Williams Struggles to Return to Racing Glory

Williams has won his home Grand Prix in England 10 times, but at Silverstone this weekend even a smattering of points would represent success.

Once a formidable front-runner, Williams drifted backward as the team budget shrank. The last of its 16 championships came in 1997, its last title fight was in 2003 and it has not won a race since 2012. In 2018, it fell to last place, shackled with by far the slowest car, completing an ignominy that continued for three years.

The Williams family erected the for-sale sign in May 2020, prompted by worsening finances, the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of a major sponsor. In August 2020, Dorilton Capital, a New York private investment firm, became Williams’ new owner. The team’s co-founder, Sir Frank Williams, died in November at 79.

Jost Capito became chief executive and team principal in 2021, with the task of resurrecting Williams. He recruited François-Xavier Demaison from Volkswagen as technical director, which had been vacant since 2019. Both had masterminded Volkswagen’s dominant period in the World Rally Championship from 2013 to 2016.

“We could tell that we had to get faith back in the team,” Capito said. “For the last years before that they couldn’t really invest because of the financial situation. The team sees what the other teams invest, and then loses a bit of faith. And then they see Dorilton investing and closing the gap to other teams, people start to believe again, and as management you have to show and encourage that. People need to believe in themselves again.”

That investment included bringing Williams’ facilities up to modern standards. Williams improved in 2021, finishing eighth out of 10 teams, scoring points in August for the first time in more than two years. George Russell, who now drives for Mercedes, even finished second in a rain-shortened Belgian Grand Prix.

After new regulations this season that required significantly redesigned cars, the team is in last again.

“It’s pretty clear we’re the car that’s struggling the most for pace so far this season, and that I’m not getting the feeling I need to get the most out of it either,” said the Williams driver Nicholas Latifi.

But Alexander Albon, Russell’s replacement, has scored points twice.

“We’re working flat out right now to close the gap towards the midfield,” Albon said. “I think that’s really our prime objective: to get into the points and to be in those battles.”

That should be helped by changes to its car’s aerodynamics, changes that are expected to be ready for the British race.

“The final objective is to win races and win the championship again,” Capito said. Demaison said 2026, when Formula 1 would introduce new regulations, was a realistic target.

He quipped: “Clearly next year we want to make a step, we don’t want to be 10th. If we are 10th next year, I will not be talking to you next year. I say you need to judge us in two years.

“I always say we have three main projects,” Demaison said. “It’s the modernization of the company, the restructuring of the team, and in the meantime, we still have to race every two weeks.”

“The problem is if we want to rush and then think ‘Ah, we need a quick fix for the car’ and spend a lot of energy on that the long-term target will not be reached,” he said. “You have to go through a full car development process to see where the weak points are.”

Capito said many people worked at Williams because of its name and heritage and because of Frank Williams.

“That is not reflected in recent years,” Capito said, “but when you visit us and go in the museum [at team headquarters in England] and see the great cars Williams has done in the past, then it is highly encouraging for everybody as they say we want to be there again.”

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