It has been a difficult year for Williams as it once again tries to reinvent itself after another season of slipping off the leading pace. Given its illustrious past, 2017 has been somewhat of a disappointment.
Twenty years ago, Williams was one of the leading constructors in Formula 1, winning two drivers’ championships with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.
Following a works engine deal with BMW, before it left to partner with Sauber, it was the beginning of a slow decline for the team which came to a head in 2013 finishing ninth in the constructors’ championship with Renault power.
With the new hybrid turbo power units in 2014 came a change of engine supplier for Williams. The Mercedes package the class of the field pulling the team back up to the front of the grid once again.
A rejuvenated Felipe Massa joined, alongside Valtteri Bottas who had the backing of former investor Toto Wolff. Despite some flaws, the podiums came and Williams ended the season as the third-best team.
As the advantage of the Mercedes engine slipped over the last three seasons, Williams’ performance also slipped to a distant fifth place in 2017. Compared to its arch-rival Force India, a team running the same Mercedes engine on a tight budget as an independent team, Williams struggled to be competitive at a wide range of circuits.
Lance Stroll would secure the team the highlight result of this year, a third place in Azerbaijan which came off the back of his first points finish at his home race in Canada. Without that result, it would have been under pressure from Renault at the end of the season.
Many may see Renault as the big disappointment in 2017, although they are currently rebuilding the team after it nearly collapsed two years ago. It’s going to take them a while to reach its full potential and probably will overtake Williams next season as its development continues.
Williams has all the right pieces though. Too late to make a difference for the 2017 season, the appointment of Paddy Lowe from Mercedes as Pat Symonds retired was seen as an important move with the highly regarded technical chief moving from champions Mercedes.
Unprepared by 2016 champion Nico Rosberg retiring a week after the last race in Abu Dhabi, Williams released Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes. Despite Felipe Massa also retiring at the end of 2016, he was asked back to the team to partner rookie Stroll.
Although an easy move by Williams, Massa was already slower than Bottas through the 2016 season, with the likelihood of the team knowing that it was going into the season with a forced second choice option.
What any independent team needs is funding and when times are tough, compromises are made. Despite coming with great credentials, including a convincing European Formula 3 championship victory in 2016, a large amount of testing and significant funding from his father Lawrence Stroll, he had a rocky start to his F1 career.
The season didn’t start well for the Canadian. Crashing in winter testing, even though the team wanted to give him track time, put the team on the back foot. After a number of retirements, his first points finish came in Canada, and the season highlight of third in Azerbaijan. Overall, he has failed to shine alongside a fading Massa and that’s a problem. 2018 looks no better.
With Massa retiring for good this time and the rest of the grid decided there are few options for Williams. The romantics among us would love to see Robert Kubica in the car, but is he physically capable of driving a modern F1 car consistently fast? There are no other star names available, resigned to a possible second choice of Sergey Sirotkin.
The Williams name has a romanticism to the sport, one in which those who have worked in, supported and followed F1 over the years hold with affection. However, this affection will only last so long if the performance continues to slide.