Will Williams Ever Become a Big Formula 1 Team Again?
By sheer reputation alone, Williams are not just a big team, they’re massive. Boasting no fewer than 114 race victories, nine constructors’ titles and seven world drivers’ titles, they’re one of the most successful teams in the history of the sport.
But that was the past and they haven’t been serious title contenders since Jacques Villeneuve bagged the last of these titles back in 1997.
Pastor Maldonado’s win at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix briefly hinted at a return to the good old days, but it was just one of those days when everything came together and circumstances conspired to provide a false positive.
So can Williams return to those glory days of the '70s, '80s and '90s?
The Financial Future Is Murky
It’s one of the more depressing aspects of the multi-million dollar business that is Formula One racing that smaller privateer teams simply cannot match the spending might of the big automotive giants.
Williams have been known to be struggling to attract big sponsors after losing the backing of title sponsor AT&T at the start of 2012.
And the BBC reported only days ago that the team has seen its losses widen for the first half of this season to £5.6 million up from £4.6 million at the same time last year.
Key Staff Have Left
One of the architects of the brief Williams revival in 2012 was highly regarded operations engineer Mark Gillan. His departure at the end of last season for family reasons followed that of Sam Michael to McLaren.
Williams has done the best that it can in reshuffling staff accordingly, but any team is bound to suffer if it loses two of the sport’s best men.
Sir Frank Can’t Go on Forever
Arguably the biggest driving force behind the success of the team has been the passion of founder Sir Frank Williams.
Despite the road accident in 1986 that left him confined to a wheelchair, Williams still travels to many of the European races and is as dedicated as ever, working long hours from the team's factory in Grove in an attempt to secure new sponsors and business deals.
Now 71 years of age, Williams himself acknowledges that he can’t go on forever, and his daughter Claire has been groomed to take over when he finally calls it a day.
But when the talisman of the team departs, will Williams still manage to attract the biggest players in the business? Only time will tell.
Are the Drivers Good Enough?
Williams has only scored a solitary point during the 2013 season thanks to Pastor Maldonado’s 10th-place finish in Hungary.
It’s known that Maldonado comes with substantial government funding that is a big positive for the Williams team, but there’s no doubt he is good enough after winning the GP2 championship and securing a stunning win at Spain last year.
New teammate Valtteri Bottas also has previous pedigree as a GP3 series winner and has also proved a consistent finisher this season, albeit just out of the points, so the problem must lie with the car.
Reasons to Be Cheerful
Fear not Williams fans because it’s not all doom and gloom.
According to the recent BBC report, Sir Frank is optimistic about the future. The business is still in good health with a turnover of £43.5 million so far this season, and there are new sponsorship acquisitions already in place with the potential of many more to come.
And Williams himself even went so far as to predict that personnel changes within the team could see a return to the top step of the podium.
"The 2013 Formula 1 season has not brought the sort of results expected of a team with our history and pedigree. We have made strong personnel changes this year that will aid in returning us to winning ways."