By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Williams cannot assume things will only get better after finishing last with just one point in 2019, according to the Formula One team's former head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley.
The once dominant outfit, privately-owned and still the second most successful in terms of constructors' titles, have not won a race since 2012.
They have scored only eight points in the last two seasons combined but were third as recently as 2015.
"There would always be a philosophy that it can't get any worse," Smedley, who left the team's Grove factory at the end of 2018, told Reuters.
"Having been around the block a few times in motorsport, and Formula One in particular, (I know) the reality is it can get worse than this.
"We talk about how it can't get much worse than 2019, but we said that about 2018. And we said that about 2017. The reality is that 2020 can actually be worse than 2019."
Deputy principal Claire Williams, whose father Frank founded the team in 1977, has described last season as "rock bottom' and said it cannot happen again.
Williams have a new driver in Canadian rookie Nicholas Latifi, who partners Mercedes-backed British youngster George Russell in the least experienced lineup on the grid.
Smedley followed Felipe Massa to Williams in 2014 from Ferrari, where he had been the Brazilian's race engineer after joining during the golden era of seven-time champion Michael Schumacher.
He said his time at Maranello had taught him nobody can live on past achievements.
"Anyone who thinks that you can turn things around from where Williams are now to suddenly arrive back in the top five of the championship, they are very much mistaken. It is just incorrect," he said.
While Williams use Mercedes engines, the same that have won both titles for the past six years, the power gap with the rest has narrowed and put more of a focus on the chassis.
Smedley said "the old fashioned notion of 'we're a racing team and we only exist to race'" no longer worked.
"You can be vehemently independent but you need a budget to be able to do it," he added.
Williams have seen some prominent sponsors depart since the end of 2019, notably Unilever and Polish oil company PKN Orlen, and although others have arrived with Latifi, the team still operates on substantially less than the frontrunners.
Smedley said he still had "huge affection" for Williams and was rooting for them.
"Now I'm on the outside I can hope, but when I was on the inside I didn't want to just hope," he added. "It's a tragic case. I'm not of the generation that can't remember when Williams won a world championship.
"To see the decline there, it's heartbreaking really as a Formula One fan."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by Ian Chadband)