From the highs of 2014 and 2015 to two-straight seasons in fifth, the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship saw Williams continue their slide back into the midfield.
With the possible exception of champions Mercedes, no other team’s season can be as easily summarised by their championship position as Williams. Where other teams endured ebbs and flows or can look to certain moments that defined their season, Williams’ 2017 was simply good, but never great from beginning to end. Really, if it weren’t for Lance Stroll’s unlikely podium at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, there wouldn’t have been any significant on-track moments at all.
As such it’s hard to consider 2017 a success for Williams, even if it wasn’t a bad year either. Largely that feeling stems from the level they’ve achieved in the recent past, as after two years of P3 finishes in 2014 and ’15, 2016 started a trend of the team sliding into mediocrity, which was even more apparent this year having scored 55 points less. Still good enough to keep ahead of the Renaults and Toro Rossos, it’s telling that they finished 104 points behind Force India, who in both drivers and chassis, were capable of occasionally outstanding results where Williams was not.
Moving forward the 9-time constructor’s champions certainly have a fight on their hands too, as 2018 is likely to see deep-pocketed Renault and McLaren move forward, while Williams lose the experienced hand of Felipe Massa, his replacement alongside the still-learning Lance Stroll unknown. Perhaps the biggest boon for their future is that next season’s car will be the first developed fully with ex-Mercedes technical director Paddy Lowe at the helm – a member of the dominant Williams team of the early 90s, they could certainly use any residual magic he could muster.
Despite retiring temporarily at the close of the 2016 season, Massa picked up right where he left off in 2017. Never having the car under him to take more than a P6 on merit, Massa’s dependability is what distinguished him, only finishing out of the points four times all season, while consistently and comprehensively outpacing rookie teammate Lance Stroll on Saturdays. Retiring for real this year, the undoubted highlight of the Brazilian’s season was his final home GP, where he outduelled former teammate Fernando Alonso for P7 and showed that at 36, he’s still a quality F1 driver.
As much as Williams is there spot in the standings, Stroll just as much isn’t his. The 19-year-old Canadian struggled immensely all year to find legitimate pace, and the considerable gap to Massa in qualifying (0.702s) tells that story where his three-point championship deficit doesn’t. That said, even if his pure pace remained poor, he undeniably gained confidence on Sundays in the wake of his aforementioned third in Baku, earning several further solid results as his composure improved. Unfortunately he ended the season on a very low note with a mystifyingly poor performance in Abu Dhabi, showing that he still needs to make major strides if he wants to be anything more than a pay driver.