A sign of the bad times as Williams celebrates “incredible season”… in eSports

While Ferrari chooses not to bother with such things as race previews, and Mercedes takes the opportunity to promote itself as the underdog, over the last season, rather than talking of its chances in forthcoming races, the pre-race releases from Williams have seen Paddy Lowe talking about the fans, the food and the atmosphere indeed, everything other than his team’s prospects for the weekend ahead.

Despite having the best engine, the FW41 was arguably the worst car the Grove outfit has ever produced, for though it was among the most reliable cars out there, it suffered dreadfully in terms of handling and pace.

The fact that the team had two relatively inexperienced drivers didn’t help of course, but then again, in terms of the FW41 there was little that could have been done.

Knowing that title sponsor Martini was leaving at season end meant there was always a cloud over the team, a situation not helped by the increasing likelihood of Lance Stroll and his (father’s) money departing.

The team scored points on just two occasions, Stroll finishing 8th in Azerbaijan and the Canadian leading home teammate Sergey Sirotkin for ninth and tenth in Italy.

At season end, the nine-time champion constructor was last in the team standings, with just 7 points, 26 adrift of Toro Rosso.

Team boss Claire Williams, like Zak Brown at McLaren, was reduced to calling on Liberty to speed up the introduction of the budget cap, while also urging the sport’s owners to come good on its plans to divide the prize pot more evenly – a call unthinkable when Frank Williams and Ron Dennis were at the helm of their respective teams.

And while we look forward to a turnaround in fortune in 2019, with the talented George Russell partnered by Robert Kubica – and talk of a significant new sponsor – let us sincerely hope that this time next year the Grove outfit has more to celebrate than “an incredible debut season in eSport competition”.

For those of you interested in such things, here is said press release:

Williams Esports, the sim racing squad of Formula One team Williams Racing, is celebrating an incredible debut season in esport competition.

The new venture was launched in May 2018, giving Williams the opportunity to compete and build its reputation in the fast-growing esports industry, and to enable a new generation of fans to engage with the legendary team.

The roster boasts 26 of the world’s best sim racers, made up of 10 nationalities, competing in more than 20 series and competitions – several of them the official esports versions of real life racing championships – across all three platforms, PC, Xbox and PlayStation.

In just seven months, the team has contested more than 550 races, winning 85 of them and finishing more than half inside the top five. Williams Esports has already claimed 11 live event victories and four championship titles – including Brazilian driver Igor Fraga’s FIA GT Sport World Championship victory in Monaco in November.

The team has achieved great exposure during its first year, with more than 30 million video views of its racing activities and 22 million impressions of content featuring the #WilliamsEsports hashtag. Just over 75% of this exposure has come from an audience under the age of 35, whilst live events in which the team has competed this year have been attended by more than half a million people.

Williams has quickly built a strong community of partners for its esports programme. Award-winning gaming PC manufacturer Chillblast, leading gaming lifestyle and product brand Razer, and renowned technology company BenQ have been joined by sim racing specialists Playseat, Fanatec and Heusinkveld, event delivery partner The Events House and teamwear supplier One All Sports.

Williams has also started to explore the links between sim racing and real-life motorsport, with its F1 Esports drivers already sampling the team’s F1 simulator. The crossover in talent is clear; nine of the team’s 26 elite sim racers are current or former racing drivers.

The team is set to expand further in 2019, taking on new players and entering new competitions as it spreads wider across the esports landscape. More details of these activities will be announced soon.

Javier Guerra, Williams Esports team manager, said: “What an amazing first season it’s been for Williams Esports. A year ago, I would never have believed all this could be possible. We have some incredible drivers and we’ve very quickly developed a strong sense of teamwork among them. To have won 85 races and 15 titles in just seven months is unbelievable – we can only imagine how successful we can be in 2019 with a full season.”

Steven English, who heads the esports programme at Williams, added: “We are delighted to have achieved so much so soon. It has rewarded our decision to commit so fully to esports as a platform, which offers both Williams and our partners hugely valuable opportunities to engage with this vital demographic.

“The sim racing sector of the esports industry is growing fast and we are working hard to make it more professional. We’re enjoying that journey with the drivers and team partners that have committed and invested to build that future with us. We’ve made a terrific start on the audience engagement side, and that will really ramp up next year as we produce the content and the stories to share our esports world with fans and gamers throughout our first full season in 2019.”