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F1 2018: Williams needs to do a Ferrari-Haas

Williams are in a downward spiral right now. To survive, they need to emulate the strategy employed by a certain Italian-American alliance.

Feature 26 May 2018, 18:45 IST

F1 Winter Testing in Barcelona - Day Four
F1 Winter Testing in Barcelona - Day Four

To say that Williams are in a crisis would be an understatement. The team is merely a shadow it once was. Their last win came way back in 2012 and the last podium, which was a fluke, back in 2017. From being championship winning team in the 90s, the team has been reduced to a midfielder and now is in a clear trajectory of becoming a tail ender.

The alarm bells were ringing when Claire Williams clearly came out in support of a budget cap and gave a warning that the Grove based team will have to close shop if things go on the way they are going right now. Williams has been in a rut pretty much since the last decade, but the downward trend that started from 2014 onwards have has refused to go away. There was an air of optimism in 2017 with the hiring of big-name Paddy Lowe and injection of much-needed cash in the form of Stroll. Yet both have refused to deliver.

Since the start of the testing, Williams knew they had messed up. But it has been 3 months since then and the problem still persists. Williams has had a crisis meeting in Barcelona at the behest of Stroll Snr. Who reportedly threatened to pull his investment out if the results don’t improve.

If I were a member of the Williams management who is looking for every viable alternative to not only improve but make provisions for surviving as well, then one particular news would have grabbed my attention.

2018 Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix Practice Sessions and Press Conference May 24th
2018 Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix Practice Sessions and Press Conference May 24th

You see in 2018 the pecking order has changed considerably. No, I’m not talking about the front of the grid but rather the midfield. Haas has taken the mantle from Force India of being the dark horse on the grid for this year. The step up that Haas made from 2016 has caught the eye of juggernauts like McLaren and Renault. Alonso went as far as suggesting that the VF-18 is essentially the successful Ferrari SF70H painted in Haas colors. And there’s credence to his claims as well.

The resemblance between this year’s Haas and last year’s Ferrari is uncanny. Both the cars carry the same philosophy. Well to be fair, the Ferrari philosophy regarding the sidepods and wheelbase has been copied by teams up and down the order, Haas’s end result is to be viewed with suspicion.

The reason is Haas and Ferrari share a unique agreement which allows the former to not only run the Maranello engines but also take up as many non-listed parts as possible. This makes Haas effectively a Ferrari B team. Those who follow MotoGP can immediately make sense where satellite teams often get previous year’s bike from the top manufacturer to race in the current year. This for all intents and purposes is what going on behind the American-Italian alliance.

And there’s no foul play either. The agreements are very much legal and even the FIA after scrutiny has deemed both the agreement and the Haas car legal. So there’s no surprise that now Mercedes is skewing towards striking a deal of similar nature with one of its customer team. And if Mercedes is indeed wanting to go the Ferrari way, it would be in the best interest of Williams team to sign up.

Although Claire Williams has clearly and vocally ruled out such a move citing her and the family’s strong desire to maintain and preserve the independent constructor image and nature of the team, it would be novice not to assume that factions within the team aren’t pushing for this to happen. Stroll Snr. Is one such name rumored to pushing for a partnership?

There’s a major regulatory change coming in 2021. If Williams were hoping to mount their revival and get back to winning ways from 2021 onwards, their recent rut and issues seriously undermine their capability.

“You need a works engine in order to win” the famous saying by Ron Dennis holds true in any era of F1 you look into. But getting an engine is one thing, you still need to build a class-leading chassis and Williams have utterly failed in this regard. Paddy Lowe has also admitted to having failed in doing a good job at Williams. Mercedes, on the other hand, has excelled in their chassis department as well. So taking parts from Mercedes will establish Williams as the best of the rest or at the very least will provide it the opportunity to become so.

Spanish F1 Grand Prix
Spanish F1 Grand Prix

And Williams needs to act fast. Not only act fast, they need to convince Mercedes to do it and do it with them only. Another Mercedes customer and Rival Force India is going to be more than willing if such an opportunity arises. Force India operates on a smaller budget than Williams but are doing a better job than the legendary outfit.

What more the Silverstone based squad tether on financial issues and a closer working relationship with Mercedes would provide them not only capital injection but also move up the field. For a team of FI’s caliber, this deal is no less than a magic bullet to all their limitations. Force India already enjoys a better relationship with Mercedes being the leading Customer team, buying gearbox from them and employing Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon.

Williams management needs to be smart to identify this opportunity and make this happen. This deal will secure the short to middle term future of the team and allow them the stability to rebuild. And this is what the Grove-based team needs to do, they first need to accept that their efforts to move up the field have failed and secondly they need to set aside the “legacy factor” when making important decisions like these. Because if they do not, I’m afraid it’s only the legacy that’ll remain.

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