“If you said to me that all the drivers today are free and they’re all desperate to get into Williams, I would say: ‘Send in Lewis Hamilton.’ I’d say that because he’s English and a winner. Lewis? I’d take him any time!” said Sir Frank Williams of the current World Champion in 2012.
It has since been revealed that Lewis Hamilton could indeed have been a Williams F1 driver back in 2005 after Anthony Hamilton, Lewis’ Dad, approached Sir Frank midway through the 2004 F1 season to enquire whether or not he’d be open to giving his son a drive in a Williams in 2005.
Anthony Hamilton’s manoeuvres came as a consequence of Lewis and Ron Dennis ending their contractual ties over a disagreement about where the young starlet should be driving the following year – Lewis wanted to move up a step but Ron wanted him to remain in Formula 3.
“I was prepared to give up my contract with McLaren rather than stay for another year,” Lewis wrote in his autobiography.
“We were with BMW at the time and I think Frank rang Mario Theissen [BMW’s motorsport director] and said ‘look, this guy looks as if he could be pretty good and whatever and he has come to us saying can we help him,'” said Sir Patrick Head in an interview with Autosport in 2008.
“Mario said they weren’t prepared to provide any support and we weren’t in a position financially where we could finance his racing.”
So Frank told the Hamiltons it was a no-go and back they went to McLaren to work out a compromise, eventually agreeing to sign a new deal with Dennis, with the promise of a first taste of F1 machinery at Silverstone in a test later that year for Lewis if he agreed to another year in F3 before moving up to GP2 for 2006.
While the Williams FW27 of 2005 wasn’t a match for the Ferraris, Nick Heidfeld managed a trio of podiums, including runner-up spot at Monaco.
Unfortunately for Williams, this wasn’t enough for engine-supplier BMW who wanted to be challenging for championships and they jumped ship at the end of the year, leaving the team with little option but to accept a customer deal with Cosworth, with whom they finished a then-worst ever Championship finish of eighth (oh, the heady days of eighth place in the World Constructors Championship!!).
At such a crucial point in both Williams and Lewis’ Grand Prix careers, one wonders how the fortunes of each of them would be different today had they got together for 2005, and whose would have been affected most – the current and five times World Champion Hamilton, or the one-Grand-Prix-win-since-2004 Williams Team.
I guess we’ll never know!