2021 Performance Review: Williams

Updated: Jan 27

Written by Olly Radley, Morgan Holiday, Danny Jones, and Sasha MacMillen, edited by Tanishka Vashee

Overview

In comparison to recent years, 2021 was an exceptional year for Williams. From 2018-2020, Williams scored points only four times, with eight points in total; in 2021 alone, they achieved six points scoring races (including two double points scores) with 23 points overall. In their first year of new ownership under Dorilton Capital, the Grove-based team brought in a new CEO, Jost Capito, as a first step in remoulding the Williams team and reuniting them with the front of the pack. 

In his first year alone, the German helped to take Williams from the backmarkers they’ve been in recent years, to being able to compete with the bigger midfield teams like Alpine and Aston Martin, making Q3 on four occasions. It wasn’t an instant step-up to the midfield for Williams, with an average start to the year, but come the European-stint of the season, Williams were consistently in and around the points. There were points where they were dealt an unfortunate hand when it came to reliability, like at the first Austrian race, where an issue caused a premature exit from the race while running in the points. In the crazy Hungarian grand prix, both Williams avoided the melee at Turn 1 and drove a very solid race ending with both cars in the points. 

They showed lots of unity during the race and you could see how momentous the result was for them. A brilliant qualifying in Belgium, and a great deal of luck, secured them another double points score after the “race” was called off after a few laps behind the safety car, causing half points to be awarded. The end to the season was nothing to brag about but the 10-race stint during the middle of the season, was like seeing the classic Williams back out on track again, showing everyone their fighting spirit and determination to perform and improve.

Olly

George Russell

As a Mercedes young driver and F2 champion, there were naturally lots of expectations that he’d be the next best thing in F1 and would one day join the Mercedes team and fight for championships. In 2019, George’s debut year, we couldn’t really see his real ability due to the poor performance of the Williams, much like Mick Schumacher’s 2021. 

In 2020, the Williams had a bit more pace and George sometimes was able to demonstrate his ability to fight and compete against others and was very close to the points on numerous occasions. As we all remember, he even got an outing in the Mercedes where he dominated teammate Valtteri Bottas and would’ve won had it not been for a slow puncture. In 2021 however, the image of George Russell was reshaped completely. In 2021, he demonstrated both his pace and his maturity, and no longer seemed like the hotshot rookie at Williams, but instead seemed like the leader at Williams and was the face of Williams’ resurgence into the midfield.

George achieved 4 points scores and 4 Q3 appearances and was unlucky not to score more after his incident with Valtteri Bottas at Imola and an issue at Styria. George showed real class and proved to all of his doubters that he is one of the best drivers on the grid, and is more than just a hotshot young driver.

Driver Rating – 9/10

Nicolas Latifi

Nicolas Latifi is a driver who faced a lot of criticism for the way he got into F1 and was labelled a “pay driver”. While his financial backing played a big part in him getting his seat, it wasn’t the only reason, and in 2021, he was able to back that up. 

While George Russell was undoubtedly the better of the two, Nicky showed real signs of improvement from his debut year and was often able to compete with George in some races. While Nicolas wasn’t always on the ball, he demonstrated that he has lots of pace and isn’t just paying for his seat.

Having said all of that, Nicolas still has a lot to do to really prove himself, while he kept his seat for 2022, there will again be lots of competition for his seat in 2023 and he’ll need to make further steps to ensure that he is able to retain his drive at the Williams team and keep his seat in F1.

Driver Rating – 6.5/10

Morgan

George Russell

Russell is highly rated by many in the world of Formula 1, but his 2021 got off to a rather rocky start with a mistake in Imola where he crashed into Valtteri Bottas, the man he was already rumoured to be replacing for the 2022 season. After some communication Russell agreed it was a mistake, and from there he improved. As usual, Russell shone most brightly in qualifying throughout the season, regularly making Q2 appearances and even Q3 on occasion. His best moments were in Belgium and Russia, where wet weather conditions gave him the opportunities to qualify second and third respectively. The weather in Spa meant that the race never fully got underway, and Russell scored his first podium in Formula 1, maybe not under totally legitimate circumstances but a podium is a podium all the same. Overall, while he continued his trend of qualifying well and falling backwards in the race, Russell worked well with the Williams car to prove he’s ready for the Mercedes seat next season.

Driver Rating – 8/10

Best Race: Italian GP – Despite being (technically) out- qualified by his teammate, Russell turned 14th into ninth at Monza with a well timed safety car allowing him to benefit. He managed to hold off Ocon to stay in the points, giving the team their third points finish in four races.

Nicholas Latifi

The Canadian driver definitely made improvements in his second season of Formula 1, managing a task previously thought impossible: out qualifying George Russell in a Williams. The first time was in Monza, when Latifi finished 13th in the Sprint Race and Russell finished 14th. While you could argue that doesn’t count, Latifi then went on to qualify ahead of Russell two more times, in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. On top of that he made it into Q2 on four occasions, and scored Williams first points since 2019 with a seventh place finish in Hungary, right ahead of Russell. While Latifi still has much to prove to the people who doubt his talent, in 2021 he made good steps towards solidifying his place at Williams.

