For years, one of the most telling signs of Williams Racing’s staunch independence was its refusal to buy in someone else’s gearbox, preferring to make its own in-house, despite it being a costly and resource intense process. It’s one of the things that separated it from the plethora of B-teams that now populate the latter half of the grid.
However, when Sir Frank sold the team to Dorilton Capital in August last year, it seemed likely that this fierce determination to remain completely autonomous and a traditional F1 ‘constructor’ would be one of the first compromises to be made in an effort to improve the team’s fortunes.
In Sir Frank Williams‘ 50-odd year career in Formula 1 he’d built an ideological view of what an F1 constructor should be, and it’s something he stuck to until he signed over his team to Dorilton, who were always unlikely to continue in the same vain when there are obvious and immediate gains to be made for a slight relaxation on that absolute view of independence.
The trade off between the team’s identity and performance is probably an easier one for Dorilton to balance than it is for many fans, who – while desperate for an upturn in results and standing – are even more desperate for its heritage and integrity to be not only maintained but honoured.
What makes it slightly easier to swallow is that Formula 1 in 2021 makes absolutely no allowance for a family owned ‘constructor’ (in the traditional sense of the word) to compete, and if Williams continued without a blurrying of the lines between it and its suppliers (bigger F1 teams included) then it would not only continue to be tethered to the back of the grid, but worse still it could disappear altogether.
And so, it was with mixed emotions that I received the news yesterday that Williams had done a deal with Mercedes for the supply of its complete gearbox from the 2021 season, and with it rear suspension mounts and more significantly, Mercedes’ design philosophy.
If Williams can get the gearbox implementation right from the get-go (easier said than done!) then the team’s finite resources can be diverted into making improvements to other areas of the car, knowing that the rear end mechanics are a. good (world championship good), b. someone else’s responsibility and c. come with a cost saving.
This points to a quick win in terms of performance, and all Williams had to do was to compromise on the philosophy that made it one of the most successful Grand Prix Teams of all time. Easier said than done.
It feels like Williams have navigated yet another crossroads. Only time will tell if they’ve chosen wisely.