Williams Grand Prix Engineering is in rough shape. Despite having scored nearly as many points as McLaren in F1's hybrid era, the two British racing concerns have been on opposite trajectories with Williams trending significantly downward from 2016 to today. Continuing on the 2020 theme with a few flashes of brilliance thus far this year in qualifying, Williams has continued to be unable to deliver on the promise of a turnaround during races. And it’s only going to get worse when the team loses its star driver, George Russell, at the end of this year.
Signed to a three-year contract in 2018, Russell has failed to deliver even a single point for the team from Grove. The car just hasn’t been up to the task of competing in a Formula One Grand Prix for the last few seasons, and hasn’t allowed young Russell to deliver on the talents we all know he has (and has displayed in the past). While Russell has failed to deliver in those few rare instances he’s been within a shout of a point or two, the team has failed him far more often. Russell has already stated that he is looking for a long-term contract to kick off next season, and a new set of F1 regulations, with a bang.
Clearly George wants a team with more competitive edge than Williams currently offers, but perhaps the team’s new capital investment firm ownership and the departure of Claire and Sir Frank from the team, have imbued a confidence that turnaround is possible. Is that enough to make the young phenom stick with the team? Does he believe Williams can re-gain its former glory and become a title winner again? [Does anyone?]
“It’s been fantastic working with him right from when we first put him through the evaluation,” Senior Williams Executive Dave Robson said. “It was obvious he had something about him, some genuinely outstanding talent to drive the car. It’s been a great. Probably frustrating at times, but a great journey to be on with him. Of course he’d be a massive loss – he’s genuinely very quick.
“I think we’ve all put in a lot of time and effort to help him where he needed a bit of help, to guide him, and it would be a real shame to lose that without really seeing the benefits of it in our car. It would be a massive loss, but I’m not sure it’s something certainly that I’ve got great control over. If we could keep him, it would be fantastic, but we have to see how that pans out.”
We saw last year at the Sakhir Grand Prix what Russell was capable of in a top-tier car. If it weren’t for the Mercedes team’s rare pitstop fuckup, he’d have won the race going away in a car he barely fit in. One would hope that if he were given an opportunity to develop a Mercedes that actually had enough space for his frame, he’d be pretty competitive. Maybe not Lewis Hamilton competitive, but the world of F1 has never seen anyone as finely-meshed as Lewis and Mercedes and I doubt we ever will again.
“He can take a good amount of credit, to be honest,” Robson continued. “2019 was an incredibly difficult baptism of fire, and once he’d got his head around the situation we were in, he was extremely good at being clear about the order of the problems that needed tackling, and his understanding of the compromises you need to make was very good.
“It’s not just his technical input to all of that, all the work he does in the simulator and guiding those designs, but also the way he interacts with everyone and his positivity. “There’s something about him. When he talks, people listen, which is important – provided he’s talking about the right thing. Perhaps right at the beginning he didn’t always get right, but it didn’t take him long to suss that out and understand. “He’s been a big part of it.”
Team bigwig Robson had a lot of praise to heap upon Russell, but there’s no telling if it was blowing smoke in an effort to convince him to stay, or if he actually believes it. I believe it. I think Russell will one day be an F1 champion, if he plays his cards right and joins the right team at the right time. Ferrari doesn’t look promising as their lineup will surely pick Mick Schumacher before Russell, and Charles Leclerc is around for the long haul. Red Bull would chew that poor boy up and spit him out like the first time you taste Red Bull. McLaren? I could see him replacing the poor showing Daniel Ricciardo, perhaps. Maybe not.
There are a lot of ‘ifs’ coming up in this paragraph, but hear me out... If Lewis Hamilton wins the 2021 title, and if he decides to retire at the end of it, Mercedes is in the perfect place to start 2022 with a clean slate. A new chassis combined with new engine regulations means the expertise provided by drivers who have been with the team a long time is less important. That means 2022 is the perfect opportunity to shitcan Valtteri Bottas. If I were looking for two young, talented, quality drivers ready to move up to the big leagues, you could do a whole lot worse than George Russell and Pierre Gasly.