Formula 1 News

F1 2014 Season Team Preview: Williams - Up where they belong

The resurgence looks very possible for historically winning team that had lost its way.
Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 13th, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Keilloh).- And to think that pre-season testing this year was supposed to be cryptic. Plenty of stories have come out of it: Mercedes's strides; Ferrari's operating beneath the radar; Red Bull's woe. But ranking with any or all of these is that Williams appears to be back. Right back among the leaders. A place it knows well.

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Yes, we've said this sort of thing at the outset of a few recent seasons; cynics might say that it's an annual event.

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Indeed you just have to rewind 12 months to find all in the team gushing about the grand potential of the new FW35, potential that evaporated when it came into contact with air at Melbourne for round one.

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The likes of Adam Parr, Toto Wolff, Mark Gillan and Mike Coughlan were supposed to herald the team's long-awaited up turn.

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All have since left, for varying reasons. And despite the odd false dawn, most notably Pastor Maldonado's victory in Barcelona in 2012, last year, with just five points claimed and sitting a long way off the back of the midfield pack, it seemed that the giant was no nearer awaking from its slumber that stretches all the way back to 2004.

But, really, this time it seems to be different. Everything seems to be in place.

The accession of Claire Williams to Deputy Team Principal, and thus plug the Parr/Wolff shaped gap in the management structure, was one for the romanticists given she is Sir Frank's daughter.

The flipside was that - particularly given that the late and recently-departed Lady Virginia Williams had reckoned that Claire should be Frank's long term successor - there was a risk the appointment was based more on emotion than logic. That may yet prove to be the case, but it has to be said that Claire's made a very good start.

First off there's been prolific recruitment of new technical staff (Coughlan exited last season). Pat Symonds given what happened in Singapore in 2008 remains a controversial figure but neither his skills nor his track record - championships delivered with Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso - can be argued with, and he's in as Chief Technical Officer.

In too have come the highly-rated Rod Nelson as well as Dave Wheater from Lotus; Shaun Whitehead from Red Bull, and Rob Smedley from Ferrari as Head of Vehicle Performance (regrettably not as Felipe Massa's race engineer for those who wanted his legendary radio transitions with Massa continued) among others.

The team looks rather in the money too. Pastor Maldonado - the relationship rather soured - left taking his PDVSA backing with him, but the team secured a pay off from the oil company that means it's not lost financially out in the immediate term.

Petrobras, probably aided by Felipe Massa coming in as driver, has arrived as a sponsor.

And best of all the team has secured title sponsorship from Martini, an iconic presence in F1 and motorsport heritage more widely, in what Zak Brown who brokered it described as a 'multi-million, multi-year' deal.

Not for nothing, Sir Frank Williams says that he now has a 'very generous budget'. It was a coup too, not only was it the first new title sponsor in F1 - not related to the team's ownership or a driver - in a while, Williams also reportedly beat off competition from Ferrari and McLaren to seal the deal.

This has had the auxiliary benefit of allowing Williams - perhaps uniquely outside of the teams at the very top - to sign the best two drivers available rather than have to inspect how much cash is in their respective briefcases.

The team as a result has a strong pairing, and a blend of youth and experience, in Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.

Almost by accident Williams has got itself the best engine.

Massa aims to revive his career while Bottas star his second season in F1.

It came about as Red Bull thought it beneficial for Toro Rosso to have a Renault engine like the A team, Renault didn't want to supply five squads, and Williams was the one without a seat when the music stopped, thus forcing the team into Mercedes's arms.

But boy did Williams' numbers come in on this one if testing is anything to go by.

Best of all the FW36 for this season appears almost the best of the bunch on pace, and probably the best of the bunch on reliability.

From Jerez the machine has impressed in how it handles, with a particularly responsive front end. And in Bahrain not only did Felipe Massa set the best single lap time of everyone, Valtteri Bottas's race simulation earlier in the test bore comparison even with the standard-bearer Mercedes.

It suggests that both in qualifying and the race the Merc will have a serious rival in Melbourne.

It may even be behind on reliability. Not until half an hour of testing remained did a Williams cause its first red flag from a breakdown; the solitary red flag is the fewest of all teams.

It also completed a full 4,100km with a single power unit without having to change internal components. Its cooling figures - remarkably given it's not the works team - have been the best of all the Merc runners reportedly.

The team gave the impression of being furthest on in its testing programme (Symonds commented that the team completed everything it planned to do - Williams might be unique in this), even devoting a morning of the Bahrain first test to practising pitstops.

A reliable car and a team that is well-drilled operationally is exactly what we have come to expect from one headed by Pat Symonds.

Perhaps best of all - and unlike McLaren - the evidence is that the team has if anything got more competitive as testing has gone on; its lap times more potent; its reliability more impressive.

Further ahead though there is the question of whether Williams can keep up with the in-season development of the likes of Mercedes, Ferrari and a resurgent Red Bull.

The Grove team's budget is strong but it's still not in the league of those of the three mentioned. But by comparison with last season it is rather a nice problem to have.

Before the start of pre-season testing few were talking much about Williams.

After the opening test in Jerez the team was being spoken of as dark horses and after the two Bahrain get-togethers the consensus was that if Williams doesn't come away from Melbourne with a podium finish, at least, then it would likely be something of a disappointment.

Massa, Bottas, and Williams x 2 .

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1 Lewis Hamilton 241
2 Nico Rosberg 238
3 Daniel Ricciardo 181
4 Fernando Alonso 131
5 Sebastian Vettel 124
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2 Red Bull Racing 305
3 Williams F1 187
4 Ferrari 176
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