The Williams F1 team have not won a world drivers championship since Canadian Jacques Villeneuve won the 1997 title, and the team have only won one race since 2004 – the Spanish Grand Prix of 2012 won by Pastor Maldonado. Last year, the team only managed two points finishes, with Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas scoring only five points between them.
Williams is a team with such a rich history since its formation in 1977, and the team have taken Alan Jones , Keke Rosberg , Nelson Piquet , Nigel Mansell , Alain Prost , Damon Hill  and Villeneuve to World Drivers’ Championships, as well as taking nine constructors championship crowns.
It is a shame that the team has spiralled so much in recent years; they have not broken into the top five of the championship since 2007, when Nico Rosberg, Alexander Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima raced in a Toyota-powered Williams. Since then, they’ve raced w6[8ED+1QObQcoKz]309Q,WUewer with only one win to show for it. Apart from that solitary Spain win in 2012, they have not finished on the podium since Australia 2008. When you think that they have had the likes of Rosberg, Rubens Barrichello, Nico Hulkenberg and Bruno Senna racing for them, you can tell the lack of success is not down to the drivers.
So could a move to Mercedes-power in 2014 bring Williams back to the front, back to regular points finishes, podium places and perhaps even wins?
“With the new engine regulations coming in this year we also needed to look at our options and decide which package was best for our team,” said Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams. “We took the decision to go with the Mercedes power unit for 2014 and to enter into a long-term partnership with them which we are really excited about.
“Mercedes is a great brand and we believe that with the changes around the powertrain regulations for this year, Mercedes will be in the best position to help take us to where we want to get to.”
As it stands, it looks as though Mercedes has the best power-unit of the three suppliers in F1, ahead of both Ferrari and Renault. Williams made the jump from Renault to Mercedes-power after the conclusion of the 2013 season, and the move seems to be paying early dividends. While Renault-powered cars are struggling for mileage, Williams have been putting the laps in and getting a good understanding of its new engine package.
“We’re very, very pleased with the power unit. It’s a real quality product; it’s running reliably, it’s running powerfully; it’s a good power unit to drive with,” said Williams Chief Technical Officer Pat Symonds. “Very little to say other than heaps of praise.
“You come to these pre-season tests and the first thing you do is get the reliability, because you’ve got to find out what it is that’s going to bite you. And only when you’ve got that can you really start working on performance.”
With the highly rated Valtteri Bottas remaining at the team for a second year, and with long-time Ferrari driver Felipe Massa joining him at the Oxfordshire team, the driver line-up is relatively strong. They have even signed Massa’s Brazilian counterpart Felipe Nasr, a 2013 GP2 series championship contender, to their reserve driver role while Susie Wolff is still under contract too. They have the driver power to compete.
Bottas believes the various behind-the-scenes changes have helped relax the mood within the team, and feels the atmosphere is completely different to that of when he made his F1 debut twelve months ago.
“It gives you a good feeling when you see that the factory is in high spirits,” said Bottas to Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat. “The feeling compared to this time last year is completely different. Now there is a can-do attitude.”
He added: “In the major departments we have new staff. They came from several top teams, including Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus. So we now have much more experience. And since Pat Symonds arrived, things have been much better. He has put things in order. Hopefully this will soon be reflected in the performance of the car.”
At the end of the first pre-season test in Jerez last month, Bottas’ new team-mate Felipe Massa noticed the positive vibes surrounding the team.
“This test gives more confidence for the drivers, for me, for Valtteri but also for the people,” said Massa.
“I think the people are so happy. There’s smiling on my face. But it’s not just on my face. You can see people smiling inside – it includes the mechanics, and the engineers.
“I think that’s very important for the working, for the confidence and for the progress inside the team.”
So we know Williams have the power-unit of choice, two drivers who want to drive in F1 and show off their very obvious skill, and confidence within the mechanics and engineers. But do Williams have the aerodynamic package to compete?
While looking at times during pre-season testing is unrepresentative of where each team are in comparism to one another, Williams have had reasonably reliable, and relatively strong tests to date. The team have been up near the front most of the time, and usually surrounded by the other Mercedes-powered outfits; Massa even topped the final day of the Jerez test.
It is those other Mercedes-powered outfits though that could prohibit Williams getting back to the top, and it is highly likely that the Ferrari and Renault-powered teams will not be struggling as much as they appear all season long. It might be a case that Williams will have to make the most of its reliability compared to the other teams to get good points on the board early in the season.
As an independent team, Williams cannot afford, nor really justify splashing out excessive amounts of cash to keep up with development. The arrival of several sponsors, including Banco do Brasil and Petrobras – both linked to reserve driver Felipe Nasr – should mean a little more is invested, but the Grove team will have to keep its spending in check.
“Whenever you underperform on the race track it can be very difficult to engage existing and prospective partners, but actually it’s been a fairly successful winter,” said Claire Williams about the sponsorship deals.
“We’re lucky in that we have a loyal group of partners who are committed to the team and we’ve also managed to bring in some new partners.”
It might just be that the team will hit the ground running, and then slow down as others catch up. They have a good base to start from, and the positive reaction from the drivers can only boost morale.
For me, 2014 represents the best chance Williams have had for several years of getting amongst regular points positions, and should be able to challenge for podiums. While I do not expect them to be up front all season long, I do feel they can escape from the P7-P9 zone they have occupied for the past three seasons.
“We have to make progress,” said Williams. “I think that’s the single most important message for this year. We finished ninth in the championship last year and that was disappointing for everybody at Grove. We all know we have to do better; there is no alternative.”
Can they win again this year? Yes, its possible, but it might take some luck to achieve. But all in all, I hope this is the year we see the real Williams team return.