We’re well and truly into F1 launch season for 2023, and the countdown to the first race of the year has begun. So far we’ve seen liveries for the Haas, Red Bull, Alfa Romeo and Williams, and so far I’d say it’s been a pretty good showing from the F1 class of 2023. The Williams car in particular caught my eye and got me thinking about whether it could be included on a list of the best liveries the team has ever come up with.
The 9 best Williams F1 liveries ever
Frank Williams first arrived in F1 in 1969 and the first car built in-house by his team was the Williams FW in 1973. Since then, the team has written itself a legend that will remain a feature of F1 history for eternity. A full 50 years later, we now sit looking at the FW45, and I for one am hoping that this latest Williams machine will be the one to reverse this great name to the top of the sport where it belongs.
Aside from its performance, though, this new car certainly looks the part. An evolution of last year’s colour scheme that pops brilliantly, especially with that new mat finish. It’s pretty good, but Williams has come up with some pretty outstanding liveries over the years, so let’s count down nine of the best.
We’ll start with the very early beginnings of the Williams story. Following some early skirmishes throughout the 1970s as Frank Williams Racing Cars, the Williams team as we know it today was first formed in 1977. It gained official FOCA membership for the 1979 season and ran two cars for the first time, introducing the FW07 at that year’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama.
The car was a revelation, despite some early reliability troubles, and this fledgling Williams team plunged itself straight into the championship fight. After finishing 2nd in the constructors’ championship in 1979, Williams went two better in 1980 with a revised FW07B, winning the drivers’ title with Alan Jones as well as the constructors’. Then again in 1981, this time with the FW07C, Carlos Reutemann came so close to championship glory as Williams again took constructors’ honours. Even as the FW07C was reaching the end of its competitive life in 1982, it was still quick enough to take a podium finish with Keke Rosberg in its final appearance.
But aside from its speed, I think it also looked pretty great. As a ground-effect car, its body is sleek and simple, but the livery is equally elegant. The green and white Saudia colour scheme is incorporated perfectly on the bodywork in a way that accentuates the car’s shape. I prefer the original 1979 livery.
Moving swiftly from one of William’s most successful periods to a 2012 season that is remembered for one particular moment. Before we knew just how much of a struggle things were going to become for the Grove team, this point in its history was as bad as it had ever been.
The five years following the divorce from BMW were tricky for Williams. The team looked rudderless as it jumped between engine manufacturers. First Cosworth, then Toyota, then back to Cosworth. But general lack of performance left the team down in a record lowest 9th in the constructors’ championship. The need for revitalisation was desperate, and it came in the form of a partnership with Renault for 2012. Williams-Renault had been the dominant force in F1 through the 1990s, would this new engine deal spark a renaissance?
Well, quite miraculously, it did win the Spanish Grand Prix with Pastor Maldonado, but that result was vastly out of character for an ultimately uncompetitive car. What was great about the FW34 was its livery. Although 2012 harked the arrival of those awful stepped noses, the colour scheme that covered it was a good one. Somewhat reminiscent of a certain livery from the 1990s, the contrast of the blue and white pops brilliantly, while the retro sticker-style car numbers complete a pretty top-tier look.
When I say things became a struggle for Williams, the 2019 season is a case in point. It's sad in a way that this car didn’t have more success. There were two huge stories at Williams in 2019. Firstly, there was the return of Robert Kubica to F1 almost ten years after his horrific rally crash that came so very close to ending his career entirely. Then there was the arrival of the young hotshot George Russell. Wonder what he’s up to these days.
While this wasn’t quite the team’s worst season as it scored a solitary point courtesy of Robert Kubica at the German Grand Prix, the FW42 will not be remembered for much.
Except, from my point of view, for its livery, which is one of the more interesting on this list. In so many ways it looks like it’s come straight out of a livery builder from the F1 game. It’s not particularly intricate, but that blue is one of the most gorgeous colours that’s ever been on an F1 grid. The way it fades so smoothly into white is also deeply satisfying, and it proves that sometimes simplicity is best. The effect is also perfectly framed by a solid black border that goes around the entire car. It’s bold.
I nearly had a fistfight with a colleague over this one. You may want to hit me too, but now you’re here you might as well hear me out. Firstly, let’s remove all context. Forget about the incredibly iconic colour scheme that Williams (to be fair it wasn’t the team’s decision) dropped in favour of this, forget about the marked drop in form that the team experienced in conjunction with this paradigm shift of a rebrand. Just look at the car and take it at face value.
When I sit back and just look at the FW20 in its Winfield colours, I actually really like it. Let’s be honest, if this car was as dominant as those that came before it, it would probably be looked upon far more favourably.
There’s something about the red and yellow colour scheme that just works on a racing car. Just look at the splash of yellow Ferrari added to its car for the 2022 Italian Grand Prix. The Ferrari 499P set to run at Le Mans in 2023 is by far and away the best-looking car in the LMH class thanks to that spectacular colour scheme. It just works, and I think the first iteration of the Williams Winfield livery is a good look.
