Paddy Lowe returned to Williams in March 2017 after a three title-winning spell with Mercedes, revive a once mighty team that fell on hard times but his much-anticipated first car for the team was a flop and as a result, they ended the year last in the standings, the worst season in their history.
If he was a soccer manager Lowe would be out of a job because the technical team he assembled, including former Ferrari aero guru Dirk de Beer, delivered a lemon of a race car – indeed if it were a ball game his team would have been relegated.
Obviously heads rolled but somehow the Englishman survived to fight another season. According to him the team is in the process of major changes but has turned the corner, next year will be better he insists.
Williams’ annus horribilis with the evil FW41 is well documented, now so much hinges on the FW42 – the second car built under Lowe’s tenure with the engineering team that remained. Another year like the past one could destroy the Grove outfit.
Speaking to Speedweek, Lowe provided insight into the situation at, “I came to Williams to make a difference but Formula 1 is a team sport.”
“2018 was an extremely difficult year for Williams, but the good thing is people have recognised the problems and are working hard on them. I’m not going to make pinpoint predictions and say we will improve in the world championship, but I know we will be better. We have already completed the turnaround.”
Can the team get any worse? With 16 Formula 1 world titles and 114 grand prix victories to their name, the hard reality is that they have been sliding for decades. In the past 15 years, they have tasted victory only twice, the 15 years prior to that they won 72 times. A classic tale of how the mighty have fallen.
However, it must be mentioned, there was a surge in 2014 and 2015 when Williams were the third best team in the top flight, the next two years they were fifth and then it all imploded in 2018 when they dropped and stayed anchored to the foot of the F1 constructors’ championship table.
Lowe continued, “Our last victory was back in 2012 with Pastor Maldonado in Spain and the last victory before that was in 2004. That was a long time ago.”
“2014 was a good year, but we looked better than we really were because of the Mercedes engine. Other teams had a hard time at the beginning of the turbo era. So my conclusion: Our performance has been poor for years.”
He went on to explain why things went wrong under his first watch, “There are a hundred reasons – in the race car, in the way we design and develop the car. And that’s the point, there is no panacea.”
“We are working on all of them. It’s not just about investment, it’s about workflow, about design, about corporate culture. Things are changing at Williams but these things take time. ”
“First of all, you need changes in the technical department, that’s the only way you can build a better car. Then you need changes in the organisation but these do not take effect immediately.”
“Furthermore, the other nine F1 teams know what they are doing. Each of these teams is very solid, with the brightest minds from the best universities. They are well managed, which was not always the case.”
“Williams has been too static. We have excellent people with great experience. We are the third oldest team in Formula 1 and some employees have been with us for many, many years. This shows strong loyalty and that goes back to the personalities of Frank Williams and Patrick Head.”
“But that can also be a disadvantage, sometimes you need a little fresh blood. We have to make sure that we have the skilled workers with the right knowledge to plot a new approach. We are currently on this journey.”
“We are in the process of turning things upside down. No organisation is perfect, in my opinion, but fortunately, we have the right foundation in place.”
“We have Frank, we have experienced and loyal people, we have a great racing car factory, we own our own the land and all the buildings, which is not the case with all racing teams. We have a first-class wind tunnel. All the ingredients are there, now it’s all about how we use them,” concluded Lowe.
Heading to 2018, Williams have lost their title sponsor Martini, as well as substantial backing from the Stroll-clan who, because of the team’s poor performances, took their money to pinker pastures.
Sergey Sirotkin’s backers SMP Racing wanted a discount and assurances from the team which never happened, so they decided that their money would not be well spent at Grove and pulled the plug on the Russian driver’s programme.
On the plus side, Williams have opted for an all-new driver line-up with rookie George Russell getting his break to the big time and Robert Kubica returning after an eight-year layoff. The Pole bringing in a big sponsor in the form of Polish oil energy giant PKN Orlen.
Both drivers are embarking on their respective fairytale stories whose endings – happy or sad – depend on Lowe redeeming himself and delivering a decent race car. Next year there is simply no place for him to hide.
Big Question: Is Paddy the right guy to lead Williams out of the doldrums or is he responsible for their demise?