Getting Back To The Top

Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.
Friday 24 March 2017.
World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Images
ref: Digital Image _31I9457

Last season, 2016, proved to be relatively disappointing for Williams, Mercedes and Ferrari increased the gap, Red Bull surged past and began winning again and Force India managed to nab fourth place, Hulkenburg’s pass around the outside of Suzuka’s final chicane being a metaphor for the battle between the two, the Force India driving into the distance, away from the Williams.

2017 sees a massive overhaul in the technical regulations, the cars are wider, the teams are allowed more aero parts on the cars and the tires are wider and less sensitive to temperature change, which will allow the drivers to push more during the races. Williams interpretation comes in the form of the FW40 (named to celebrate team’s 40th year in the sport) was the first car to (sort of) be revealed, the team released a digital render of the car a day before Sauber officially launched their car.

The car features a shark fin, common on many cars this year, but is one of few to have a T wing mounted on the end of the fin. The front and rear wings have been swept back as per this new rules and the thumb nose remains on the end of a front that also features an S duct, which was run by Mercedes last season. The team haven’t been as aggressive with the side aero as Mercedes or Ferrari, rather going down a similar path as Red Bull, going with a more simplistic design. Toward the end of testing the car sprouted a second wing, similar to the T wing, much lower, almost with touching distance of the rear wing. The rakes at the start of the sidepod’s remain, as do the tuning veins to the side of these, but they have been extended, to take advantage of the width increase for this season. Title sponsor Martini’s livery remains, with it’s brilliant white base and flowing stripes, which do look slightly odd, the way they widen along the shark fin the abruptly end. The team have cemented a new partnership with heavy vehicles manufacturer JCB and Stroll brings a reported £20 million to the team.

Williams’ driver situation is well documented, Rosberg’s shock retirement left a seat at Mercedes and it quickly became clear that it would be Bottas who would replace him at one of the sports top seats. With F3 champion Lance Stroll already signed and Martini’s requirement for an experienced driver over 25 to be one of the driver’s, the only option was to coax Massa out of retirement. The Brazilian quickly agreed and the shortest retirement in F1 history was complete. Stroll has had a tough start in testing, with a couple of accidents in the first test, but it is better he does it in testing rather than in Melbourne (like Maldonado in 2012). This should be Massa’s final year in F1, I imagine he will be consistent and quick, a good point scorer and if Stroll is even with him or outperforms the Brazilian, he will have performed well.

One must always be careful reading into testing too much, but everyone knows that the Mercedes engine in the back of the Williams will be powerful and reliable. The car looks fast enough, maybe not on the pace of Ferrari or Mercedes, but the team look to be at the top of the midfield and looking forward. Williams look to be set for another showdown with Force India and will be determined to take back fourth or higher in the constructors. Renault could be a threat if their engine is good enough, but realistically Williams have to beat Force India this year, try and get more podiums this year to elevate themselves up the grid and toward the “big three” (Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams).

The team need a strong start to the season, as the inevitable development race will be triggered at the beginning of the European season. If a rival makes a large leap ahead of Williams in that time, the Grove squad will need a points buffer whilst they work to retaliate. The first few races could prove unpredictable affairs as the drivers adjust to the new racing that the new rules will provide. Massa’s experience will be vital in this situation, as he has driven through multiple rules changes. Stroll needs a strong start, Formula One is a tough world if you aren’t performing and his testing incidents will have put a few more eyes on the Canadian.

Adam Brewer

 

Williams Malaysian GP Preview

GP MALESIA F1 2015 – ©FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO

The Malaysian GP has become something of a modern classic, the first track designed by Hermann Tilke provides one of the toughest challenges of the season. The heat and humidity is up there with Singapore as the hottest race of the year, the track is fast and easy to make a mistake on. It has been resurfaced for this year, so expect plenty of mishaps on Friday at least as the track rubbers in.

What makes the Malaysian GP unique has to be the weather: sudden rain showers are common in this part of the world and this has provided some exciting racing in the past, notably in 2001, when the leading Ferrari’s of Barrichello and Schumacher slid into the gravel and had to fight back through the field for a one-two. Most famously though was the 2009 event, where a sudden rain storm turned into a monsoon and the race was cancelled at half distance, resulting in half points begin awarded.

Williams’ history at this event is mixed. Their only win came with Ralf Schumacher in 2002, after a dramatic first corner crash between team mate Montoya and brother Michael Schumacher. Montoya managed to fight back from a harsh penalty for the aforementioned crash to finish second to complete a one-two for Williams. Montoya ran Schumacher close in 2004, the pair traded lap records for a large part of the race, but the Colombian couldn’t quite get close enough to Schumacher and finished second.

Nico Rosberg shook the paddock when he put his Williams third on the grid in 2006, but his engine gave up the ghost after a mere six laps at the beginning of a tough season for the team. Rosberg lead the first stint of the 2009 event, but strategic errors and an overall lack of pace meant he finished eighth. Bottas’ and Massa’s fifth and sixth places respectively are the best results for Williams in recent years.

This is a fast, hot race. Tyre wear is high here and the fast corners require downforce but the two long straights require engine power and a slippery chassis. A good overall car is very important here. The FW38 is a reasonably good overall car, but may not have the downforce to compete for the podium here. Bottas recently came out and said that a lack of understanding the tyres has cost the team this season, despite their massively impressive pit stop times. They will need to be on top of that here.

