BRM, Brabham, Tyrrell and Colin Chapman’s Lotus are among the greatest names in the history of Formula One, all of them multiple world champions. Sadly, none of them compete in grand prix racing any longer. Teams come and go over the years and only Ferrari remain in the sport having taken part in the first world championship in 1950.
Major car manufacturers get involved in the sport, too. Mercedes, Renault, Honda, BMW and Toyota have all dipped in and out (and sometimes in again) of F1 and will continue to do so at the whim of company boards that have more interest in the bottom line than they do in motor racing.
But alongside Ferrari, the two grandee names of F1 are McLaren and Williams. They are the twin pillars of British involvement in the highest category of single-seat racing. Between them they have 17 constructors’ championships, 19 drivers’ titles and 296 grands prix wins. But times change. Both are now mere shadows of the teams that dominated the last two decades of the 20th Century.
Neither McLaren or Williams have won a race since 2012 and both are a familiar presence towards the back of the grid. These former powerhouses now use customer engines, find it hard to attract or retain sponsors and, in the case of Williams, rely on drivers who pay for the privilege of racing their cars. These two noble names, that are part of the pantheon of F1, are doing everything they can to stay in the slipstream of a sport that is rapidly accelerating away from them.
A recent restructuring at McLaren created three separate divisions in the company, with McLaren Racing being one. The other two divisions, Automotive and Applied Technologies, sell products and services, but the racing part needs to wash its face as a business and current results are not going to make that easy.
Over at Williams, title sponsor Martini leaves at the end of the season, which makes the company ever more reliant on the money brought in by their drivers, Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin. The rich have often invested heavily in motor racing, but eventually it dawns on them that there is little to be gained by running around at the back.
The next three years are crucial to the future of F1. Liberty Media haven’t spent $8 billion to watch the whole thing unravel and keeping everyone happy is going to be far from easy. Ferrari are threatening (again) to walk away and Mercedes are aligning themselves to flounce out with them unless they both get what they want. But what they want might be beyond the reach of the once-mighty McLaren and Williams.
Teams come and go and often fans don’t even notice but, apart from Ferrari, McLaren and Williams are the two most successful teams in the sport’s history and it would do untold damage if they fell away. Liberty have a lot of people to keep happy, but even then, it might be beyond their control.