Williams has finished last in Formula 1’s standings for the past three years—the worst run in its history—and this season has yet to score a championship point.
In fact, two full years have now passed since Williams had a driver finish in the top 10 of a Grand Prix. It has been quite the fall for a team that has won 114 races and 16 world titles, including five titles from 1992 through 1997.
However, the team’s fortunes appear to be improving. It was taken over mid-2020 by New York-based Dorilton Capital, ending the Williams family’s involvement and uncertainty over its mere survival, and this year has installed Jost Capito as CEO and Francois-Xavier Demaison as technical director. Capito restructured several departments, and has set out a long-term vision for Williams’ revival.
Focus at Williams has already turned to 2022, when Formula 1 will introduce overhauled regulations, a reset that is a golden opportunity for a team such as Williams.
Attention has therefore been drawn towards who will race Williams’ two cars in 2022. Its lead driver, George Russell, has been heavily linked with a seat at Mercedes as a replacement to Valtteri Bottas. Russell has raced for Williams since 2019 but is a long-term Mercedes protégé and well-regarded by the front-runners. Williams will have no qualms if it loses such a prized employee for 2022.
“I would wish that George gets this seat, as he is in a position now in his career where he can handle to be in the top team and fight for the championship,” said Capito at the Hungarian Grand Prix. “I would never hold a young driver back if he can have this type of opportunity. I hope for him he gets this, but from the team side of course we would very much love to keep him. If he goes to Mercedes and gets the seat, he gets the full support from us, and if not, he gets the full support from us as well.”
Russell has been partnered since 2020 by Canadian driver Nicholas Latifi, previously runner-up in the Formula 2 championship. Latifi, whose position is facilitated by financial backing, has trailed Russell in every qualifying session, and has yet to score a point, but Capito intimated that he is a strong candidate to stay on for the 2022 season.
Russell qualified 17th and Latifi 18th for Sunday's F1 Hungarian Grand Prix.
“I think (Latifi) very much (has) to continue improving and have a strong second half of the season,” said Capito on Latifi’s targets. “When you compare him to George, it is not that big a difference, especially in races. He doesn’t make mistakes and he helps the team, is liked by the team. A couple of times where George had good luck he had bad luck, such as with the wind conditions, and our car is very sensitive to those conditions. When we analyze it, it is pretty good so there is no reason not to have him next year.”
There are only 20 drivers in Formula 1 and 11 seats have already been signed and sealed for 2022. Potentially available seats are one seat at Mercedes, one at Red Bull, one at Aston Martin, and two at AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo and Williams. Realistically, Russell is widely believed to be joining Mercedes.
Elsewhere, Sergio Perez a near-certainty to stay on at Red Bull, while Lance Stroll is not leaving the team owned by his father. AlphaTauri, meanwhile, expects to retain Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. That leaves only Alfa Romeo and Williams as viable options for those seeking Formula 1 employment for 2022.
“At Williams we are in the position that we solely decide on our drivers,” said Capito. “We are not dependent like in the past on some driver who brings money. We have a long-term plan to get back to the top and we have to choose the drivers that fit into that plan. And we are just thinking about this. Of course everyone can talk to us but the decision is with us.
"I think every driver who hasn’t got a fixed seat for next year is talking to us at the moment and it seems the Williams seat is the most aspired seat in Formula 1 right now among the teams that has to fill a seat.”
F1 Hungarian Grand Prix Starting Grid
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
Max Verstappen, Red Bull
Sergio Perez, Red Bull
Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
Lando Norris, McLaren
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
Esteban Ocon, Alpine
Fernando Alonso, Alpine
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martn
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo
Carlos Sainz Jr., Ferrari
Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
George Russell, Williams
Nicholas Latifi, Williams
Nikita Mazepin, Haas
Mick Schumacher, Haas