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Williams' woes: Former F1 glories far away for British team

(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

By CIARAN FAHEY

Associated Press

SILVERSTONE, England (AP) It has been 21 years since Williams claimed the last of its nine constructors' championships, and a return to Formula One glory days seems just as far away for the British team.

Williams is last so far this season with just four points from nine races after rookie Lance Stroll's surprise eighth-place finish in Azerbaijan. It continues a downward trend after finishing ninth, eighth and ninth in the last three seasons.

"It's heart-breaking and it's a little bit soul-destroying," deputy team principal Claire Harris said on Friday of the team's decline. "This is mostly my family's team and it's been within our family for four decades now."

Only Ferrari, with 16, has won more constructors' championships than the team founded by Harris' father, Frank Williams, in 1977.

Alan Jones of Australia and Carlos Reutemann of Argentina won the first in 1980 and second the following year. But it was in the 1990s that Williams enjoyed its hey-day, crowned when Jacques Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen claimed the second of back-to-back titles in 1997.

Nobody in the team suspected at the time that it would be the last. Ferrari dominated over the decade that followed, then Red Bull and Mercedes took charge.

Harris, who took over her role with the team in 2013, pointed to third-place finishes in 2013-14 and fifth-place finishes in 2015-16 as encouraging signs, though she was at a loss to explain the team's current predicament.

"We must look at this as just a trough," she said. "Every team in any sport goes through those moments. Personally, it's incredibly difficult to see the team go through this."

The 19-year-old Stroll, a former Ferrari Driver Academy member, and the 22-year-old Russian driver Sergey Sirotkin, who replaced the retiring Felipe Massa, have both been struggling with the car, which has proved even worse than last year's.

"The teams that were weaker than us last year have suddenly catapulted ahead of us, and they've made great in-roads for a number of reasons," Harris said.

She added the challenges facing the team are greater now than they were before, in part due to the consistently poor results.

"This situation in which we find ourselves is going to have ramifications for us financially. Not least the prize-fund money we'll receive for taking home 10th place will be considerably less," Harris said. "We lose Martini as our title partner at the end of this year. As much as we were expecting that and can budget for it, it still leaves a hole."

Despite the difficulties, Williams is working on rebuilding and recovery.

"It's not easy but we've got some very clever people working within that realm at the moment . doing everything they can to make sure we have a strong and healthy budget to go racing and compete successfully next year - but it's not an easy world at Williams at the moment," Harris said.

Williams is competing in its home race at the British Grand Prix this weekend.

"Coming here and being here yesterday has been a really nice boost for everybody and for me in particular," said Harris, who married her partner Marc Harris in January. "You get to see all our great fans, who do still support us through these difficult times. . Hopefully we will do a better job for our fans this weekend."

Updated July 6, 2018