Sunday 13th May 2012 marked the final time that Williams would get to bask in the glory of Formula 1 success for over a decade as Maldonado’s unforeseen heroics scored them their first win in almost 8 years at the Spanish Grand Prix. Perhaps Williams’ long standing success drought, that preceded this victory, had already foreshadowed the continuation of poor performances that would follow, but in 2023 are the tables starting to turn in favour of the iconic British team?
In this modern era of Formula 1, Williams have become exclusively synonymous with being the sport’s resident backmarker, long gone are the glory days of the 80s and 90s that saw the humble, homegrown team take the fight to their much more established competitors, instead they have been relegated to the back of the line as they fight for pointless positions week in and week out. As hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when Williams’ success dwarfed that of their legendary rivals as they took back to back championships on more than one occasion. Whilst Williams are a long way off from returning to their once champion winning ways, they’ve managed to get the world of F1 talking in recent weeks with a sudden uptick in form that has seemingly come out of nowhere.
In order to breakdown this sudden surge in performance we will first have to look at where this has come from, is it the drivers? Or is it the car?
The choice to establish Albon as the number 1 driver at Williams has perhaps been one of the best decisions that the team have made in recent years, he is squeezing the absolute maximum out of the car every time he takes to the track and he’s proven to be quite the bench mark for his rookie teammate, Logan Sargeant. If we reflect on the season so far it’s evident to see that the Williams car is able to hold its own amongst the top 5 teams in the hands of Alex Albon, instead of putting it all on the line for one solitary point, Albon is able to cut a bit deeper into the top 10, securing a P8 at Silverstone and a P7 in Canada. So, what about his teammate, Logan Sargeant?
It’s fair to say that Sargeant had a rocky start to the year, but given that he’s a rookie I don’t think that caught many people off guard. However, this past weekend looked to be a turning point for the only American driver on the grid as he took his highest finish of the season, coming in at P11. If Williams continue on their upwards trajectory it will only be a matter of time before Sargeant finally achieves his first points finish as it looks as though he is just going from strength to strength as the season progresses.
Speaking of progress, we also have to consider how big of a role the car development has played in allowing the drivers to make the steady improvements that they have. There has always been a long-standing debate in Formula 1 questioning who plays a bigger role in a team’s success, man or machine? This really can be argued either way but in order to achieve the overriding goal of winning championships it’s mandatory that both components work in harmony.
When analysing what makes the Williams car so strong, we can see that a clear pattern begins to emerge, the Williams is one of the quickest cars in a straight line and this additional speed allows the drivers to retain their position on tracks that suit them such as Canada, Silverstone and Monza. Even with the threat of quicker drivers behind them, their pace advantage is so great that it invalidates the DRS of those drivers and makes it near impossible to overtake for most cars. Other teams have been quick to take notice of Williams’ straight line speed with Redbull Team Principal, Christian Horner, admitting that the reigning world champions took inspiration from the design of Williams’ diffuser and applied this to their RB19. If you had told anyone after those Monaco pictures were released revealing the Williams floor, that Redbull would be the ones taking inspiration from Williams I don’t think anyone would’ve believed you, but clearly the team are taking steps in the right direction and in F1’s current development war, everyone else is starting to take notice.
Taking all of the above into consideration, do I think Williams will win again? Yes, but not before the new regulation change in 2026 at the very least. James Vowels has been extremely transparent when discussing the severe lack of resources and investments that the team have been struggling through and when you realistically look as how long these fundamental infrastructural issues will take to fix, it’s obvious that Williams will need a few years at the minimum before they can honestly say that they’re on the same level as the midfield teams. Despite this, I don’t think Williams returning to the top of the grid at some point in the near future can be completely dismissed because that’s just the nature of the sport. We’ve seen teams such as Aston Martin and now McLaren seemingly do a 180 over the course of a year and in that same breath we’ve seen record breaking teams such as Mercedes gradually drop down the order showing that nothing is certain in Formula 1.
Williams are currently pushing way beyond the resources that they have and are exceeding the expectations that were placed on them at the beginning of the season, seeing the team achieve so much with so little begs the question, what can they achieve once they catch up to the bigger teams?