Driver Rating – 6/10

Best Race: Hungarian GP – After a chaotic start that resulted in a red flag, Latifi capitalised from the mess and was running in the podium positions after the restart. While the Williams didn’t have the performance to make it to the podium, Latifi held his own and came through to finish seventh, his first points finish in Formula 1 and outscoring his teammate.

Sasha

George Russell

His promotion to the Mercedes works time is no doubt thoroughly deserved, and 2021 served as a further reminder of this. He had staggeringly quick qualifying pace for the majority of the races, with a purple patch in particular through the middle part of the season. His race pace has never been quite as strong, and his race starts did cost him at times, with Silverstone coming to mind. An incident on the opening lap of the sprint race cost him positions, and ultimately he received a three-place grid penalty, which rather diminished a P8 start in the sprint race. The Belgian Grand Prix was his shining glory, beating all the drivers bar Max Verstappen, in a Williams. It was a shame we were denied the opportunity of seeing him handle the fight at the front in such an inferior car, yet with the wet conditions. Overall, a very good year, but Russell must brush up on his racecraft to consistently challenge a seven-time world champion in 2022. 

Driver Rating – 8/10

Best Race: Belgian Grand Prix – Whilst this didn’t have a proper “race” to fully rate his weekend, his outstanding qualifying performance alone was enough for me to be convinced that this was his best weekend of the season. 

Nicholas Latifi

A bit of an anonymous season from the Canadian, with his most memorable moment being for all the wrong reasons and consequences, his crash in Abu Dhabi. He was nowhere near consistently challenging Russell in qualifying, yet his racecraft relative to Russell was respectable. Hungary was an undoubted high, scoring his first points in F1 after running in the podium positions. However, there were also a multitude of races in which he ended up fighting the Haas cars, who were just far Williams’ inferior in pure performance in 2021. His role will remain in the Williams structure, as long as his family’s investment is prominent, yet he’s failing to show any real reason as to why he should be in Formula One. 

Driver Rating – 5/10

Best Race: Hungarian Grand Prix – An anonymous qualifying session as both him and Russell were knocked out in Q1, yet the Canadian handled the pressure of running in higher positions admirably, and secured an impressive seventh place, vital to kickstart Williams’ attempt at P8 in standings. 

Dan

George Russell

It seemed inevitable that if Russell continued his 2020 form, a Mercedes seat would come to fruition by the end of the season. Not only did he meet, but he comfortably exceeded any expectations. Williams finally provided Russell the machinery to challenge for the points on a semi-regular basis, and picked up points on 4 occasions. He has had his mishaps – a small error caused a violent crash with Valtteri Bottas in Imola, and his form slipped after his Mercedes seat was announced. ‘Mr Saturday’ continued his qualifying excellence, with remarkable performances in the changeable conditions in Spa and Sochi, qualifying P2 and P3 respectively. His form improved to the point where Q1 elimination was a genuine surprise, whilst making Q3 was seen as less of a surprise. However, if he wants to perform at Mercedes, this ‘Mr Saturday’ tag needs to be shaken off. However, Russell has yet again displayed his excellence behind the wheel, although there are still rough edges – notably in race pace, he has really refined his driving, and has shown the potential to do great in the future.

Driver Rating – 7.5/10

Best Race – Italian GP: His 4 points finishes were all given in fortuitous circumstances, but in a Williams you have to take your opportunities. He was on the pace all weekend at Monza, and after Hamilton and Verstappen’s collision, the Brit drove home to an impressive P9

Nicholas Latifi

It his difficult to truly judge a driver’s season when they are up against the formidable George Russell, but Latifi has clearly made leaps and bounds from his difficult and tough rookie season. Despite a tough start to the season, where he struggled to beat the rookies in the Haas, Latifi significantly developed as the season went on. He was fairly anonymous until Hungary, where he took advantage of the chaos at the start, and found himself in a remarkable P3. But it was clear that would be unsustainable, but still reached the chequered flag in an impressive P7, beating Russell to Williams first points in 2 years (albeit by just over a second). After many took penalties in Spa, Latifi claimed an extra point for free. Toward the end of the season, Latifi’s pace was matching and beating Russell, out qualifying the Brit 3 times, a task once deemed impossible. Latifi has truly had a much improved season, and is beginning to prove his worth in the sport. It is unfortunate that Latifi’s season will be defined by his crash in Abu Dhabi which caused the chain of events for Max Verstappen’s title, because he has been much improved, and it will be exciting to see what he does against ex-F2 teammate, Alex Albon.

Driver Rating – 6/10

Best Race – Hungarian Grand Prix: Nice and simple, took advantage of the chaos, and drove supremely to pick up an unlikely points finish.

How well do you think Williams performed in 2021, and what do you think they can accomplish in 2022? Let us know!

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