MPH: Newey and Sainz fighting for the F1 title with Williams. Imagine.


Williams is targeting a return to its F1 championship-winning years. Will the emotional draw of a return to the team appeal to Adrian Newey? asks Mark Hughes. And could he be joined by Carlos Sainz?

Alex Albon and Sergio Perez in 2024 Australian GP qualifying

Williams is putting the foundations in place for a return to its glory years

William West/AFP via Getty

“Who is the cork in the bottle?” Kevin Magnussen was asked yesterday in response to him still not knowing what his options were for next year. “He is,” said Kevin, pointing to Carlos Sainz. The remaining moves in the driver market hinge upon Sainz’s decision of where he will go, with the realistic options seemingly narrowed down between Audi and Williams.

Sainz for his part is also becoming weary of delaying that decision. “The latest is that a decision will be taken very soon. I don’t want to wait any longer. It’s getting to the point where it’s been taking space in my head for quite a few months now and it’s obviously time to make a decision.” Asked if that meant he was clear in his mind about his intentions, he replied, “No. That’s the problem. It’s still something I’m discussing with my [management] team and brainstorming. I need a couple of days back at home. I was there before this race but my head was in the Spanish Grand Prix, not the future.”

Has there ever been a driver so on form with a top team, winning grands prix, who gets let go without any prospect of continuing in a potentially winning car? Yes actually: Damon Hill at the end of ’96 when he was released by Williams despite having secured the world title. He’d be in the lowly Arrows team for ’97 where he scored a scant seven points, despite coming agonisingly close to winning the Hungarian Grand Prix.

The irony of course is that Williams was the top team Hill was being forced to leave and is now, 28 years later, the low status team Sainz may be obliged to go with.

Adrian Newey and Damon Hill in Williams F1 pit garage in 1996

Newey and Hill at Williams in 1996

Eric Cabanis/AFP via Getty

The loss of Hill was a key reason Adrian Newey decided to leave Williams, as Newey had been promised he’d always be consulted about driver changes – and wasn’t. If the recruitment of Sainz would be considered punching above Williams’ weight, what about if it could recruit Newey too?

The smart money still suggests Newey – who is effectively currently serving his Red Bull gardening leave – will be at Ferrari. But Adrian insists he has made no firm commitment.  Williams team principal James Vowles has already gone on record confirming he is trying very hard to recruit him. From Newey’s perspective, there has to be a strong emotional appeal in returning to the team for which he had his first success and helping transform it from the backmarker it has become back to glory.

From the archive

The loss of Newey back in the late ‘90s was the beginning of a long, slow decline for Williams. There were many shortcomings there other than just the absence of Adrian. But had he remained there maybe these would have been addressed. Especially if his request for a shareholding in the team had not been dismissed by Frank Williams and Patrick Head.

So when the threads of history are followed back to their source, the release of Damon all those years ago played its part in there being an opportunity for Newey to return there – and for Sainz to be rescued from the exact same situation Damon was placed in.

From an external perspective it may be difficult to understand why Sainz would even be considering a Williams drive when he is being courted by Audi, a big-budget automotive team. But the nitty-gritty behind the scenes can look quite different to general perception. Vowles is conducting an aggressive marketing campaign in an attempt at turbocharging his recruitment campaign. At every opportunity he is telling the world that this team now has no budgetary concerns, that it is being totally transformed into a modern cutting-edge F1 team after years of under-investment, that a lot of high-calibre people have already committed to join. That this is not the Williams team of the last few years, but one with the foundations of a return to the glory years, back when it allowed Damon Hill to stand at the very summit of the sport. Imagine if both Newey and Sainz bought into that. Would that not be genuinely exciting?