.” When asked for details, Williams refused to elaborate. “We wash dirty laundry internally. We did a bad job, and now we really have to hang in there, to turn that around,”.
The drivers say “No grip, no balance.”
Paddy Lowe thinks tyre management is hurting them a lot. “We did not get the lap time we expected out of the soft compounds supersoft and ultrasoft. The drivers are unable to get a grip on the tyres in the race. Sometimes they are too cold, sometimes too hot,”
When analysing the lap times, Lowe noticed, “We lost time everywhere.”
The team is also losing time on straights, Lowe admitted. “Yes, we have changed the philosophy of the car,” he said. Such a move is often associated with high risks.
If a team like Williams that stayed true to its minimal air drag design for this long, and then just flipped the switch overnight, there will be consequences. Longer wheelbase, longer angles of attack – these are things even a team like Mercedes dares to be cautious about.
Looking at Williams FW41, it hard to figure out what is causing the problem. Unlike Sauber, you cannot visually determine the reason for something going wrong.
According to some sources, the new front wing does not work as hoped. Plus it is believed the engineers went a step too far when pulling in the tail and tailoring the trim. No other car has a back with such a big outlet opening as the FW41.
The Driver problem
One of the first things everyone suggests is to give more driver time to Kubica during free practice so he can help figure out the problem. But that may not be enough to salvage the issue. Despite his experience, Kubica has been out of the game for a while. Plus a good driver can make the car more drivable, but cannot identify or fix engineering issues. In addition, William’s race drivers are so green that if they lose the chance at free practice, they won’t be able to handle the car during the race.
Getting rid of Felipe Massa was a big mistake, Williams probably realises it by now. Despite lack of any major achievements, the Brazilian could have been a benchmark for the car’s development and for Stroll. “Two young drivers in the team does not make the task easier if the car does not work,” moans Lowe. Williams has trapped itself in a vicious circle.
The Williams Pavilion gave the impression of helplessness. This could turn into hopelessness when the team realizes that it cannot fall out of the trap. “It would be wrong to become depressed now,” Lowe warns. “Only if we work purposefully, can we reverse the trend.”