I sound like a stuck record on this point, but Williams need to beat Force India here. The team say they can’t afford to only focus on beating Force India. Fine, so focus on getting as close as possible to Red Bull or Ferrari, which I’m sure they are focused on, but getting close to those teams would ensure they beat Force India. Fourth in the constructor’s may well not go down well back at base but fifth would be that much worse.

Adam Brewer

F1 Under The Lights: Williams Singapore GP Preview

GP GERMANIA F1/2016 – HOCKENHEIM (GERMANIA) 31/07/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

Singapore is one of the few races that has come along in the last few years that has become something of a classic.

The first night race in F1 history always looks incredible, the light reflects off the cars to create some stunning shots, sparks fly off the undertray’s and the race organizers always put on a spectacular show. Despite running in Asia during the rainy season, there has never been a wet Singapore GP. This could change this year, the weather forecasts have been very unpredictable and rain could mix up proceedings.

The track is a tight and twisty street circuit, the heat is more of a challenge here, rather than G forces. The race is a longer one, 55 laps takes around 2 hours and the safety car could well make an appearance, should anyone get it even slightly wrong here.

Success for Williams here has been limited, but Rosberg could have won the inaugural race in 2008, had he not had to refuel under the safety car, when the pit lane was closed. He finished second, 2 seconds off race winner Alonso, who himself benefited from the infamous “crashgate” scandal. Rosberg was again at the sharp end in 2009 but oversteered on pit exit, crossed the white line and got a time penalty. He had to take the penalty under the safety car, dropping him to the back of the field. He finished eleventh. Massa took fifth place in the 2014 race and Bottas also finished fifth at last year’s race.

This track shouldn’t suit the FW38 theoretically, the car struggles in slower speed corners, of which Singapore has a lot. The potentially high rate of attrition could help the team here; the two drivers could well take advantage of this but it will still be a tough race. Williams jumped back ahead of Force India at the Italian GP last time out, to stay ahead of Force India after this event will be a good result for Williams.

Adam Brewer

Williams, German Grand Prix Preview

GP UNGHERIA F1/2016 – BUDAPEST (UNGHERIA) 24/07/2016
© FOTO STUDIO COLOMBO PER PIRELLI MEDIA (© COPYRIGHT FREE)

After skipping a year in 2015, Formula One returns to Germany and to one of its most fabled locations, Hockenhiem. The circuit has seen much change since it first hosted F1 in 1970, the long straights which blasted through the forests are gone, replaced with a shorter but still relatively fast circuit. Sector one is the quickest on the track, featuring the best overtaking spot on the track, the turn five hairpin at the end of the straight which isn’t a straight, it mostly consists of a long left hander, easily taken flat out in the wet or the dry. The standout feature of sector two is the large Mercedes grandstand, always packed with Silver Arrows supporters. The final sector mainly consists of the much tighter stadium section, which is always a spectacular sight on race day.

 

For a race that has been held so many times, it is unsurprising that Williams have won the race on eight occasions. It was the location of one of the team’s first ever victories in 1979 and their first ever 1-2, Alan Jones took the honors that day from team mate Clay Regazzoni. Nelson Piquet would kick off a run of Brazilians winning the race 5 years in a row, taking the flag in 1896 and a race of attrition in 1987, in which just 6 cars finished. Senna’s McLaren won from 1988-90 but Nigel Mansell would take the trophy back to Grove in 1991, it was another 1-2 for Williams, Ricciardo Patrese backed up the Brit. Mansell took another lights to flag win in 1992, but the drama surrounded his team mate, who spun off on the penultimate lap whilst trying to pass Senna for second. Prost won in 1993 in equally dramatic circumstances, his team mate Damon Hill was odds on to take his first ever win when his tire failed on lap 42 of 45. Being classified fifteenth was of no comfort to the British driver as his team mate won his final race, prost his career on a (then record) of 51 wins. Hill finally got his German Grand prix in 1996, Alesi’s Benetton prevented another Williams 1-2. Williams dominated the last race to be held at the old track in 2001, Juan Pablo Montoya set pole position and fastest lap but a glitch with the refueling rig allowed team mate Ralf Schumacher into the lead, then Montoya’s BMW engine blew, forcing him into retirement. Ralf Schumacher won the race, 46 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello. Williams final win in 2003 was a truly dominant showing for Montoya, he took pole position, fastest lap and the race win by over a minute from Coulthard’s McLaren.

Williams were very impressive at the 2014 event, Bottas and Massa qualified second and third thanks to Hamilton’s brake failure and subsequent crash in qualifying. Massa didn’t make it past turn one, owing to a crash with the McLaren of Magnusson, which culminated with the Williams memorably rolling over. Bottas kept it all together to finish second, ahead of Hamilton’s charge from the back of the grid.

The 2014 event really made the grid stand up and take Williams seriously as podium challengers, they outclassed Red Bull and Ferrari the whole weekend. It is difficult to see a repeat performance in 2016 though, Red Bull and Ferrari are much stronger and Williams weren’t even close to challenging them in Hungary. Hockenheim should suit the car more but a podium still looks unlikely. The aim for this race weekend has to be to quash the rise for Force India with some good, solid points so that the team can go into the summer break on a high and focus on closing the gap to the top three teams.