I strongly suspect the FW42 won’t repeat the extreme undercut of the FW41’s sidepods, based on Paddy’s interview in Racecar Engineering in November: “It does not take much studying to see that we have very much the largest undercuts in the pit lane, and it is clearly not a winning formula, certainly not in the way we have delivered it.” Teams like RBR and Sauber virtually lost the undercut altogether, and other teams that stuck with a degree of undercut moderated it, apart, perhaps, from McLaren.
He also made the point that any team has a certain amount of capacity, and when you’re using that capacity to track back and find out where you went wrong, you’re not using it to advance, while other people are. The team could short-cut that to a degree by dropping development on the FW41 as soon as the ‘19 regs were announced, but I don’t think that will be enough to make up lost ground. So while I doubt the team will have anything like the disaster they did in ‘18, I also doubt they’ll be back to where they were in ‘16-‘17, let alone ‘14. Given the overhaul of the entire design function, which in itself is going to use up capacity, 2019 is probably going to be a building year.
Whether or not the FW42 will take a different path altogether, based on some of Lowe’s comments, is harder to tell. “There is now a lot of work back at base to revisit and we also need to look at how we design cars generally,” suggests a total overhaul might be on the cards. There are quite a few suggestions that Williams’ complete approach to creating a car has changed, as the FW41 “uncovered a range of areas in which we have slipped behind in terms of our capability”. He also suggests the team is also looking to make “a big step” in 2019 (that’s not just rhetoric, earlier in the interview he admitted that trying to make an equivalent step for 2018 was what got them into so much trouble).
They’re not going to go back to the FW40 philosophy, though, to my mind. “It should not be said that the car has not improved. This [the FW41] is a better car than the FW40. It’s just that the sport moves week by week, and we have not been moving as fast as others, we have under-developed and been out-developed. Some of that is because we made choices that were too aggressive, but at the time we made them they made sense, we were ambitious, we had to be.” In other words, the FW41 was still better than an evolved FW40 would have been, and it would have been pointless to try to compete with a warmed-over FW40. I get the feeling the FW36-40 concept was played out, anyway - as others have pointed out, the ‘17 reg change removed much of the benefit of a low-drag philosophy, and you surely get into diminishing returns.
I’ll take a punt and say that they’ll be a little ahead of Racing Point and McLaren, but closer to the back of the midfield than the front, at least at the start of the year.
On the predictions of financial doom, I don’t buy it. Williams has always been financially sound, even in the less successful years, and this time they are relaxed enough about it to have hired a driver with no financial inducements at all - which must be the first time in a decade that is the case. There’s the PKN Orlen deal, and I imagine there will be more Polish sponsors on the way. I presume there will be some money associated with the development driver too.