Testing pace suggests Williams’ revival is real

2014 F1 season preview

Felipe Massa, Williams, Bahrain, 2014

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.

Valtteri Bottas, Williams, Bahrain, 2014The 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.

The last time this team produced a decent car – in 2012 – its potential was too often squandered by its drivers making mistakes (Maldonado) or being off the pace (Bruno Senna).

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


1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Championship position 9 2 1 1 4 4 6 3 1 1 7 2 4 2 1 1 1 2 1 1 3 5 3 3 2 2 4 5 8 4 8 7 6 9 8 9
Points 0 11 75 120 95 58 38 25.5 71 141 137 20 77 57 125 164 168 118 112 175 123 38 35 36 80 92 144 88 66 11 33 26 34.5 69 5 76 5
Wins 0 0 5 6 4 1 1 1 4 9 9 0 2 2 7 10 10 7 5 12 8 0 0 0 4 1 4 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Pole positions 0 0 3 3 2 1 1 0 3 4 12 0 1 1 6 15 15 6 12 12 11 0 0 0 4 7 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 0

Over to you

Do you expect Williams to bounce back this year? Have your say in the comments.

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79 comments on Testing pace suggests Williams’ revival is real

  1. BasCB (@bascb) said on 3rd March 2014, 12:41

    It certainly looks like the team are well prepared, and if the Mercedes engines are as much ahead as currently appears to be the case, it would be lovely to see Massa on the podium, who knows maybe even get his first win since his accident too.

    That said, the team were quite fast during testing earlier only to then find out it was either running a tad less fuel, or that they just were not able to make the most of the car, so I won’t be counting on them to make the step back up quite yet.

    • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 3rd March 2014, 12:43

      @bascb Define “a step back up”. I’m not expecting them to fight for WDC over a season but I’m counting on them fighting for podiums and the odd win

      • BasCB (@bascb) said on 3rd March 2014, 20:07

        From finishing 7-9th towards finishing in the top 4 of the teams and being a regular podium contender and with a shot at some wins and poles is what I would see as being back at the sharp end @montreal95.

        • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 3rd March 2014, 20:20

          @bascb And you don’t see that happening this season? Well then we disagree. I’d say chances of that is pretty good. They have the best engine, very good tech team, very good drivers, good sponsors. What’s important to see is that this year is a total reboot. 2013 might as well have never happened. If Caterham or Marussia had appropriate resources they too could’ve been considered a podium contenders this season.

          Yes, Williams might slide down the order as development race heats up. But as of the first half of the championship is concerned, the signs that they will be at least 2012-level competitive are positive. And with drivers better than Crashtor Stupidado they can actually capitalize on this

          • BasCB (@bascb) said on 4th March 2014, 7:40

            Oh, I can fully see that happening. Then again, we have seen Williams being promising in testing only to sag into apathy after a race or 2-3 far too often in the last 5-6 years to quite believe they are back @montreal95.

    • Mashiat (@) said on 3rd March 2014, 13:27

      I still find it surprising that people are rooting Massa for wins. I mean, he couldn’t even get a podium in a pretty competitive car in that Ferrari. And if less pressure gains 1 second, he will still probably not be WDC

      • jh1806 (@jh1806) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:22

        He got at least 1 podium in the last 2 seasons. What have you been watching?

        • matt90 (@matt90) said on 3rd March 2014, 15:35

          Yep, 2 podiums over 3 seasons. His team mate did manage 32 though.

          • Fsoud (@udm7) said on 3rd March 2014, 16:30

            I dont know about Alonso, but Massa did manage atleast 4 podiums (i can’t remember anymore) when teamed with FA.
            No, I’m not a Massa fan and the bottom line is that MAssa remains heaviy outperformed by FA.

          • matt90 (@matt90) said on 3rd March 2014, 20:47

            Yes, that goes back to 2010, but I was only counting from 2011 as that is when he really lost it.

      • Neel Jani (@neelv27) said on 3rd March 2014, 16:17

        @mashiat: Isn’t this what you said a few days back?

        Yesterday I said that it is as clear as day that Force India will win both the WDC and the WCC. But today, I had to eat my words. Massa and Williams for both Championships!

