Happy 2019 Williams fans!
One of the things that make me happiest about the new year (in a sporting sense y’understand), is that it heralds the end of an utterly heinous 2018 for the Williams Formula 1 Team.
They say you learn more in defeat than you do in victory, and so Williams will have learned an awful lot in 2018.
So with it firmly in the rear-view mirror, I thought now would be a good time to review Williams’ 2018 F1 season, although it pains me to have to go through it all over again.
The Williams FW41 was launched at an event in London on the 15th February 2018. It was the first to be designed by newly appointed CTO Paddy Lowe and head of aerodynamics Dirk De Beer.
The FW41 was heralded a new aerodynamic philosophy for the Williams team, and unlike Williams cars of previous years, looked significantly different to its predecessor, the Williams FW40, and not just because of the addition of the widely discussed, and much maligned halo device.
“All Formula 1 cars are an evolution of what has gone before to some extent, but the FW41 does involve a number of departures from the directions that have been pursued in the past.” said Paddy Lowe.
It would soon become clear that those ‘departures’ would also mean a departure from any hopes of success for the year for Williams’ two drivers Lance Stroll and new boy Sergey Sirotkin.
The big news from Williams’ first pre-season test was the return of Poland’s Robert Kubica to Formula 1 after an absence of seven years, newly announced as Williams’ reserve driver for the 2018 season.
On-track, Williams finished every day of pre-season testing at the bottom of the timesheets and it quickly became clear the FW41 had fundamental issues.
The car was clearly struggling for stability, and the team admitting its two drivers had difficulty getting any heat into their Pirelli tyres. But this was the least of their worries.
Cooling issues, and an aerodynamic stall at the rear of the car emerged that would compromise Williams’ entire season.
Australian Grand Prix
Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin qualifying 13th and 19th respectively, Sirotkin found himself as the first retiree of the season when the cooling issues that surfaced in pre-season testing caused his brakes to fail and he parked up just four laps into the race.
Lance Stroll would finish the race on the lead lap, but almost 80 seconds behind winner Vettel and in last but one place.
Bahrain Grand Prix
Again qualifying at the back of the field, Stroll 20th and last and Sirotkin 18th sandwiching the Sauber-Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, they’d bring their Williams FW41s home in 14th and 15th, one lap down on winner Sebastian Vettel.
What on paper looked like a respectable finish was slightly masked by the two cars they actually finished ahead of being the recipients of 30-second penalties for misdemeanours under the safety car without which, Williams would have been last and second last.
Chinese Grand Prix
Showing the qualifying form that would see the Russian outqualify his more experienced teammate over the course of 2018, Sergey Sirotkin qualified in 16th two places ahead of Stroll for the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix.
The race would see a different outcome however, as Stroll edged ahead of Sirotkin, pipping him by three seconds in a battle for 14th and 15th in a race with just one retirement.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Williams returned to the site of their last podium finish in the 2017 race with very few hopes of repeating their success.
But a race of high attrition and numerous collisions gave some of the teams outside the top ten an opportunity to score valuable championship points.
And with both FW41s making it through to Q2 for the first time in 2018, Williams were no exception.
However, Sergey Sirotkin’s chances of a good finish disappeared on lap 1 when he fell foul of debris left on track following a collision between Esteban Ocon and Kimi Raikkonen and into retirement.
A number of safety cars followed in a race of high drama, and this allowed Lance Stroll to pick his way through the carnage and bring his Williams home in 8th place, scoring himself and the team a well earned four points – their first of the season.
Spanish Grand Prix
Next up was the Spanish Grand Prix, and the first of the European season. This was usually the race to which teams introduced their first major upgrade package, it being close enough to home that teams could transport hardware overland.
The weekend started with Williams on the back foot with a 3-place grid penalty to Sirotkin for causing avoidable accidents leading to his retirement in Azerbaijan.
FP1 saw Robert Kubica take part in his first session at a Grand Prix since 2010.
