Testing pace suggests Williams’ revival is real

2014 F1 season preview

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Williams had a bad year but they’ve shaken up their technical department, changed engine supplier and hired a Brazilian ex-Ferrari driver. This all sounds very familiar…

The form of this once-great team has swung violently from under-performers to overachievers in recent seasons. They were pole-sitters in 2010, struggled to score points the year after, then won a race in 2012, and were back in the doldrums again last year.

The team began last season with a change of leadership as team founder Frank Williams’ daughter Claire was appointed to deputy team principal. As it became clear earlier in the season the team was heading off-course, she moved quickly to change direction.

Within the past ten months Williams have replaced Renault engines with Mercedes power, appointed Pat Symonds as chief technical officer to replace Mike Coughlan, snapped up Felipe Massa from Ferrari along with Rob Smedley and hired a raft of new technical staff, many of which will work in the field of aerodynamics where the team has struggled of late.

Massa’s arrival plus the hiring of Felipe Nasr as test driver has helped the team tap into Brazilian companies Petrobras and Banco do Brasil for sponsorship. A further deal is expected to be announced soon with one of motor racing’s great heritage sponsors, Martini.

The change of engine supplier may prove a real shot in the arm this year. It’s not just the case that Renault have endured a miserable start to pre-season testing, but that Mercedes have got their season off to a very strong start. As things stand it looks like Pastor Maldonado may regret jumping ship when he did.

The team have been very pleased with the reliability of the FW36, which in testing covered more ground than anything that wasn’t a Mercedes. Indeed the car ran so reliably the team even dedicated some time to performing live pit stop practice – any area where they must make gains following last year’s costly wheel nut problems.

Williams were often near the top of the timing sheets during testing. Although Valtteri Bottas was unable to do his qualifying simulation on the final day, Massa’s quick lap the day before produced the fastest time by any driver in the Bahrain test, two-hundredths of a second faster than Lewis Hamilton managed in the Mercedes.

Of course there are limits to the conclusions which can be drawn from testing times. Nonetheless this points to a team which have gone from being third-worst at best to being third-best at worst – a remarkable development if it is borne out by results in Melbourne.

The last time this team produced a decent car – in 2012 – its potential was too often squandered by its drivers making mistakes (Maldonado) or being off the pace (Bruno Senna).

Their line-up for 2014 promises to be more level-headed while giving away nothing in pure pace. Massa may have endured a bruising four years alongside Fernando Alonso but he is highly experienced and brimming with enthusiasm for his new challenge.

That Bottas somehow wrung a top-three qualifying place out of the FW35 on one occasion last year speaks volumes for his raw speed. The new car looks like it might be capable of that kind of performance on a regular basis, giving Williams the chance to enjoy their best season for a long time.

Williams’ F1 record


Championship position921144631172421112113533224584876989
Pole positions0033211034120116151561212110004741100001010

Over to you

Do you expect Williams to bounce back this year? Have your say in the comments.

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Images © Williams/LAT

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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79 comments on “Testing pace suggests Williams’ revival is real”

  1. It certainly looks like the team are well prepared, and if the Mercedes engines are as much ahead as currently appears to be the case, it would be lovely to see Massa on the podium, who knows maybe even get his first win since his accident too.

    That said, the team were quite fast during testing earlier only to then find out it was either running a tad less fuel, or that they just were not able to make the most of the car, so I won’t be counting on them to make the step back up quite yet.

    1. @bascb Define “a step back up”. I’m not expecting them to fight for WDC over a season but I’m counting on them fighting for podiums and the odd win

      1. From finishing 7-9th towards finishing in the top 4 of the teams and being a regular podium contender and with a shot at some wins and poles is what I would see as being back at the sharp end @montreal95.

        1. @bascb And you don’t see that happening this season? Well then we disagree. I’d say chances of that is pretty good. They have the best engine, very good tech team, very good drivers, good sponsors. What’s important to see is that this year is a total reboot. 2013 might as well have never happened. If Caterham or Marussia had appropriate resources they too could’ve been considered a podium contenders this season.

          Yes, Williams might slide down the order as development race heats up. But as of the first half of the championship is concerned, the signs that they will be at least 2012-level competitive are positive. And with drivers better than Crashtor Stupidado they can actually capitalize on this

          1. Oh, I can fully see that happening. Then again, we have seen Williams being promising in testing only to sag into apathy after a race or 2-3 far too often in the last 5-6 years to quite believe they are back @montreal95.

    2. I still find it surprising that people are rooting Massa for wins. I mean, he couldn’t even get a podium in a pretty competitive car in that Ferrari. And if less pressure gains 1 second, he will still probably not be WDC

      1. He got at least 1 podium in the last 2 seasons. What have you been watching?

        1. Yep, 2 podiums over 3 seasons. His team mate did manage 32 though.

          1. I dont know about Alonso, but Massa did manage atleast 4 podiums (i can’t remember anymore) when teamed with FA.
            No, I’m not a Massa fan and the bottom line is that MAssa remains heaviy outperformed by FA.

          2. Yes, that goes back to 2010, but I was only counting from 2011 as that is when he really lost it.

      2. @mashiat: Isn’t this what you said a few days back?

        Yesterday I said that it is as clear as day that Force India will win both the WDC and the WCC. But today, I had to eat my words. Massa and Williams for both Championships!

        1. Yeah. But now it’s Mercedes!…until FP1 in OZ

          1. @mashiat We eagerly await your next prediction!

