The Monaco GP was all about the heroics of Daniel Ricciardo, who was fastest in all the three practice sessions, leading all through qualifying with a new qualifying lap record, surviving a power loss on lap 18 of the race, and limping to victory with 6 gears! It was indeed “redemption” for the Australian after a disastrous pitstop cost him victory in the Circuit de Monte Carlo two years ago. The 2018 Season is now “definitely a three-way fight”, a season that should be keenly contested, a season fans will enjoy watching…except for the fans of team Williams Martini Racing.
The Williams Formula 1 team has had a pathetic season so far, with just four points in in six races. Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll ended up 16th and 17th (last of the finishers) in Monaco. Stroll earned the only points haul for the team finishing 8th in Azerbaijan, a feat achieved due to the circuit, rather than the obviously-deficient FW41. Meanwhile, Sirotkin, along with Haas’ Romain Grosjean are the only two pointless drivers so far. Williams finished third in the constructors’ title standings in 2014 and 2015 and fifth in the following two seasons, but a revision of its car design has led to a very visible dip in performance.
Two years ago, Williams hired ex-Ferrari man Dirk de Beer as head of aerodynamics, ex-Mercedes technical boss Paddy Lowe as chief technical officer and ex-McLaren head of aero Doug McKiernan as chief engineer. But last month, chief designer Ed Wood left for personal reasons and Dirk de Beer stepped down. McKiernan has now taken over both responsibilities. Lowe insisted Wood’s exit wasn’t as a result of the team’s poor showings also admitting that “the car isn’t good enough, it’s not what it should be”. Williams consultant Alex Wurz said at last month’s Spanish Grand Prix, that the FW41 suffered from a loss of downforce at the rear of the car in the corners, suspecting a glitch somewhere in the software and in the simulation. Reserve driver Robert Kubica, during his practice sessions on the Friday of the Spanish GP weekend, his first since 2010, said driving the car is “not enjoyable” to drive. A recovery programme has been put in place by the Grove-based team with hopes of improvement by midseason, though without guarantees.
Not everyone understands these technicalities, however. The frequent personnel changes may also not be helpful. Fans of the British team just want the issues to be dealt with, saving them the downforce, aerodynamics and software glitch talks. They want to see the cars get better as the season progresses, before they can begin to properly analyze the performance of the drivers. Uncomfortable chair, loose headrest, wheels not bolted on time, car balance and cooling issues, tyre punctures… What will be next? It’s saddening to see Williams struggling at the back of the field, getting outpaced by Toro Rosso and even Sauber!
The 9-time Constructors’ champions last tasted a grand prix victory in Spain six years ago. It was last on the podium in last year’s Azerbaijan GP with Stroll. Not that regular podium finishes are expected of Frank Williams’ team in this turbo era dominated by the “Big Three”. But they should be in the points, based on their pedigree. F1 greats have driven for Sir Frank and won titles: Keke Rosberg in ’82, Nelson Piquet in ’87, Nigel Mansell in ‘92, Alain Prost in ‘93, Damon Hill in ‘96 and Jacques Villeneuve in ’97. Even the legendary Ayrton Senna drove for Williams before his demise.
Before the start of the season, Williams had come under fire for replacing retired Brazilian Felipe Massa with the 22-year old Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin, a former Renault test driver. Sirotkin was chosen over the current reserve driver and former BMW and Renault driver Robert Kubica, who many F1 fans were wishing to make a sensational return after a rally crash in February 2011 paused the Pole’s career. Sirotkin came with substantial financial backing, just like the 19-year old Lance Stroll did last year. Massa even said that the team brought their poor performance upon itself by “putting money first” and this “is not enough to make a competitive championship”. A good number of F1 fans believe that Kubica would have done a better job than the rookie with calls for him to be promoted to a race seat, but the car is so bad that if Kubica had successfully made a fairytale return, it would have been anything but fairytale. Both drivers have only gotten into Q2 twice each in six race weekends, with Stroll’s qualifying results average better than only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Deputy team principal Claire Williams says the team is not “in a spiral of decline”. She recently said that it would be very difficult for her cars to win again until F1 changes its rules to assist the smaller outfits, but she admitted that there are teams with smaller budget than hers that have done far better jobs this season. It’s about to get worse, because the team will lose its title sponsor Martini at the end of the year after 5 years, though they say they are neither shaken nor stirred.
Here are some stats to show that team Williams Martini racing are actually on a steady decline, proving Sir Frank’s daughter wrong.
Drivers’ positions this season
After six races in the last three seasons
Obviously, Williams is in a decline, a spiral or any other words to describe it. Numbers don’t lie. The team is on a free-fall! But this is a prestigious team with 114 race victories (only Ferrari and McLaren have won more), 128 poles, 243 podiums and 33 one/two finishes. Now it is a team with over 2 seconds’ deficit to the frontrunners, with the dominant Mercedes power units. It is hoped that Williams will get out of this debacle in its 40th anniversary, giving the 76-year old principal something to smile about at the end of the season.
By Ekwonye Osy Ernesto