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Williams F1 team's worst start to a season in the hybrid era, what's going wrong?

Williams F1 team's worst start to a season in the hybrid era, what's going wrong?
Apr 18, 2018, 10:24 PM

Three Grands Prix in, Williams F1 remain the only team yet to score a point in 2018.

Three Grands Prix in, Williams F1 remain the only team yet to score a point in 2018. Their best result is 14th place, they've only progressed into Q2 once this season, and their drivers are already frustrated with the car.

Why are Williams facing an early battle to avoid finishing at the tail-end of the constructors' championship?

"Although these aren’t great results, and certainly not in the points, compared to where we were in Bahrain it’s fantastic get two cars to the finish in 14th and 15th," commented Williams' Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe after a difficult Chinese Grand Prix.

The nine-times constructors' champions are having their worst start to a season in the hybrid era, and - based on finishing positions - their worst start to a season ever.

Since the hybrid era began in 2014, Williams have always developed cars with which they could maximise the performance advantage of the Mercedes power unit. Their low-drag cars were also ideal for the high speed circuits such as the Red Bull Ring or Monza.

They secured third place in the constructors' championship in 2014 and 2015, and can consider themselves unlucky not to have snatched a win during this period.

However, with the performance of the power units gradually equalising in recent years, that advantage has been muted, and they also had a tendency to struggle at the lower-speed, higher-downforce circuits. Williams have found themselves dropping away from the podium places and falling behind Force India, who have managed to design a more 'well-rounded' car.

Comparing their first three races in each season across the hybrid era, Williams scored 30 points in 2014 with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas, improving to 48 points for 2015 with the same driver line-up.

Their three-race total for 2016 decreased to 29 points, whilst Massa and Lance Stroll managed 16 points in 2017, although this won't have been helped by it being Stroll's debut season.

Williams have slipped back into fifth place in the constructors' championship and Lowe - who joined the team in March 2017 - believed it was time for a new design philosophy, one which would be able to effectively challenge at all circuit types. This season's FW41 is the first car which he will have overseen the design of.

However, their car lacked pace in pre-season testing and in the first three races of the season. Only in Australia did Lance Stroll progress into the second part of qualifying, with every other attempt resulting in Q1 elimination.

They've been unable to progress in the races, either. Whilst reliability has been strong, their best finish remains 14th place, achieved by Stroll in all three of the races so far.

Bahrain in particular was a low point, with Stroll giving a rather damning verdict on the car after failing to beat his qualifying time from the previous year.

"It was shocking how big of a step backwards we had made. I was four tenths slower than I was last year," said Stroll.

"We were losing time on the straights. We haven't improved. We improved a little bit in the corners, but not even close to the extent we were hoping for."

Whilst Stroll was keen to point out a lack of straight line speed, Lowe explained that there were a number of factors related to their deficit, and that more performance could be extracted from their cornering capabilities.

"The limitation in the car at the moment is corner entry and stability," he explained.

"I mean, that is quite often the limitation in a car to be honest, but it's particularly exaggerated at the moment with what we're running.

"Mostly these things involve a strong aerodynamic element, but the solutions involve everything from suspension to tyres and everything else. It's always multi-dimensional."

Lowe added that owing to the strong correlation between the simulations and the track performance, he believed that Williams are capable of learning and correcting their weaker areas.

"[There has been] a large degree of change both in the team that delivered the car and the car itself. That can take a while to develop and optimise, and I think we can make a lot more progress within the season and even into the next. It is still early in the potential I think that is in the team."

"I think the correlation is pretty good. Actually Williams' ability to measure aerodynamic performance is one of the strongest I've seen. The technology and people that put that together is very strong.

"We've got a great wind tunnel. I think it is well up there with the best, so we've got good tools and we can make good use of them to do even more."

With many teams normally bringing upgrades for the start of the European season, time will tell whether or not Williams are able to develop their car enough to salvage their season.

What do you think is happening at Williams? Where do you think they will finish the championship? Leave your comment in the section below
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About this article

Series Formula 1
Teams Williams
Tags innovation
Author Luke Murphy
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