      • kpcart said on 4th March 2014, 16:42

        they are rooting for massa because he showed in 2008 he was an equal for Hamilton, also at the end of schumachers time with Ferrari, Massa was beating Schumacher. Massa also trounced Raikonnen quite convincingly while teammate. Massa’s loss of pace since then can be correlated to the bad accident he had, and their are internal factors in Ferrari which might have also prevented him from getting his best in the following seasons. he is a proven F1 race winning driver, so deserves respect. in a new team, he may well shine, in F1 sometimes that is all that is required to unlock a drivers best form, a switch in environment.

      • V Rheenen said on 11th March 2014, 20:26

        Massa is likeable because he has demonstrated integrity under difficult circumstances, has never won a race othe than by skill AND because he is a competitive driver and exciting to watch when his ability to compete isn’t undermined. I dislike Alonso not because of his driving skills (unquestionable) but because his character is blemished by all the scandals surrounding his career. It’s also easy to be number one when your team’s sponsors (Spanish bank Santander) demand that you be number one.

  2. montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 3rd March 2014, 12:41

    I really want Williams to do well this year. For me they are the quintessential pure racing team that were in the doldrums for too long. I don’t want them to go the way other pure racing teams such as Tyrell went.
    Their car is also one of the least-worst looking on the grid, and they have good drivers with a potential great one in Bottas. Last year I found it hard to support Williams with Crashtor Stupidado aka Walldonado aka Ungratefulado there. This year it will be easy

    • MarkM (@mpmark) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:45

      “Their car is also one of the least-worst looking on the grid”

      I disagree on your term “least-worst”, I think the car looks better then you state, even better then last years high nose craziness, the nose looks fine and has a proper swoop down like any other open wheel series cars.
      Just wait till Williams ads their new livery and gets rid of this boring blue.

      The new RB10 also is the nicest car on the grid since 2006 era.

      • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:54

        @mpmark Sorry, can’t find any car with fallic nose good looking, only in profile. The Williams looks like it has its protection on(not visible from the angle in the above pic, from that angle it indeed looks good)

        Not the dyson Ferrari either. For me the only good looking car this year is the Merc. The Rb10 tries to hide its nose and fails

        And disagree about the livery too. The classic deep blue looks amazing! The Martini should be good as well(provided it doesn’t have too much white in it, as I hate the boring white)

        Anyway, we’re talking aesthetics here, so there’s no objective criteria. Each to his own

  3. matt90 (@matt90) said on 3rd March 2014, 12:47

    I’m not brave enough to use the word ‘revival’. Unless they have their best year since 2003, that word should only really be used if they can sustain an improvement. I would gladly see Williams be contenders for wins over the next few years but never take the top prize, just to see them out of the doldrums long term.

    2010 – pole
    2011 – nothing
    2012 – win
    2013 – nothing
    2014 – well, there’s a pattern developing…

  4. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 3rd March 2014, 13:19

    I do hope that this time Williams’ apparent revival is a long term one, and not for a handful of races. The car looks good and they have very good drivers, and a reliable reserve in Nasr… Podiums and maybe wins early on for them?

  5. Robbie (@robbie) said on 3rd March 2014, 13:30

    I too hope for the best for Williams and would love to see them fighting for podia. That said, I do find it interesting how quickly we have gone from ‘it’s just testing, you can’t put too much weight behind it,’ to ‘Williams have gone from being third-worst at best to third-best at worse.’

    Don’t get me wrong, I have always said there are things that can be discovered in testing, trends that come true once they race, comments from F1 insiders who have come to conclusions about other teams from what they have seen etc etc.

    I think the bottom line of my comment is that it isn’t just testing. They aren’t all out there with the luxury of time and mega tests such that they can sandbag. There are things that become evident right off the bat. We don’t learn everything, but we must be learning a lot if we are already putting teams in an order on the grid from ‘just testing.’

  6. Magnificent Geoffrey (@magnificent-geoffrey) said on 3rd March 2014, 13:45

    Something about the idea of Felipe Massa finally breaking free from his sometimes-abusive relationship with Ferrari to Williams, a team coming off their worst season ever, and possibly finding himself in a better car just screams ‘poetic justice’ to me.

