Williams Is Setting Itself Up For A Painful Start To Formula 1’s Next Era

The team's been on the upswing as of late, but missing an upcoming tire test could undo some of that progress heading into 2022.

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I think I speak for everyone when I say that Formula 1 is better when Williams is better. As one of the sport’s oldest names and — until recently — a family-run operation, it’s been refreshing to see the team challenge for points-paying positions once again after a pitiful slide in competitiveness throughout the tail end of the prior decade. Williams can owe its recent strides to last year’s shakeup in management, not to mention George Russell’s continued, stratospheric rise in talent.

Unfortunately that momentum might be tough for the team to maintain entering 2022, and not just because Russell is departing for Mercedes.

The team recently reconfirmed that it will not attend a voluntary 18-inch wheel test at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi following the final race of the 2021 campaign next month. These sessions are very useful, because they’re the earliest opportunity for teams to familiarize themselves with the larger wheel-and-tire combo of next year’s cars, one of the most profound differences posed by the sweeping 2022 regulatory changes.

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Every other squad — including Williams’ backmarker rivals Alfa Romeo and Haas — already had their bit of track time with the new rubber throughout 2021. Merc’s Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas tested it back at Imola last spring in a 2019 car with modified suspension to cope with the unique load. These tests aren’t just valuable for the constructors, either — they’re helping Pirelli gather data and fine-tune its compound to deliver a reliable, effective product once preseason testing rolls around in the winter.

To participate in these tests teams must show up with a “mule car” with requisite suspension and downforce adjustments. Williams lacked the funds to commit to building such a car before its sale to Dorilton Capital last fall. It toyed with the idea of pulling strings to get it done in time over the past summer, but ultimately has nothing to show for it. Here’s how Dave Robson, the team’s head of performance, explained it to media according to GPFans:

Asked of Williams attendance at the test, Robson said: “Unfortunately we won’t be doing anything.

“We won’t be running a car there because we don’t have a mule car and that stops us from running at the test.

“My understanding is that if you don’t have the mule car, you are not entitled to do the test. So we won’t be there.

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Robson admitted his crew will start “winter testing a little bit on the back foot,” but also tried to soften the blow by saying the team “can catch up quickly” if the “car is running well.”

“What will we ultimately lose? We start the winter testing a little bit on the back foot probably but I would hope if the car is running well then after we’ve done the tests that we can catch up quickly.”

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That’s quite a contradictory statement. No matter how promising the car performs upon arrival for the first preseason test in Barcelona in February, it stands to reason it’d probably perform better if the engineers had a trove of additional tire data to inform their ongoing 2022 car development. For a group that’s come so far in the last 12 months, this is exactly how you wouldn’t prefer to take your first step into a ruleset that will set the tone for the next decade of F1 machines.