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.