    • wsrgo (@wsrgo) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:15

      abusive is a bit harsh….the only such relationship was probably between Scott Speed and Franz Tost :P

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:25

      ‘sometimes-abusive…?’ I highly doubt that is a fair accusation. FM was around to witness MS/Ferrari, so he knew what he was in for at Ferrari, the admitted one-rooster team. Surely when they announced FA coming to Ferrari FM didn’t think that would be so he (FA) could back him (FM). Sure it became hard to swallow for him, particularly in 2010 when the reality of his role had to be blatantly revealed, but after that he was on the team for 3 more seasons. Unless someone had a gun to his head I’m assuming FM has been happy to collect the pay cheque, happy to have Ferrari driver on his CV, and is now happy that his tenure there has now seen him still in F1 with a fresh opportunity.

      Hey I get the poetic justice thing, because I don’t like the one-rooster concept whatsoever, and I think we all have a soft spot for a driver that comes back from a serious injury, but to call FM’s situation abusive is I think way off the mark.

    • montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 3rd March 2014, 15:01

      @magnificent-geoffrey Abusive? As in keeping an underperforming, not the same driver since the injury anymore for 4 years?

      I’m very far from being a Ferrari fan, but the loyalty has been mutual. Yes, after 2011 they did it only to please Alonso, but it doesn’t matter. Had Ferrari frown Massa out after 2011 he would’ve found no frontrunning seat anywhere else

    • Todfod (@todfod) said on 3rd March 2014, 16:31

      abusive?!?!? LMAO

      Iif there is anyone who abused the driver – team relationship, it was Felipe. He was absolute rubbish from mid 2010 onwards and was yet confident that he was never going to get replaced no matter how badly he underperformed.

      He would pull his socks up just before they signed his contract… and then he would get back to slacking.

      It’s a shame that Ferrari seat was wasted in 2012 and 2013 on a driver like Felipe. There are so many other drivers on the grid that deserved that seat more than him

      • Robbie (@robbie) said on 3rd March 2014, 18:46

        To be fair, FM was told from mid-2010, along with the world who witnessed it, that he was FA’s subservient, not that it was any big surprise other than perhaps the timing that year given the number of races that remained. So given that, I don’t know why FM wouldn’t be confident that his ride was safe…they weren’t looking for someone to beat FA. However, given how much LdM talked around that time of how FM needed to pull up his socks or be gone, are you sure FM was confident in keeping his ride?

        It can’t be easy being on a team that likes only one rooster which puts the second driver in the position of having to perform well enough to help ensure the WCC, but not well enough to beat the WDC. That’s why I’m not sure I would wish that position to any ‘deserving’ driver. I don’t think that any driver who has dreamed of F1 and the WDC since he was a kid, and actually makes it to F1, deserves to get there only to find he has to help someone else see their dreams through.

      • Palle (@palle) said on 3rd March 2014, 19:16

        @todfod: +1, I made calculations showing that Massa was the worst no 2 driver of the top teams, because he, as the only no 2 driver, never was able to “take” points from the direct rivals of the teams no 1 driver. It has been a massive mistake of Ferrari to keep Massa more than 1 year after his accident. But as I’m not a Ferrari fan, I’m kind of glad they did:-)

      • V Rheenen said on 11th March 2014, 20:41

        If Ferrari went as far as to order Massa to cede his place to Alonso, imagine what went on behind the scenes and in strategy. Were it otherwise, Alonso’s seaons would not have been as good, and Massa’s as poor. Massa’s pre-Alonso seasons were v good. FA is good, no doubt, but you will never know how much of his good fotune can be credited to Santander.

    • avl0 said on 3rd March 2014, 17:20

      I have a feeling instead it will be shades of barichello, leave an abusive relationship at ferrari be in a team having a revival and have the chance to win only to be thoroughly trounced by his teammate.

    • US_Peter (@us_peter) said on 3rd March 2014, 19:32

      @magnificent-geoffrey I couldn’t agree more! Add to that the schadenfreude at the probability that Maldonado will be lucky to even see the gearbox of a Williams, and this is really a team with a very positive fresh start that I can really feel good about. It also doesn’t hurt that Bottas is one of the most exciting of the younger drivers in the field.

      • Will B said on 3rd March 2014, 22:51

        I wouldn’t be so sure that Lotus and Maldonado should be written off so easy.

