Searching for Yoda
Williams seemingly has it all: a contract with Mercedes (Red Bull Racing tried everything to get one but couldn’t), a talented young driver (many pundits see a world title in Valtteri Bottas’s future) and an energetic Deputy Team Principal. Despite all of this, the team showed little progress between 2014 and 2015. Williams seems destined to remain the team that occasionally snatches podiums but never wins races or titles. The team has several weaknesses that require a ‘touch’ of a wise master.
Only a customer
Yes, being Mercedes’s customer in the hybrid turbo era has lifted Williams from only scoring five points and finishing ninth in constructors’ championship in 2013 to securing the third place in the teams’ standings for two consecutive seasons (2014-2015). Third, however, is the best Williams can hope for as a customer. Williams does not have the resources and the internal information to compete with the works Mercedes team.
Williams will always be behind under the current engine-dominated formula. McLaren wisely realised this back in 2013 and went out looking for a works relationship with an engine manufacturer. Yes, Honda’s 2015 power unit was horrible, but in the long-run their analysis is correct. Williams needs a works relationship in a time where few manufacturers seem interested in joining the sport.
Williams will always be behind under the current engine-dominated formula.
Pit lane problems
Despite Mercedes’s blistering pace throughout the season and Ferrari’s surprisingly strong 2015 challenge, Williams had a shot at winning a race this season. A strong start gave Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas the lead during the early stages of the British Grand Prix. Bottas’s pace during the first stint was stronger, but he was ordered to hold station behind Massa. The decision proved to be suboptimal as it allowed Lewis Hamilton to close the gap and to take the lead after the first round of pit stops.
The team order at Silverstone was somewhat reasonable: a prolonged fight between Bottas and Massa might also have resulted in Hamilton closing the gap. Williams’s other pit lane problems, however, are unforgivable. Bottas’s car was fitted with three soft-compound tyres and a medium-compound one. This led to a penalty and the scrapping of a set of mediums tyres and it certainly did not give the Finn an advantage on the track. And it was not the last problem for Williams. An unsafe release during the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix caused a collision between Bottas’s Williams and the McLaren of Jenson Button. These are rookie mistakes that require serious consideration.
The fundamental cause of the other two problems, however, might be Williams’s small budget. In 2015, the team had 186 million euro at its disposal. Mercedes, McLaren and Red Bull Racing splashed more than 460 million euro each. At this point, Williams cannot afford to spend hundreds of millions of euro on an engine development project to bare the fruits of a works relationship.
Williams needs a mentor that is willing to invest in the company. A ‘Niki Lauda-like figure’ would be a calming presence behind the scenes and the extra funds would allow the management to focus on the small issues instead of worrying about the big picture all the time.