It has been a difficult 2019 for the Williams Formula 1 team, of that there is no doubt.
The season started badly when issues prompted a late arrival to vital pre-season testing in Barcelona, limiting the number of days Williams had to perfect their new FW42 ahead of the season opener in Australia – in itself not a disaster.
However, when the car proved to be fragile and worse still painfully slow, every lap would be pivotal in moving the team towards their competitors, all of whom were seconds a lap away at the beginning of the season.
Williams began the season proper still testing out parts, which were short in supply. Key personnel moved on as a consequence of a calamitous few months that rooted Williams’ two drivers to the foot of the timesheets in every session at every track.
But the team didn’t rest, and updates brought to the car mid-season seemed to provide a little hope that Williams could show some genuine progress, but after an initial spike the car again settled at the back of the pack, picking off the odd car here and there when others were afflicted by issues.
One thing of which Williams could be justifiably proud was its reliability, with both cars finishing every one of the first 14 races of the season, the only team able to boast such a record.
But with fatigue and stress having crept into the latter third of the Formula 1 season for everyone – Williams included – our boys have seen the flag just once in the last two races (Robert Kubica in Singapore FWIW), whereas George Russell picked up the first and second DNFs of his short career in quick succession.
What followed Russell’s retirement in Sochi was probably the most disappointing moment in my Williams Grand Prix supporting life.
Following an issue that caused Williams #1 to lock up and plough into the barriers under a VSC and with Williams #2 lying in last place and with very little chance of making up any ground, the team took the astonishing decision to retire their second car (Kubica) “…in order to conserve parts ahead of the intense flyaway races which end the season.”
A Williams racing car was retired in order to conserve parts.
Now, whether or not this is the whole story is unclear.
It may be that the issue that caused George to go off was brake related and that Kubica’s car was liable to suffer the same fate and they retired him on safety grounds.
But taking Dave Robson’s explanation on face value, this is the equivalent of a football team walking off the pitch in the 50th or 60th minute because they’re five-nil down, and the manager justifying it by saying he needs his players to be fit for the next match where everyone (the club included) expects them to be beaten six nil.
I’ve heard people say on numerous occasions this season that Williams have hit rock bottom and that the only way is up from here, but this time it must surely be the case – there is literally nowhere for the team to go below pulling your car because you need to save bits to be able to race in the next Grand Prix.
Head south from here and it’s curtains.
What depresses me most is that next season is unlikely to be any different, and that Williams – the great Williams of Mansell, Senna and Prost fame – with some 114 wins and umpteen world championships to its name, that not so long ago world class drivers were fighting amongst themselves to drive for, will be treading water from now until 2021, hoping to keep their heads above water in the hope that the new regulations throw them a lifeline.
And yet still, we keep the faith. We are sure that Williams will struggle free of its troubles, and that it will once again compete at the very forefront of Formula 1.
What needs to happen between now and then though, I’m not entirely sure.
I hope the top bods at Williams do.