        It’s a long season. You don’t win it at testing……

        btw, please remind me, who crashed into the same bit of wall in monaco twice in the same weekend???

  7. Broom (@brum55) said on 3rd March 2014, 13:47

    Interesting to see how Massa works with Symonds. The same Pat Symonds who was involved in Crashgate, which Massa sites as the incident which cost him the 2008 championship.

    • Robbie (@robbie) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:34

      I think that FM knew as those words were leaving his mouth that many factors added up to him not winning the 08 WDC…you can’t just take one incident and play woulda, coulda, shoulda. He knows that…we all do…although I often see remarks on this site from people trying to make their argument based on that, forgetting how convenient it is to say if only such and such had happened…assuming that everything else then would have stayed the same, and nobody else could possibly be affected once in hindsight you change the circumstances for one driver. But then, I can’t really blame armchair fans for doing it, when driver’s do it too.

      FM was taking a shot at FA that day more than anything, not at Symonds, and I remember the remarks immediately from participants here were to the effect of reminding FM of the mistakes he also made that year. Mistakes that FM himself would acknowledge did not help his own cause.

    • Steph (@stephanief1990) said on 3rd March 2014, 17:15

      @brum55 he’ll also be working alongside Stepney who was Mclaren’s mole while working for Ferrari back in 07. Even if Felipe doesn’t achieve anything on the track with Williams he’s the champion of taking the moral highroad…

  8. Albrecht said on 3rd March 2014, 13:51

    I want to believe that’s the case, both for Williams and for Massa, but we really need to take a deep breath, and remember that pre season tests never tell the whole story, and rarely an accurate one.

  9. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 3rd March 2014, 14:39

    Lets just hope all these seemingly well informed – and particularly well timed decisions bear some fruit in 2014. After so many pre-seasons promising so much, only to (usually) disappoint. Therefore I’ll use the phrase ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. Even a top 4 finish in the Constructor’s would be huge.

    I know which team I’m supporting this year – Williams.

  10. Tomsk (@tomsk) said on 3rd March 2014, 15:51

    It’s all gloriously up in the air, and Williams have raised a lot of hopes in the tests. I’m expecting Mercedes to be ahead on pace at Melbourne – somewhere between marginally in front and Brawn-like domination – but if somebody in a more reliable car can apply some pressure, it could be a classic start to the season.

    It’s a good-looking car. It got some stick because it was the first one released, but I’m looking forward to seeing it with its warpaint on in the next couple of days, and I would love to see Massa in a sequel to that last memorable visit to the top of a podium.

    from being third-worst at best to being third-best at worst

    Try saying that in live commentary… and I wouldn’t rule out Force India.

  11. OOliver said on 3rd March 2014, 16:06

    It has really been painful watching Williams in recent years. The once dominant team almost seemed to have lost its way. But this team has always battled to hard to succeed and Frank Williams’ road to success is legendary. I really do hope this is the beginning of their rebirth.
    Unfortunately for Maldonado, he may not have read the tea leaves accurately.

  12. bull mello (@bullmello) said on 3rd March 2014, 16:17

    Very skeptical about any speed predictions coming out of pre-season testing, but the laps ran and reliability look excellent indeed. I want to hope against hope all this and the off season personnel moves equal much improved performance for the Williams team. Hopefully they can strike early while other teams are still having difficulties and then keep a good development pace throughout the season.

  13. Fsoud (@udm7) said on 3rd March 2014, 16:35

    Williams may have a very good (probably quicker than their last years hehe) car, but I doubt they’ll be title challengers.

  14. Skett (@skett) said on 3rd March 2014, 17:05

    Theres actually a tweet on the Mercedes page that says Hamilton’s fastest time was set on the Super-soft tires and that Pirelli had made a mistake. This makes the Williams seem even more impressive!

  15. Herp said on 3rd March 2014, 17:21

    Williams are certainly due for a return to competitiveness. You could say that the mark of a great team is its ability to recover from disaster and return to the front. We’ve seen Williams accomplish this on several occasions – 86/87, 92/93, 96/97 and to a lesser extent the Ralf/Montoya years. Maybe 80-82 too, before my (F1-watching) time. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them do it again this year, much as I try not to read too much into winter testing. Williams-Mercedes may not roll off the tongue too easily, but at least it can roll out of the pits when required.

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