Formula 1

SEASON REVIEW: 2021 Formula 1 World Championship – Williams Racing

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Credit: Williams Racing

The 2021 Formula One World Championship will remain in the memory of all involved at Williams Racing for a very long time, not only did they accomplish a front-row start for the first time in years but the famous side also managed their first podium since 2017, all thanks to their brilliant Brit. The British team righted the wrongs of their dismal 2020 season, which saw them end the year without a point for the first time in their history. The brilliant George Russell and an improved Nicholas Latifi, guided Williams’ to not only twenty-three points but also eighth in the Constructors’ Championship.

On the track, 2021 was a year which firmly reinstated Williams’ ambition to be at worst a midfield team for the time being. Off the track though and the team had to cope with the greatest tragedy possible to Williams Racing, the tragic loss of founder Sir Frank Williams who sadly passed away in November. Across the paddock, teams and drivers celebrated the life and remembered the incredible man that was Sir Frank, there will never be someone quite like him in Formula One ever again.

Sir Frank Williams sadly passed away on the 28th November aged 79-years-old (1942-2021) – Credit: XPB Images / Williams Racing

It was announced mid-season that after months of speculation Russell would be replacing Valtteri Bottas at the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team for the 2022 season, it was easy to see why! Russell yet again was the mainly predominate figure in the Williams camp and led the team to greatness once again. The Belgian Grand Prix will go down in history for Williams as the day they struck back. Russell landed an incredible second place in Qualifying under immense pressure due to the torrential rain hammering the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.

The race’s effective non-existence due to a continuation of the poor weather, meant Russell’s second place start was essentially converted into a second place finish, the team’s first podium since Lance Stroll in 2017 at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It was also the British driver’s first podium in the sport. Russell’s brilliant 2021 season led him to a fifteenth place finish in the Drivers Championship.

Canadian Nicholas Latifi may not have enjoyed the same highs as Russell did in 2021, the 2019 Formula 2 World Champion did however show significant improvement in his second season of Formula One. The season actually started poorly for Latifi, however mid-season brought the best out of the Canadian who proved to be a fan of challenging conditions. Latifi claimed back to back points finishes at the Hungarian and Belgian Grand Prix’s which led to a seventeenth place finish in the Championship.

George Russell celebrating on the podium after taking second place at the Belgian Grand Prix – Credit: Williams Racing

The Highs:

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Belgian Grand Prix was the highlight of Williams’ season after both drivers excelled in qualifying. Latifi slotted into twelfth place but started ninth after penalties to others, whereas Russell parted the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps sea to clinch a first-ever front row start with Williams for the British driver. The races cancellation after running for long enough under the safety car so that half-points could be awarded, saw Latifi obviously maintain ninth place but more importantly saw Russell stand on the second step of the podium for his first podium in the sport.

The previous round the Hungarian Grand Prix, was another which will run in the memory of especially both drivers for a long time to come. In what was yet another chaotic race due to crazy weather changes, both Williams drivers landed in the points by the end of the race. Russell’s eighth place was the first time he had scored points for Williams, whereas Latifi’s seventh place was the first points of his Formula One career. The Italian Grand Prix was another particularly strong one for the team where they looked comfortable battling in the midfield, Russell clinched an excellent ninth whereas Latifi just missed out on the points in eleventh.

The unpredictable Russian Grand Prix may not have led to the finishing position Williams would’ve hoped for after Russell finished in tenth despite starting in third, it did however see the team run comfortably at the front. Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix was another crazy one, the Sochi Autodrom which had been wet, was rapidly drying leading to a late run of Slick tyre runners and more excitingly a mixed-up grid! The race was largely dry and saw Russell amongst the front runners on merit and not by chance, in a sign of just how far Williams have come since their disastrous 2020 campaign.

Nicholas Latifi during the Hungarian Grand Prix – Credit: Williams Racing

The Lows:

2021 may have been largely an unforgettable season for Williams, it didn’t exactly start all rosy. One of the team’s worst weekends of the season came right at the beginning of the calendar, at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. The race started poorly for the team, Latifi was out after the first lap having collided with Nikita Mazepin after re-entering the circuit in an unsafe-manner. Russell was having a blinder of a race and looked on track for his first points with Williams, this came to a sudden and rather dramatic halt. Russell was arguably too eager to overtake Bottas into Turn 2 and sent both cars off into the barrier at a ridiculous rate.

