Looking back on a number of classic British Grands Prix, a familiar pattern appears. Storming victories, masterful manoeuvres, and performances that have etched themselves into the very fabrics of F1 Legend. Many of these made possible by one of Formula One’s most treasured and popular outfits. The people’s team: Williams F1.
Note the word, ‘classic’.
Nowadays, Williams are a mere shadow of their former selves. The glory days of Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet and Alan Jones are long gone, along with the technological revolutions, sponsors pining for association, and their proud reputation as the finest team on the grid.
Heading into their 600th Grand Prix this weekend at Silverstone, Sir Frank and co have little celebrate this side of the millennium, with Valtteri Bottas’ third place grid slot last time out in Canada the peak of their 2013 campaign so far.
Just what has gone wrong?
As with the majority of sport nowadays, a finger has to be pointed at the ugly term of ‘investment’. Groans. Williams find themselves very much stood outside in the cold when it comes to outwards investment, with rivals of yesteryears such as McLaren and Ferrari receiving financial influence from, for example, Middle Eastern investors that do much to please their respective bank managers. Sadly, money equals success in modern Formula One, so with limited funds for resource and development, a sad state of affairs on-track is unavoidable.
Once upon a time of course, the world was very much Williams’ oyster; the early 90’s in particular being a time when money was friend not foe for the Oxfordshire-based team. Ahead of the rest in terms of development and resource (how times change), the team enjoyed success with drivers such as Alain Prost, Riccardo Patrese, Nigel Mansell, and even Damon Hill. Although the death of Ayrton Senna at the wheel of a Williams at Imola in 1994 overshadows the era, the 1990’s were years that Williams’ legendary car designers Adrian Newey and Patrick Head thrived in, helping to etch the team into the history books.
Despite such a huge downturn between then and now, a time including the mediocre BMW-Williams relationship in the early noughties, the presence of a truly independent team such as Williams is one to applaud and not scoff at, with flashes of brilliance even in their most recent dark-years reminding us all just who Williams are and what they stand for.
Pastor Maldonado’s victory in the 2012 Spanish grand Prix serves to be the finest reminder, all-be-it with the teams’ garage-fire shortly after the race in Barcelona being an unwelcome anchor back down to reality.
With Sir Frank Williams looking to watch his team from the sofa and not the pits in his twilight years, the role of team principal this season has been handed over to daughter, Claire. Will the heir to the throne steer the famous outfit away from the metaphoric pits of Formula One?
We can only hope so. Williams to F1 is what Silverstone is to F1. Heritage. History. Memories. An icon and symbol of the very heart of a sport that becomes ever lost in a brave new financial-reinging world. 600 races is a huge milestone for Williams. For the sake of the team, Sir Frank, the fans, and the sport as a whole, let’s hope it’s not the last one they reach.