Let’s move on to something that ought to be a little less controversial. The Martini brand has been at the pinnacle of motorsport for generations. Whether it was the Lancia Delta Integrale, or the Porsche 935, those famous blue and red stripes strike a chord with motorsport fans all over the world.
So Williams simply couldn’t fail when it signed a huge sponsorship deal with Martini for the 2014 season, and the livery it produced was suitably sublime. The famous stripes were back, and the car looked fantastic. What is it about white cars? This livery stuck around until the end of the 2018 season and remained pretty much unchanged throughout. I can see why.
The 2014 season also saw the beginning of the hybrid era in F1, and Williams had got hold of Mercedes power, which turned out to be a masterstroke. So superior was that Merc power unit that Williams was able to put together a hugely successful season, finishing third in the constructors’ championship, as high as the team had been since the heady BMW days a decade prior.
4. Williams FW45
The very latest Williams car was only launched a few days ago, but with a bit of time to have a look at it, I’ve decided it’s deserving of a place on this list – and quite high up too. We’re yet to see how the FW45 will perform on track. Hopefully, it’s the first step on a triumphant return to the top for this legendary team, but in the showroom, it looks absolutely spot on.
It’s very much an evolution of the 2022 livery, which is no bad thing, the FW44 looked sharp too, but the slightly jarring areas of bare carbon necessitated by some pretty desperate weight saving-measures made it look a little disjointed by the end of the season. Fingers crossed this car retains a little more of this striking livery.
One final point that has really sold this new car to me is that mat finish – it just makes adds another level of class to these cars. Also of note is the fantastic implementation of the Duracell battery on the roll hoop. Top-notch design work there.
3. Williams FW26
This was a tricky one to place. The Williams-BMW era of the early 2000s was the last genuine period when Williams could at least be included in the championship conversation. It was still considered a top team at that stage, with major success still lying in the recent past, but by the middle of the 2000 season, it seemed as though the might of Ferrari was simply insurmountable.
Williams came closest to upsetting the form book in 2003, when it came within a handful of points of overthrowing the Prancing Horse. So 2004 was considered the final chance for the Williams-BMW pairing, as the German giant was beginning to lose patience. As it was, this would be the worst season yet, and eventually, prove to be the beginning of the end for the partnership.
Aside from the livery, the most striking thing about the FW26 was its walrus tusk nose. It was a different and genuinely cool idea, which unfortunately didn’t pay off in terms of performance. That livery was pretty iconic, though, the BMW motif on the nose is instantly recognisable and the blue and white (white again) was balanced just perfectly to accentuate the shape of the car. The Williams-BMW colour scheme didn’t change much at all during that six-year marriage, but I think this iteration was the best looking, if only due to that walrus nose.
2. Williams FW14B
Ok, we’re getting to the big guns now. The FW14B was simply one of the most dominant F1 cars of all time. It incorporated a host of cutting-edge tech the sport, had never seen before. Active suspension, traction control, a semi-automatic gearbox and even ABS at one point. The car all of this tech was strapped on to was the FW14 that had raced the year before, but so good was it that the FW15 intended to eventually replace it for 1992 was never even used.
Outside of retirements, Williams only finished outside of the podium places twice and won ten of the 16 races. Quite a feat. But aside from its brilliance in terms of competition, it’s also one of the most beautiful F1 cars ever built. Granted the cars of this early '90s era were all pretty gorgeous, but the rounded nose, wonderfully simplistic side pods and enormous rear wing remain the iconic F1 car template.
Better yet was the livery. Arguably the Marlboro McLaren livery of that same era is more widely recognisable to the wider world, but this would have to be a close second. Who would have thought that white, blue and yellow would work so well together? Stick a red number five on the front and you’ve pretty much struck upon perfection.
1. Williams FW18
I say pretty much because, in actual fact, this is perfection. The utterly sublime FW18 that Damon Hill took to world championship glory in 1996. As we’ve already seen from this list, Williams has been through some pretty memorable eras, the early days of Saudia, the Canon, Camel, Labatt’s combo of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, BMW, Martini, what a list. But none of these come close to the pinnacle of all F1 liveries, the Rothmans Williams of 1994-1997.
The partnership got off to a pretty tragic beginning as the world was shaken by the loss of Ayrton Senna, but gradually the upturn began and eventually Williams had reason to be proud of its Rothmans-liveried cars.
I’ve picked the FW18 because it just gets the colour scheme exactly right. It didn’t quite fit the shape of the FW16 of 1994, but to be fair you’d be forgiven for mistaking the FW17 of 1995 for the 1996 car. Then finally the 1997 FW19 introduced some red sponsorship which never quite fit with the scheme. So choosing between the '95 and ’96 car is easy because the FW18 is the one that won. That blue, gold, red and white will always be at the very, very peak of F1 liveries.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
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