Williams endured a disappointing 2016 Formula 1 season as it slipped back to fifth place in the constructors’ championship after finishing third in 2014 and 2015.
The Grove-based team started well, with Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa delivering 65 points from the first five races, but things seemed to unravel after that.
Williams did improve its performance at Monaco, having delivered poor performances at the tight and twisty track in recent years, and scored a season’s best result courtesy of Bottas in Canada, but the team only took home 11 points from the races in Azerbaijan, Austria and Britain. Theses were held on power circuits where Williams had hoped to exploit the performance of its Mercedes power unit but ultimately failed to capitalise on that benefit.
Bottas delivered seven points finishes in the final 11 races, and Massa supplied six top ten results of his own, but they were largely for the lower points paying positions and the Finn’s fifth place at Malaysia was Williams’ best result in the second half of the year.
The size of Williams’ financial resources compared to the teams it finished behind in the 2015 constructors’ championship – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – meant it was always going to be tough to keep up with the rapid development rates of those teams. But what will be of huge concern for the squad was Force India moving ahead of it and seizing fourth place by the end of the year.
Williams had some problems with upgrades not working as expected in the middle of the year – particularly with the front wing – and the team’s head of performance engineering, Rob Smedley, acknowledged that the FW38 had not been quick enough.
He said: “[I’d like to say] thank you to all of the race team for the brilliant job they’ve all done. We know the car pace isn’t quick enough but they’ve never given up, always strived to get more performance and, between them all, they’ve done a really good job.”
Williams can at least take positives from the performance of its pit crew, which delivered the quickest stop at 14 races and broke the record for the fastest ever F1 pitstop, which it did at the European Grand Prix in Baku in 1.92s.
The British squad heads into 2017 with a lot of reshuffling going on behind the scenes. Its chief technical officer Pat Symonds will step down at the end of the year and a number of senior technical staff in the aerodynamic and production departments are also leaving. Mercedes’ technical chief, Paddy Lowe, has been tipped to join Williams next season.
Bottas vs Massa
Bottas delivered the lion’s share of Williams’ points haul of the fourth year in a row, scored the team’s only podium of the year, and defeated Massa 17-4 in qualifying – the best record against a teammate of any driver in 2016. He cannot be blamed for the FW38’s lack of pace, but there were relatively few occasions where he out performed the car. The 27-year-old is being considered by Mercedes as a replacement for its recently retired world champion, Nico Rosberg.
Massa finished in the points in the first six races but went off the boil in the middle of the year. He announced his retirement at Monza and his emotional walk through the pitlane after crashing at Interlagos was one of the most memorable moments of the season. Williams is reportedly set to keep hold of the Brazilian driver for 2017 if Bottas leaves for Mercedes.
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