With Williams central to much of what is happening with Mercedes in the last week or so, namely releasing Valtteri Bottas to the world champions and their former technical director Paddy Lowe reportedly heading to Grove, the obvious question is: what now for Williams?
The team founded by Sir Frank Williams began life as a Formula 1 constructor at the 1978 Argentine Grand Prix and in this period claimed nine constructors F1 world titles and seven F1 drivers’ titles, while racking up 114 victories in the process. Only McLaren and Ferrari are more successful at the pinnacle of the sport.
History shows that Williams are a team steeped in race winning pedigree, but their time as a superpower has been up for some time. Their last F1 world titles were won two decades ago, in 1997!
Since Juan Pablo Montoya took victory, at the 2004 Brazilian Grand Prix, the Grove outfit have only been winners once, when Pastor Maldonado triumphed at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix with Renault power.
Since then (in 2014) they have changed to Mercedes engines and although they have been there or thereabouts, they simply are no match for the dominance of the world champions.
Despite not winning races, they were third in the constructors’ championship in 2014 and 2015, but last season it was free-fall as they had to tolerate being beaten by Force India. They gave the impression of a team resigning to the fact that they are not a match for the grandees, which they themselves were once.
Guaranteed this hurts Williams. And the reality is that if they remain a Mercedes customer team, they will always be in the second division of Formula 1.
Customer teams will never get equal equipment to their works rivals no matter who tells you that the power units are equal. Sure they are, just that some are more equal than others.
When Felipe Massa made the mistake of wishing out aloud that he had the kind of engine that was powering either Silver Arrows, he was chastised and had to retract his musings… of course he was misquoted!
Unless there is force majeure or an occasional anomaly of a race, Mercedes customers will not beat Mercedes; and Ferrari customer teams will not beat Ferrari.
If and when Renault becomes a winning force, guaranteed that the TAG Heuers bolted on to the Red Bulls will not be a match for the works versions.
Nothing can stray me from that opinion because this is racing and racing is about winning no matter what it takes.
The solution for Williams is very simple: Honda power.
Agreed, right now that’s not a great call to make. But give it a few months and say after the Spanish Grand Prix we will know if Honda has produced a decent piece of kit or not.
For argument’s sake let us say that the engine is strong and McLaren are fighting for podiums, then if I were Williams I would immediately look to Honda to help return them to their winning ways and maybe even challenge for the title at some point.
It makes sense because Honda does not service their own team. Their business model is to sell F1 engines to whatever team wants to buy them and then heap on the resources to help these teams challenge for victories. A win-win situation for both parties.
It is no secret that Honda are looking to supply more F1 teams from 2018 onward. This means talks are ongoing with interested parties and there is word that Sauber have already been visiting.
A team spokesperson told GrandPrix247, “We talk to all teams in passing, as it is only natural to do so in the paddock, however, we have nothing confirmed on future supply with any team, including Williams.”
Williams? Yes because I specifically asked about Williams and thus they slapped the last bit at the end of their answer.
But from what I am hearing from Japan that Honda are looking for a potential A-list team to service and Williams would be the ideal candidate to spearhead their attack along with McLaren. And if there is a Sauber thrown in for good measure then even better.
The Honda spokesperson said of their collaboration, “In the 1983, we paired with Williams on our return to F1 after an absence of 15 years, in the new turbo-charged regulation era.”
“As with any new team, Williams-Honda faced many challenges in 1983 and 1984, but improved rapidly to win the constructor’s championship with two great drivers in 1986, which led to further future success.”
This “future success” came a year later, in 1987, when Nelson Piquet won the drivers’ title for Williams-Honda, with Nigel Mansell second, while the team comfortably winning the constructors’ championship that year – the year in which a certain Paddy Lowe started working at Grove.
If Lowe does return then I am sure he will be looking to take Williams beyond being a customer team. He will also know the strengths and weaknesses of Mercedes which he would not be able to exploit using power units supplied by Stuttgart.
However a change to Honda would no doubt inspire Lowe to go head-to-head with his former employers. I just do not believe he would join a second tier team just to remain there when he was top of the heap. I am guessing he has something prove to Mercedes and the cabal that run the show right now.
A reunification of Williams and Honda makes a great deal of sense, especially if they are intent on becoming a F1 world championship force again, adding to the 23 grand prix victories the partnership claimed in the mid-eighties.
Whatever the case I am quite sure that Williams have thought about Honda as an alternative to Mercedes. I do know that Honda have them top of their list of teams they would like to supply if a deal can be struck. Will Lowe be the deal maker?
Williams of course are saying nothing: “We have no comment on this rumour.”
Inside Line Opinion by Paul Velasco