March 15th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow ) - 2013 has got off to a tough start for the Williams team, and the racing hasn't even begun yet. In each of the first two Free Practice sessions for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix, Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas were over two seconds off the pace set by Sebastian Vettel, and it is not immediately clear what the Williams team can do to recover the deficit.
The only major positive that came out of the Williams team's day is the reliability of the car. Maldonado and Bottas completed a total of 114 laps in the two sessions, just one less than Marussia's leading tally, and the day's programme proceeded without a hitch. Except for the lack of performance, that is. The issues faced by the team were highlighted by the need to abandon the aerodynamic upgrades developed during testing for this race. Williams are instead running their launch package, as seen on the FW35 at the start of the second pre-season test in February.
Last year's FW34 won the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position in the hands of Maldonado, heralding a return to the top step of the podium for the once-dominant Williams-Renault combination. It seemed that Williams was on an upward curve, heading for more success in 2013. Only last week, Williams technical director Mike Coughlan told Autosport that he expected to challenge for race victories again this season. But if the team's Friday form in Australia is anything go by, there is a long way to go before race wins become a reality.
On the other hand, Friday practice times are notoriously misleading. Teams are not necessarily concerned with producing stunningly fast lap times, but are more likely to focus on setting the car up to be balanced during the race, when the speed really counts. It could be that Williams were running on heavier fuel during practice than those ahead of them. However, it would take a very large quantity of fuel to create a two second difference in lap time. It looks like the pace is simply not there at this stage.
Williams lap times for the day:
This is what the Williams team had to say after Friday running was over:
Mike Coughlan, Technical Director: "We did some aero evaluations this morning comparing the two packages that we brought to Melbourne. We'll be running our FW35 launch aero package for the remainder of the weekend as it has proven better around the Albert Park circuit and in the conditions we have here. This afternoon we ran through a fuel level and tyre programme. We'll now look at the data and be ready for tomorrow."
Pastor Maldonado: "We ran some different tests today on the car and the tyres, so we haven’t got the maximum pace out of the car yet. We have a lot of work to do before tomorrow, but we have another practice session to focus on the set-up needed for qualifying and we’ll be analysing all today’s data this evening."
Valtteri Bottas: "It felt good to be back on track today. It’s a new circuit for me so it took a few laps in the first practice to get to know it a little better. The track improved a lot going into the second session with much more grip, so I felt like the car could still improve further. We will analyse all the data tonight and keep working on the car in FP3 to get everything ready for qualifying."