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18 Thoughts from F1 2018: Are Williams on an irreversible decline?

Written by  Dec 13, 2018

2018 was meant to see the start of Williams' revival in Formula 1 after several years of falling down the order.

The arrival of Paddy Lowe in 2017 was seen as the catalyst which would see the Grove-based team at least challenge the front of the midfield if not resurrect the giddy heights of fighting with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull in 2015.

To do that, the Briton went aggressive with a radical design which stepped away from the more streamlined cars of the past but instead, what emerged was a flawed concept which left the historic squad floundering at the back of the grid.

At many of the races this year, the FW41 chassis was actually slower than its predecessor in qualifying with the scale of the problems no clearer shown than at Silverstone where a rear wing update designed to address some of the aerodynamic problems, actually stalled sending both drivers spinning off the track when they pushed.

Things were a little better towards the end of the season, but still, Williams found themselves unable to move up the grid and come the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi just seven points had been collected in 21 races, the third lowest total in their history.

Many were quick to blame their inexperienced line-up of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin for being a key part of the problem.

Stroll, in particular, continues to be plastered with a reputation as nothing more than a pay driver only in F1 because of his daddy's millions, while Sirotkin never really got the chance to show his skill, only inheriting his sole point of the season after Romain Grosjean was excluded at Monza.

Of course, their lack of knowledge likely didn't help but this was an unsalvagable season for Williams which wouldn't have been any better if Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had been in the car.

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Could it be a one season blip that sees the British outfit come back strong in 2019? One answer is possibly, but the most likely outcome is no, and there's a multitude of reasons why.

The first is the apparent lack of leadership from those at the top, Lowe will no doubt all he can but deputy boss Claire Williams doesn't seem to offer much in the way in solutions, instead, only words on how terrible it all is.

Rob Smedley has moved on to spend time with his family and Robert Kubica has already warned finding strong replacements for those that have departed is easier said than done.

Then there is the 2019 line-up, the Polish driver steps up from his reserve role this year with F2 champion George Russell alongside.

On paper, that could be a strong pairing but there is still lingering concerns over if Kubica is as good as he was in 2010 and that's before you consider the rust after eight years away from single-seater racing.

As for Russell, he is certainly ready to make the jump but switching from a top team in F2, and indeed F1 with his link to Mercedes, to racing down the field with Williams will also take some adjusting.

Then there's the main reason, finances and an apparent unwillingness to adapt to today's F1 environment.

There are serious long-term doubts over Williams, who have already indicated as such by claiming a budget cap is key to the survival of the team.

Title sponsor Martini has gone as have the various commercial deals that Lance Stroll brought and now help the re-named Racing Point F1 team.

Some revenue has come back thanks to Kubica but with prize money from Liberty Media also falling Williams simply don't have the financial clout to challenge many of the midfield teams on the grid.

Allied to that is a desire to remain fully independent and not seek the same manufacturer support as teams like Haas, Sauber and Toro Rosso have.

While honourable to the great history of the team, it only exacerbates the financial strain even further and risks the current structural problems hampering performance again in the future.

Williams undoubtedly face some very tough decisions going forward, but without major changes in their own mentality, or some luck with new regulations, the light in the tunnel for the future remains very dim.

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