If ever there was a case study of how quickly things can change in F1, it is the Williams team.
They won the Spanish Grand Prix in May 2012, failed to get a podium for the rest of the season, then had a dismal 2013 with only 5 points scored (four of them in the penultimate race).
Now the signs are that Williams is going through a renaissance; the team has the right hybrid turbo power plant in Mercedes and it’s announced a series of sponsors in recent days with an even bigger one to come on March 6. It even has a new logo, to underline that a page has been turned and it’s a fresh beginning.
Last night the team confirmed that Brazilian oil giant Petrobras was rejoining the team after an absence of several years. At the same time Banco do Brasil came on board; their logo will appear on the engine cover of the car, as well as the overalls worn by each driver. This makes it a significant deal.
Felipe Nasr comes as part of the package; the former GP2 driver will attend all Grands Prix during the season and will get to drive the car in three tests and five FP1 sessions during the year.
And on March 6 the team will unveil its new Martini livery at a ceremony in London’s West End. Sadly for the media this clashes with McLaren’s Ron Dennis breaking his silence, leaving anguished journalists trying to be in two places at once!
Revival is the name of the game at Grove. The team has bounced back from a disastrous technical foray under Mike Coughlan, whereby they were unable to master the exhaust blown diffuser and paid a heavy price, given how far ahead of the game their then engine partner Renault was in that technology.
This year the EBD is banned and that means that Williams’ baseline is closer to the other teams, who have all lost a lot of downforce from the removal of the EBD. On top of that the Mercedes looks to be the best prepared and most potent engine in class at this early stage of the new formula. Williams has been racking up the miles again this week in testing at Bahrain; after a poor first day with an electronics issue, which knocked out the fuel system, the car has covered 176 laps of the 5.4km Bahrain circuit in the last two days – almost four race distances worth of mileage.
Pat Symonds is now in charge of the technical department and it will be his job to steer the team through the development maze which lies ahead, not only in the new hybrid technology but also in aerodynamics, which are much changed this year and offer great scope for finding gains throughout the year.
They need to work on all aspects of their competitive approach; last year they were consistently among the slowest at pit stops, for example, giving away seconds to the top teams and even their midfield rivals. This will be a key indicator of a change of approach this year, if they can raise their game in areas such as this.
The driver pairing looks well balanced; Felipe Massa has a lot of experience and is still quick, as he showed regularly against Fernando Alonso last season. He also has a point to prove after a demoralising experience next to the Spaniard. He is also very small and light, which helps the engineers in these cars. Valtteri Bottas is in his second full season and has showed that he has the speed, now he needs to turn in complete race weekends to rack up the points.
Pastor Maldonado must be wondering about the wisdom of his move away from Williams to Lotus, which is still struggling to do the miles with the troublesome Renault hybrid engine. But the car looks sound and once Renault gets on top of its problems, the team is likely to feature. Maldonado needed a change of air anyway and Williams appears to have proved able to replace his PDVSA sponsor dollars.
Claire Williams as commercial director has clearly done well this winter and Williams will no doubt present itself with confidence at the launch on March 6 in London.
But recent experience will tell them to take nothing for granted. F1 is an unforgiving business and things can change quickly, as they well know.