With the first four ‘flyaway’ grands prix out of the way, it’s a good time to assess the start each team has made to the season and look at how each team has fared so far with the new hybrid turbo technology.
And the subject of our third analysis piece is a team that set the pace in winter testing, but which hasn’t made the most of its pace and doesn’t have as many points on the board as most people expected at this stage…
Best result: P5 (Bottas, Australia)
Best grid slot: 3rd (Bottas, Bahrain)
Average grid slot: 9th.
Constructors Championship: 6th, 36 pts
Drivers’ Championship: Bottas 24 pts; Massa 12pts
Fastest race lap, gap to pace setter
What’s gone right?
Bright new shiny paint scheme, reflecting new sponsorship from Martini, the iconic stripe running down the car makes it look fast! Other sponsors on the car hint at a team that is turning itself around. The winter testing showed that Williams has a good car, good reliability and a Mercedes power unit in the back, which is the benchmark unit at this point.
Williams were the second best team overall in pre-season testing (after Mercedes) so they will be very disappointed to be currently lying P6 in the constructors. But unforced mistakes have ultimately cost them precious points.
Bottas was exciting to watch in Australia and could have been on the podium had he not made a mistake, hitting the wall when climbing through the field. His qualifying performance in Bahrain was strong too, with third on the grid.
The car package looks good, although they were clearly initially lacking downforce relative to the leaders, which was highlighted in the wet conditions. With a number of updates in China they appear to have improved the balance of the car in the wet and they qualified both cars in the top four rows of the grid in both Bahrain and China, so it’s all there for the taking.
What’s gone wrong?
Getting the points the car’s potential deserves. A haul of 36 points from four races, equals an average result of 8th for each car, or 9 points per race for the team, which is poor in comparison with Force India which has 54 points, using the same Mercedes power unit.
So why hasn’t it happened? Largely a series of errors; driver errors, operational errors and mishaps.
One moment to forget was the “Valterri is faster than you” radio call to Massa, asking him to let his team mate through in Malaysia, which the Brazilian was unimpressed by. Bottas felt he had the speed and the fresher tyres to challenge Button’s McLaren for 6th place, but Massa had track position.
Was it worth the risk of damaging Massa psychologically and potentially undermining his trust in the team at this early stage for the sake of an extra two points?
The team clearly felt he would understand the strategic side of their intentions and they had a heart to heart afterwards to talk through how they will deal with this kind of thing in future.
Strong points of the team and car
They made a good choice moving to Mercedes engines this year from Renault and have done a good job on integrating the power unit with their chassis and appear to have an efficient cooling package. It’s a simple car, but no less effective for that. Given that their exhaust blowing was probably not as effective as others in 2013 the banning of this highly beneficial aerodynamic feature impacted Williams less than other teams.
The new technical signings, led by Pat Symonds and with experienced operational figures like Rob Smedley will help bolster the team, but they need to cut out the unforced errors.
Weak points of the team and the car
High tyre degradation is one thing. The car showed a tendency to overuse its tyres in Malaysia and Bahrain, which cost them dearly.
The team made a strange mistake in Bahrain by not doing much running in free practice as they had so much data from testing at the circuit. But the conditions were different and they didn’t have enough homework come race evening. Bottas went from 3rd on the grid to 8th at the finish as tyre degradation nailed them.
In China Massa was rather lively off the start line and tagged Alonso. A strange mix up with his tyres being on the wrong side lost him any chance of a good result.
In other words a series of largely own goals have left Williams feeling rueful about what might have been.
Where do they go from here?
No need to panic..yet; the car is fast, the power unit is strong and there are plenty of races to go. The others will develop, but lead times for major changes on the power units are very long.
Williams need to start capitalising on their performance in the next few races as one would expect Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren to start to pull ahead. However McLaren are definitely struggling (they also have to integrate a completely new Honda power unit for 2015 and will have less and less input from Mereces engines so have a massive task on their hands this season as they are effectively developing two completely different cars).
Depending on how all that goes and how well Williams convert pace into points, the fight for Williams this year may be for fifth in the Constructors’ Championship with Force India, assuming McLaren can raise its game.
So far Bottas has scored double the points of Massa, which is slightly surprising, but we can only judge properly after half a season.
One final footnote: Williams as a group has been quietly restructuring its operation to concentrate more on the F1 racing side and remove non-core and non-profitable activity from its business portfolio, meaning that there is less potential distraction (ie other non-F1 related projects) for the design staff.
Overall Marks out of 10
Williams – 5/10
Felipe Massa – 5/10
Valterri Bottas – 6/10
How many marks out of ten do you give Williams so far? Leave us your comments on this post in the comments section below.