By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – It has been 15 years since Williams last won in Monaco, with Juan Pablo Montoya in 2003 after team mate Ralf Schumacher started from pole position, but scoring even a point would be something this weekend.
Once a dominant team of champions, with nine constructors’ crowns and 114 grand prix wins, Williams return to the principality as tail-enders — last overall and with just four points from five races.
While that is better than 2013, when Williams failed to score in the opening nine races and ended the campaign with a mere five points, the slump has still been a shock to the system and there seems to be no quick fix.
At Spain’s Circuit de Catalunya the weekend before last, Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin was last of those still running at the chequered flag while Canadian team mate Lance Stroll was 11th of 14.
Sirotkin has yet to open his account while all four points to date were produced by Stroll in one race — in Azerbaijan last month.
Processional Monaco offers little — for the team that took Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve to titles — to get too excited about.
“I think what we’ve seen is that the issues we have are better and worse at different circuits,” said technical head Paddy Lowe after the race in Barcelona, a track he described as particularly unforgiving.
“Monaco will be another thing altogether. I’m not going to predict where that lands, we’ll have to see.”
Williams clambered back to finish third overall in 2014 and 2015, impressive for a privately-owned family team operating on a far smaller budget than the manufacturers, and have been fifth for the past two years.
But they have plenty to work on before they can start climbing back up the table again, with the Mercedes-powered car unbalanced and hard to handle.
The lack of performance, despite having the best engines available, is also likely to have a commercial impact. Title sponsors Martini have already announced they are off at the end of the year.
“We all carry responsibility. The car isn’t good enough, it’s not what it should be,” said Lowe in Barcelona.
“There are some issues with it, which fortunately we think we understand and we’re very busy doing a lot of work to fix those issues.
“We’re not writing off this season,” he added.
While Lowe was reluctant to give details, the car appears to be suffering an aerodynamic issue with the rear floor.
Lowe said that the problems were apparent right from the start of testing in March, with the drivers — the sport’s youngest and least experienced lineup — unable to drive it anywhere near the limit.
“You see the pace is really quite bad,” said Lowe. “There are many things that are good about the car and they are unable to show themselves because the car is let down by one particular aspect,” said the Briton.
“We have put in place…a recovery programme to bring back the performance, bring back the car to the level at which we intended to operate and that programme is timed up to the mid-season point.
“We just lost our way in some critical areas which we now understand.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)