I started “watching” F1 in the mid 1990s although my earliest memories are of Senna vs Prost in the McLaren days of the late 1980s. Back in the 80s it was McLaren dominating, but as F1 moved into the 90s it was the Williams-Renault team who emerged the ones to beat.
The fateful 1994 season raised the profile of F1 around the world. Ayrton Senna was a global sporting icon. I’m not sure I realised the extent of this status until I saw the excellent film, Senna, at the cinema last year. In the words of Stephen Fry as the producers collected their BAFTA recently, even if you have no interest in motorsport at all, this film is worth seeing.
The day Senna died he was driving a Williams-Renault. The team were reigning Constructors World Champions, a title they would go on to win for a third time running that season. Senna’s team mate was Damon Hill who, that same year, would narrowly miss out on the World Championship and in so doing ignite a rivalry with Michael Schumacher that would last for several years.
The Williams-Renault team drew huge support from F1 fans, particularly the Brits. At the team’s heart were two British stalwarts in Frank Williams and Patrick Head. The team was about achieving engineering excellence and, above all, winning. Their cars carried British heros Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill to World Championships in the 1990s, there were drivers titles also for Alain Prost and Jacques Villeneuve, and the team collected 5 Constructors crowns along the way.
Fast-forward 15 years (wow, has it really been that long?!). The 2012 F1 season sees the reuniting of the super power that was Williams-Renault. However, the team has not won a race since the early 2000s, has seen a gradual slide down the grid and in the last 12 months has faced the departure of key personnel including Sam Michael and Patrick Head. The 2012 driver line up of Maldonado and Bruno Senna stinks of pay-drivers and a requirement for their South American investors.
Whilst the Senna name will once again adorn a Williams-Renault, it seems that this could be where the parallels between the eras end. Or could it? Let’s not forget that Renault have powered RedBull to their last two Championship victories… However I, for one, remain worried for Williams. Only time will tell if they are on the road to recovery or obscurity.