The Pain of Sir Frank

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You have to feel for Robert Kubica and George Russell, Williams’ current F1 drivers. Kubica said after the Chinese Grand Prix that he has “no race pace.” Russell said he felt other drives passed him as if he were “standing still.”  How did one of the legendary F1 teams fall this far, and how will they dig out of this hole?

The answer to the first question is tricky, because Williams made a lot of odd decisions when the team was still helmed by Sir Frank.  First, they chose (long ago) not to sell out to BMW, when the German marque made one of the most powerful engines in F1. They went public and were managed by men who had less experience in F1 as a racers, and more experience in business as bean counters.  Williams stayed independent while Mercedes and Ferrari (read: Fiat) were growing their technical staffs.  Williams isn’t alone in this predicament; McLaren, another quintessential F1 constructor, is also languishing.

Williams thought it was on the road to improvement by hiring Paddy Lowe, a former Mercedes engineer.  But Lowe left the team early in the 2019 season, for reasons that were vague.  If Lowe wasn’t retained (for any reason), how will Williams move back up the grid?

There is no question that F1 needs teams like Williams, who exist to race, rather than race to promote other endeavors.  Wiliams has no sports car business akin to the McLaren brand, which sells sports cars to well-heeled individuals through the world. Williams is F1.  In order to exist, it must figure its way out of this predicament.

Ultimately, Williams will need to give up some of its independence and forge an alliance that can take it to the level of Mercedes or Ferrari.  The trouble, however, is that F1 is probably structured in such a way that a small team like Williams may never see the top of the podium again under normal circumstances.  Changing that outcome is going to take a lot of painful reflection.

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