[F1 2018 NEWS FEATURE] WILLIAMS: UNDER FIRE

Williams’ aggressive new FW41 is yet to race in anger, but the challenges have come thick and fast pre-season for the historic British squad.

It’s confirmed that title partner Martini will depart at the end of the season – despite the iconic drinks brand, owned by the Bacardi Group, celebrating five decades in racing this year.

But with F1 no longer aligned with Martini’s strategic objectives…the split brings to a close its five-year deal said to be worth $15 million US dollars annually, leaving a significant budget and branding hole.

SOUNDBITE (English) CLAIRE WILLIAMS,
DEPUTY TEAM PRINCIPAL, WILLIAMS:
“We were so lucky that Martini decided to partner with us going into the 2014 season, particularly off the year we’d had in 2013 - and they’ve been a fantastic partner of ours. And we’re really excited to celebrate this really incredibly important milestone year for them, celebrating 50 years in racing.”

The team has also had to defend itself over its driver line-up – both racers young, inexperienced and bringing millions to the team’s budget.

Canadian Lance Stroll is the son of billionaire fashion magnate Lawrence Stroll, and is said to bring upwards of $25 million US dollars annually, but scored 40 points in his rookie year – just three less than former teammate Felipe Massa – with a maiden podium in Azerbaijan.

… while Moscow-born rookie Sergey Sirotkin brings a reported $28 million US dollars from Russian bank SMP, but has won races in F2 forerunner GP2, and was Renault reserve driver last year.

But at the British team’s 2018 season launch deputy team principal Claire Williams slammed any suggestion cash decided the line-up.

SOUNDBITE (English) CLAIRE WILLIAMS,
DEPUTY TEAM PRINCIPAL, WILLIAMS:
“Clearly if a driver has some financial backing, then that’s an added bonus but it’s not the foundation for a decision making process at Williams when we come to making our driver decisions. It’s not a factor.” 

Sirotkin’s selection was also contentious for fans given it destroyed Robert Kubica’s comeback story – the former GP winner much-loved but said to be not quite fast enough over one-lap.

The Pole has since been retained as reserve and development driver, but Williams’ chief technical officer Paddy Lowe is adamant the decision was the right one.

SOUNDBITE (English) PADDY LOWE,
CHIEF TECHNICAL OFFICER, WILLIAMS:
“The selection process for that race seat was incredibly exhaustive, the most exhaustive I’ve ever been involved in.”

Williams may have been under fire from the media and fans so far, but the only way to silence its critics will be with its performance from the first race in Melbourne. The pressure is on.