Russell failed to control himself after the crash and showed an immature side of himself which hadn’t been seen before, the British driver jumped out of his car and went straight over to Bottas’s wrecked Mercedes, before slapping the Finnish driver on the top of his helmet. It resulted in an apology by Russell with many beginning to wonder if the pressure of the Mercedes seat was becoming too much.

As the year went on though we of course learnt that it was just a momentary blip by the outstanding driver, who unfortunately didn’t have the final Grand Prix of his Williams tenure that he would’ve liked. Russell suffered a gearbox issue forcing him to retire from the race, whereas Latifi crashed towards the end of it, the Canadian’s incident being the reason for the late and controversial safety car.

The end of the season as a whole was fairly disappointing for Williams, except for Latifi’s points finish at the jaw-dropping Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Qatar Grand Prix saw the Uralkali Haas F1 Team the closest they had been to Williams virtually all season, in what was a weekend where the British team appeared well off the pace.

Latifi being followed by team-mate Russell at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Qualifying Battle:

It would come as absolutely no surprise that Mr Saturday, George Russell, was hugely dominant over his team-mate when it came to Qualifying in 2021. Russell out-qualified Latifi at twenty of the twenty-two Grand Prix”s during the season, which is no shock considering the new Mercedes driver made it out of Qualifying One at all but three Grand Prix’s last season.

Latifi could only out-qualify his team-mate twice during the year but did perform better than Russell when it came to the Sprint Qualifying events. Latifi finished above Russell at two out of three of the events. As previously mentioned Russell’s best Qualifying result of 2021 was second place, Latifi’s was tenth.

Russell during Qualifying at the Russian Grand Prix – Credit: Williams Racing

Race Battle:

When it came to the racing, Russell was again the leader at Williams, although Latifi did fair better against the British driver when it came to Sunday’s. Russell finished above Latifi fifteen times in 2021, with Latifi being the top Williams driver on only five occasions. The Canadians best result was of course seventh at Hungary with Russell’s best being at Spa where an outstanding qualifying was rewarded with a podium finish under exceptional circumstances.

Russell did suffer more retirements during the season though, albeit not many. Russell retired from three races during 2021, whereas Latifi only retired from two, both occurring due to crashes.

Russell performed brilliantly at the Italian Grand Prix – Credit: Williams Racing

What To Expect In 2022?

With 2021 bringing the team so much well-deserved success, it is worrying that the team opted against producing a mule car for the December post-season test at Abu Dhabi. It does leave Williams worryingly on the back foot heading into the revolutionary season, where fans will see a heap of technical regulation changes meaning a complete brand-new design of Formula One car. The test at Abu Dhabi was teams only opportunity to test the brand-new 18-inch 2022 tyres, putting Williams at a clear disadvantage heading into the new season.

Latifi enters his third season in Formula 1 in 2022, and most definitely needs to build on the improvements he made in 2021. The Canadian needs to demonstrate the ability to fight within the top fifteen more consistently, as well as battle for points more often. Whilst his seat doesn’t look particularly at threat for the time being, the Canadian needs to step up his game if he wants to attract the likes of the Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team in the future. Russell leaving may even benefit Latifi, who can finally try to be the leader in the team. This however may be impacted by Russell’s replacement, the returning Alex Albon.

Albon of course was famously replaced at Red Bull Racing for the 2021 season by Sergio Pérez, Albon was however still heavily involved with the team last season and remains a Red Bull backed driver. Albon makes his return to Formula One having spent 2021 racing in DTM, a drastic difference to an F1 car. Albon may take several rounds to readjust to life as an F1 driver, this adjustment period could be shortened though by the fact that all the drivers will be adjusting to the new technical regulations. A successful season for Albon in 2022 could potentially open the door to a return to Red Bull for 2023, there is certainly pressure on both Williams drivers for the upcoming season.

Latifi (left) will be joined by the returning Alex Albon (right) for the 2022 season – Credit: Williams Racing
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