'We can't catch up in a year': Why Williams won't see F1 success for half a decade
New management, new financing and a new car have left Williams pretty much where it was last season. Team boss Jost Capito tells Chris Medland why the famous team will need several more years before it's capable of fighting for F1 wins
Four races into the 2022 Formula 1 season, and all ten teams have scored points. It was actually Aston Martin that was last to register on the board, but the double score in Imola pushed Williams back down to what has been a familiar position in recent years.
Eighth overall last season was a clear step forward, but it came in a year when it was regularly fighting with the likes of an uncompetitive Haas and Alfa Romeo to pick up scraps. This year feels slightly similar in that Williams is often facing a big challenge just to get out of Q1, but in such a competitive field that hasn’t ruled out points on a Sunday.
It might not be the leap into the midfield many Williams fans were hoping for amid new regulations, but according to team principal Jost Capito that was never likely to happen, and he has no real concerns about how this year actually plays out, either…
“When I came in at the beginning of last year and FX [Demaison, technical director] came in the spring, the base strategy for this year’s cars was done,” Capito told Motor Sport. “So we had to look in one development cycle how is the structure, how does the team work, and understand it.
“So it’s only now when we can adjust the structure, adjust the working processes. We didn’t know where we would end up, but we said ‘OK, we’ll see where we end up with this structure’, and we end up [where we are].
“So now during the development process we found what has to be changed on the structure, where we are not efficient enough, where we have to improve, which area has not enough people, maybe another area has too much – so how do we have to readjust it?
“You can only do that after the car is done and the new car started, so it’s now two months where we’ve had the time to reshuffle. So it doesn’t really matter that much for us what the results are this year, because this is the one cycle we had to go through to understand the team, that’s why it’s not frustrating for anybody.”
“If you have to catch up it’s almost impossible – but almost impossible doesn’t mean it is impossible!”
Fresh ownership from Dorilton Capital came with financial stability after years of struggle for Williams, and now is the time to kick on. But that doesn’t mean there will be clear signs of progress in the short-term, with Capito remaining cautious about how much improvement can be delivered by not only this year’s development, but a whole new car next season as well.
“Again, if you see where you are lacking, you can’t fix it in two months. If you need a strong aerodynamicist for example, then it takes one-and-a-half or two years until you have somebody, and then it takes half a year until they’re established, and then it’s the next year’s car that has the impact.
“So we are pretty aware that it’s a minimum five-year programme. We have seen that in the past, when Ferrari came back it took five years, and they didn’t come back from P10! We’ve seen that with McLaren, we’ve seen that with everybody, it takes five years because you are in a constant year-by-year development and to do changes is two-to-three years. Then until everything is established and works out it’s another year or two. So if you don’t have it agreed that it’s a five-year program then you have no chance.”
What should be a cause for optimism – a cost cap that stops the biggest teams outspending the smaller outfits to the huge extent they used to be able to – is actually one of Capito’s biggest challenges. He might have greater resources available to him than previous Williams CEOs enjoyed, but the former Volkswagen Motorsport boss is actually restricted in how he can utilise them.
“The team was lacking the financials in the last years before Dorilton came in, and that’s every obvious and everybody knows that. On the financials it was very hard to keep the team running and being at the races, so you can imagine the development of the infrastructure and the tools in the factory, to be efficient, there were no resources there to invest in that. This also needs time to catch up.
“If you talk about the technology for CFD, it needs investment, and if that is not invested in for five or six years you fall behind and you don’t catch that up in a year.
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“And now even with the cost cap it’s more difficult because there’s also a cost cap on cap-ex, so everybody invests exactly the same amount, but if you have to catch up it’s almost impossible – but almost impossible doesn’t mean it is impossible!
“That’s why you need the time, you can’t catch that up in a year. In the past you could invest a lot, sweep it all out, everything new in, done. You can’t do that.
“With the cost cap it is an efficiency race. The more efficient you are, the more you can put into the development of the car and upgrades. If you don’t have these tools to be efficient, you pay a lot on headcount because you are inefficient, and that takes away from the potential you have to upgrade the car.”
As massively ambitious as it sounds right now, Capito insists Dorilton’s ownership aims include winning championships. But given the implementation of a cost cap at a time when Williams needs investment, is it realistic to be championship contenders again or do the financial regulations make it harder?
“It makes it much harder. It makes it much harder because the idea is to equal them out, but what the first years of the cost cap does is fix the ranking. The ranking will stay as it is, so if the gap is here, everybody invests the same and it goes like this [develops equally].”
The potential within Williams has certainly increased with extra funding and stability, but don’t expect to see it realised quickly. Major successes will be measured in small gains.