Williams F1: A Former Formula 1 Giant Now Heading Towards the Minnow Status

Matt HillContributor IIIAugust 7, 2011

NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 08:  Rubens Barrichello of Brazil and Williams drives during practice for the British Formula One Grand Prix at the Silverstone Circuit on July 8, 2011 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Empires rise and empires fall. It's the way of the world. 

Teams in sports who dominate their field can very quickly become also-rans with their triumphs and former glories, nothing more than fading memories. In the world of Formula 1 we have seen this happen before. Sometimes this can go so far that great names end up no longer being on the Formula 1 grid.

During the nineties Tyrrell, Lotus and Brabham all went out of Formula 1 (in their original form in the case of Lotus). All of them were legendary teams with many championships to their name and ended up stuck at the back struggling to perform

Brabham collapsed in a mire of accusations of fraud, using pay drivers with more money than talent and with cars that were so far off the pace they failed to qualify or even pre-qualify. Tyrrell's long-term owner Ken Tyrrell was so disgusted he was being forced to take on a pay driver in the form of Ricardo Rosset that he immediately quit the team he had spent so many years making. After seeing Rosset's dismal performances you can understand Ken's decision.

Watching these great teams do so poorly must have been difficult for the people that supported them all through their many years in the sport. Some teams have managed to survive and are continuously successful, with the two main examples of this being Ferrari and Mclaren. Both of them have managed to have long and continued success over their years in the sport.

11-12 Oct 1996:  Damon Hill of the Williams Renault team during practice for the Japanese grand prix at Suzuka, Japan. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport
Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images
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Over the past few years we have watched another team with a fantastic history being dragged further down the grid struggling to live up to their history. This team has won the constructors' title nine times and has 113 race victories to its credit, Williams F1. 

Williams in the past years of the sport have been near unbeatable and yet over the past few years have been relegated further and further down the grid and instead of wins, they are trying to scrape for some of the lower points paying positions.   

Their last win came seven years ago at the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix and they only really got that due to Ferrari taking it a bit easy and making a few slip-ups. Their last year of really fighting for wins on merit was the 2003 season which is now eight years ago.

This for a team with such an illustrious past is a real slump in form.

If you go back to the eighties and nineties they were a team capable of supreme dominance and this was Williams golden era.  The 1992 season saw Williams dominate due to their technical innovations and no one could really challenge them. The car was unbeatable.

Throughout the mid-nineties they were one of the teams to beat, winning the constructors' title in 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997. The beginning of this slump began in the 1998 season. They had to run a near identical car as in '97 and the car just simply wasn't up to it and Mclaren and Ferrari dominated.

SILVERSTONE, ENGLAND - JULY 9:  Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia and Williams in action during practice for the Formula One British Grand Prix at Silverstone Circuit on July 9, 2004 in Northamptonshire, England.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

In the years since then they have built cars capable of winning races but not a car capable of winning championships. During 2002 and 2003 they came second behind the all-dominating Ferrari/Schumacher combination. Their tie-up with BMW made their cars incredibly powerful but also made them fragile and their cars were unreliable.

Since the 2003 season they have been gradually slipping down the field. Nico Rosberg managed to drag the car consistently into the points and even managed to score on the occasional podium but ever since 1997 the trend has seen them slip further and further from the front.    

Williams are now occupying a gap between the midfield and the new teams and sometimes being dragged into battles with them. Instead of battling with the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Mclaren they are fighting Team Lotus and the midfield teams whose cars are struggling.

They currently sit ninth in the constructors' table, 18 points behind Toro Rosso above them. It's true that they should have more points this year than they currently do as in Monaco, Pastor Maldonado was on course for sixth position before being rammed off the road by Lewis Hamilton.

Maldonado is bringing a large sum of money to Williams through his sponsors, PDVSA, which without doubt helped him get his seat. By winning the GP2 title last year it did also help set him up for Formula 1. However, drivers that bring a lot of money like Pastor often are under heavy scrutiny

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - JULY 29:  Pastor Maldonado of Venezuela and Williams drives during practice for the Hungarian Formula One Grand Prix at the Hungaroring on July 29, 2011 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
Lars Baron/Getty Images

Maldonado has been a curious figure with very strong qualifying pace and seemingly very poor race pace. He has yet to score a point with his best drive being the performance in Monaco I mentioned earlier. However the Monaco race has been the only time he looked like he could score points on race day and his best finishing position for the year has been just 14th.

Due to this poor race pace he actually sits behind Jarno Trulli for Team Lotus and Vitantonio Liuzzi in the HRT in the drivers' championship. If Maldonado can finally get his race pace sorted I think he could be a decent driver for Williams and prove those people wrong who still think he is man with more money than talent.

Barrichello has managed to get the car into the points, finishing ninth in Montreal and Monaco. Apart from those two races he has reliability issues and simply not been on the pace.

So what has relegated Williams from a championship outfit into an also-ran team?

For sure the financial issues the team has by remaining independent means that they are unable to do some of the the more extensive development programmes done by the front-runners. Also they have had to, in some people's eyes, look at drivers in terms of what money they can bring as well as their talent.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 01:  Kazuki Nakajima of Japan and Williams drives during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit on November 1, 2009 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Kazuki Nakajima was placed in the team many feel due to his Toyota connections rather than his race results. The 2009 season saw him totally outclassed by Nico Rosberg, with Rosberg scoring 34.5 points through the season compared to Nakajima's zero.

Also, many people were surprised to see Nico Hulkenberg being replaced after what was considered to be a promising first season. Maldonado brought so much money it was impossible for them to keep Hulkenberg and with Pastor winning the GP2 title showing he has some ability it was no contest. If they didn't have to worry about money I feel they would have probably kept Hulkenberg.

The team was recently placed on the stock market, something done purely to help secure new investment in an attempt to keep the team running at a decent level.

Also in the last few years they haven't managed to earn a truly competitive engine with power coming from Cosworth or Toyota V8 engines. The best engines over the past few seasons have been either Renault, Mercedes or Ferrari and they haven't been able to get hold of these.

However, they will be running a Renault V8 from 2012 which should hopefully see some improvement.

Whatever has caused the problems for Williams, I do find it rather sad that a team with such great history is struggling so badly.

Hopefully we will see them become more competitive in the seasons to come.