Williams’ former head of vehicle dynamics, Rob Smedley, has warned that the team’s fortunes could continue to slide in 2020.
The world championship winning team last year scored just a single point, its worst result on record in a season described by deputy team principal Claire Williams as “rock bottom”.
Smedley left Formula 1 after resigning from the team at the end of 2018, having previously worked as Felipe Massa’s race engineer at Ferrari.
He moved across to Williams with the Brazilian where he climbed the ranks to become one of the squad’s senior figures before his departure.
Now, a year removed from the sport, Smedley warns there may be more pain to come for his former employers.
“There would always be a philosophy that it can’t get any worse,” Smedley told Reuters.
“Having been around the block a few times in motorsport, and Formula One in particular, the reality is it can get worse than this.
“We talk about how it can’t get much worse than 2019, but we said that about 2018. And we said that about 2017. The reality is that 2020 can actually be worse than 2019.
“Now I’m on the outside I can hope, but when I was on the inside I didn’t want to just hope,” he added.
“It’s a tragic case. I’m not of the generation that can’t remember when Williams won a world championship.
“To see the decline there, it’s heartbreaking really as a Formula One fan.”
Though results have been scarce in recent years, Williams remains the second most successful team in F1 history, behind only Ferrari, with nine constructors’ crowns.
Williams last won a race in 2012 courtesy of Pastor Maldonado, though that in itself was an unexpected result as the team finished eighth at the end of the year.
Jacques Villeneuve remains the team’s last world champion, having taken the title in 1997, the same year Williams last claimed the constructors’ championship.
Smedley does not anticipate a rapid turnaround in the team’s fortunes, however, and suggests there is a broader issue for the team that must be addressed if it is to compete.
He suggests the team must evolve beyond Formula 1, believing a team that exists solely to go racing can no longer raise the extensive budgets required to compete at the front of the grid.
Instead, any improvements are likely to be slow, certainly in 2020 with stable regulations unlikely to see any radical changes to the existing pecking order.
“Anyone who thinks that you can turn things around from where Williams are now to suddenly arrive back in the top five of the championship, they are very much mistaken. It is just incorrect,” he said.
For 2020 the team will sport entries for George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, who steps up from being the team’s test and reserve driver last year.
They’ll get their first taste of their 2020 machine when pre-season testing kicks off next month, followed by the Australian Grand Prix in mid-March.