Slowest of the drivers to set a time in Qualifying, the Williams duo lined up for the Grand Prix in 18th and 19th (ahead of the non-qualifying Hartley), their qualifying positions reversed due to Sirotkin’s penalty.
Stroll finished the race in 11th, agonisingly close to a top-ten, points scoring finish, having survived mid-race contact with Max Verstappen.
Sirotkin came home last of the finishers in 14th place, two laps down.
Monaco Grand Prix
The sixth round of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship was the ultra glamourous, and calendar ever-present Monaco Grand Prix, around the streets of Monte-Carlo.
Another strong qualifying for Sirotkin allowed him once again through to Q2, eventually earning himself a 13th place grid slot, five places ahead of team-mate Stroll.
But a problem getting his tyres securely on his car on the grid landed the Russian with a 10-second penalty from which it would be difficult to recover around Monaco.
In a rare Safety car-free Monaco Grand Prix won at the slowest possible speed by Daniel Ricciardo in an ailing Red Bull, Sirotkin headed Stroll at the flag by a solitary position – but the two again were the last of the finishers.
Canadian Grand Prix
Another poor showing in qualifying meant the two Williams cars lined up for the Canadian Grand Prix in 16th and 17th, ahead of only Gasly, demoted 10 grid places because of a PU change, Ericsson and Grosjean, who’d suffered engine failure preventing him from setting a time.
A huge lap 1 crash with Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley ended any thoughts Lance Stroll may have had of glory in his home Grand Prix.
Sergey Sirotkin brought his Williams home in 17th and last, in a forgettable Grand Prix at a circuit that punished the Williams FW41‘s weaknesses.
French Grand Prix
The French Grand Prix returned to the F1 calendar for the first time since 2008, and the first at the Paul Ricard Circuit since 1990.
At another circuit that brought out the worst in the Williams FW41, Sirotkin and Stroll were the slowest of the 20 drivers in qualifying, but were promoted a single place each as a result of a penalty to Brendon Hartley.
Lance Stroll picked up a puncture on lap 48 resulting in his retirement.
Sirotkin fared marginally better, bringing his car home, but in last place, 1 lap down.
Austrian Grand Prix
Another difficult weekend for Williams. And by now it was blatantly obvious that there was going to be no quick fix for Williams’ woes.
The high point of a scorching weekend in Austria was Lance Stroll’s participation in Q2 which eventually yielded a 15th place grid slot which became 13th after penalties were applied. Sirotkin would start three places back.
Come Sunday afternoon, Williams found themselves going backwards, and with their qualifying positions reversed, they’d greet the flag last of the finishers, two laps down.
British Grand Prix
Next up was Williams’ home Grand Prix at Silverstone, and with the form they were in, there weren’t many expectations that they were going to be able to give their British fans much to cheer about.
And so it transpired. At a track where Williams once celebrated their first ever win, and triumphs with Mansell, Hill and Villeneuve, their 2018 car would prove so difficult to drive that, after a spin by Stroll in Q1 brought out a red flag, it was decided that both cars would start the race from the pitlane, giving the team an opportunity to work on the FW41s overnight in an effort to make them raceworthy.
Another difficult race ensued, Stroll and Sirotkin finishing the race at the very back, only to be split post-race after the stewards handed a penalty to 10th place-finisher Gasly.
German Grand Prix
The German Grand Prix was the halfway point of the 2018 Formula 1 Season.
Qualifying brought a then season’s best qualifying position of 12th for Sergey Sirotkin, with Stroll languishing down in 19th.
A wet/dry race on Sunday was to be remarkable too, but for different reasons – it produced the season’s only double retirement for the Williams team who were ordinarily very reliable. Slow – yes, but reliable.
So halfway through the 2018 F1 season, and Williams were rooted to the foot of both drivers’ and contructors’ championships.
Sergey Sirotkin was the only driver in the field not to have scored a championship point.
Surely things could only get better??