Williams had a bad year but they’ve shaken up their technical department, changed engine supplier and hired a Brazilian ex-Ferrari driver. This all sounds very familiar…
The form of this once-great team has swung violently from under-performers to overachievers in recent seasons. They were pole-sitters in 2010, struggled to score points the year after, then won a race in 2012, and were back in the doldrums again last year.
The team began last season with a change of leadership as team founder Frank Williams’ daughter Claire was appointed to deputy team principal. As it became clear earlier in the season the team was heading off-course, she moved quickly to change direction.
Within the past ten months Williams have replaced Renault engines with Mercedes power, appointed Pat Symonds as chief technical officer to replace Mike Coughlan, snapped up Felipe Massa from Ferrari along with Rob Smedley and hired a raft of new technical staff, many of which will work in the field of aerodynamics where the team has struggled of late.
Massa’s arrival plus the hiring of Felipe Nasr as test driver has helped the team tap into Brazilian companies Petrobras and Banco do Brasil for sponsorship. A further deal is expected to be announced soon with one of motor racing’s great heritage sponsors, Martini.
The change of engine supplier may prove a real shot in the arm this year. It’s not just the case that Renault have endured a miserable start to pre-season testing, but that Mercedes have got their season off to a very strong start. As things stand it looks like Pastor Maldonado may regret jumping ship when he did.
The team have been very pleased with the reliability of the FW36, which in testing covered more ground than anything that wasn’t a Mercedes. Indeed the car ran so reliably the team even dedicated some time to performing live pit stop practice – any area where they must make gains following last year’s costly wheel nut problems.
Williams were often near the top of the timing sheets during testing. Although Valtteri Bottas was unable to do his qualifying simulation on the final day, Massa’s quick lap the day before produced the fastest time by any driver in the Bahrain test, two-hundredths of a second faster than Lewis Hamilton managed in the Mercedes.
Of course there are limits to the conclusions which can be drawn from testing times. Nonetheless this points to a team which have gone from being third-worst at best to being third-best at worst – a remarkable development if it is borne out by results in Melbourne.
Their line-up for 2014 promises to be more level-headed while giving away nothing in pure pace. Massa may have endured a bruising four years alongside Fernando Alonso but he is highly experienced and brimming with enthusiasm for his new challenge.
That Bottas somehow wrung a top-three qualifying place out of the FW35 on one occasion last year speaks volumes for his raw speed. The new car looks like it might be capable of that kind of performance on a regular basis, giving Williams the chance to enjoy their best season for a long time.
Williams’ F1 record
Over to you
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