      3. they are rooting for massa because he showed in 2008 he was an equal for Hamilton, also at the end of schumachers time with Ferrari, Massa was beating Schumacher. Massa also trounced Raikonnen quite convincingly while teammate. Massa’s loss of pace since then can be correlated to the bad accident he had, and their are internal factors in Ferrari which might have also prevented him from getting his best in the following seasons. he is a proven F1 race winning driver, so deserves respect. in a new team, he may well shine, in F1 sometimes that is all that is required to unlock a drivers best form, a switch in environment.

      4. Massa is likeable because he has demonstrated integrity under difficult circumstances, has never won a race othe than by skill AND because he is a competitive driver and exciting to watch when his ability to compete isn’t undermined. I dislike Alonso not because of his driving skills (unquestionable) but because his character is blemished by all the scandals surrounding his career. It’s also easy to be number one when your team’s sponsors (Spanish bank Santander) demand that you be number one.

  2. I really want Williams to do well this year. For me they are the quintessential pure racing team that were in the doldrums for too long. I don’t want them to go the way other pure racing teams such as Tyrell went.
    Their car is also one of the least-worst looking on the grid, and they have good drivers with a potential great one in Bottas. Last year I found it hard to support Williams with Crashtor Stupidado aka Walldonado aka Ungratefulado there. This year it will be easy

    1. “Their car is also one of the least-worst looking on the grid”

      I disagree on your term “least-worst”, I think the car looks better then you state, even better then last years high nose craziness, the nose looks fine and has a proper swoop down like any other open wheel series cars.
      Just wait till Williams ads their new livery and gets rid of this boring blue.

      The new RB10 also is the nicest car on the grid since 2006 era.

      1. @mpmark Sorry, can’t find any car with fallic nose good looking, only in profile. The Williams looks like it has its protection on(not visible from the angle in the above pic, from that angle it indeed looks good)

        Not the dyson Ferrari either. For me the only good looking car this year is the Merc. The Rb10 tries to hide its nose and fails

        And disagree about the livery too. The classic deep blue looks amazing! The Martini should be good as well(provided it doesn’t have too much white in it, as I hate the boring white)

        Anyway, we’re talking aesthetics here, so there’s no objective criteria. Each to his own

  3. I’m not brave enough to use the word ‘revival’. Unless they have their best year since 2003, that word should only really be used if they can sustain an improvement. I would gladly see Williams be contenders for wins over the next few years but never take the top prize, just to see them out of the doldrums long term.

    2010 – pole
    2011 – nothing
    2012 – win
    2013 – nothing
    2014 – well, there’s a pattern developing…

    1. @matt90 +1

      And that graph of results by Williams in recent years looks like the heartbeat of someone bitten by a black mamba

    2. 2014 fastest lap?

    3. 2014- WDC ???

      Pole – Win – WDC seems like a pattern .

  4. I do hope that this time Williams’ apparent revival is a long term one, and not for a handful of races. The car looks good and they have very good drivers, and a reliable reserve in Nasr… Podiums and maybe wins early on for them?

  5. I too hope for the best for Williams and would love to see them fighting for podia. That said, I do find it interesting how quickly we have gone from ‘it’s just testing, you can’t put too much weight behind it,’ to ‘Williams have gone from being third-worst at best to third-best at worse.’

    Don’t get me wrong, I have always said there are things that can be discovered in testing, trends that come true once they race, comments from F1 insiders who have come to conclusions about other teams from what they have seen etc etc.

    I think the bottom line of my comment is that it isn’t just testing. They aren’t all out there with the luxury of time and mega tests such that they can sandbag. There are things that become evident right off the bat. We don’t learn everything, but we must be learning a lot if we are already putting teams in an order on the grid from ‘just testing.’

  6. Something about the idea of Felipe Massa finally breaking free from his sometimes-abusive relationship with Ferrari to Williams, a team coming off their worst season ever, and possibly finding himself in a better car just screams ‘poetic justice’ to me.

    1. abusive is a bit harsh….the only such relationship was probably between Scott Speed and Franz Tost :P

    2. ‘sometimes-abusive…?’ I highly doubt that is a fair accusation. FM was around to witness MS/Ferrari, so he knew what he was in for at Ferrari, the admitted one-rooster team. Surely when they announced FA coming to Ferrari FM didn’t think that would be so he (FA) could back him (FM). Sure it became hard to swallow for him, particularly in 2010 when the reality of his role had to be blatantly revealed, but after that he was on the team for 3 more seasons. Unless someone had a gun to his head I’m assuming FM has been happy to collect the pay cheque, happy to have Ferrari driver on his CV, and is now happy that his tenure there has now seen him still in F1 with a fresh opportunity.

      Hey I get the poetic justice thing, because I don’t like the one-rooster concept whatsoever, and I think we all have a soft spot for a driver that comes back from a serious injury, but to call FM’s situation abusive is I think way off the mark.

    3. @magnificent-geoffrey Abusive? As in keeping an underperforming, not the same driver since the injury anymore for 4 years?

      I’m very far from being a Ferrari fan, but the loyalty has been mutual. Yes, after 2011 they did it only to please Alonso, but it doesn’t matter. Had Ferrari frown Massa out after 2011 he would’ve found no frontrunning seat anywhere else

    4. abusive?!?!? LMAO

      Iif there is anyone who abused the driver – team relationship, it was Felipe. He was absolute rubbish from mid 2010 onwards and was yet confident that he was never going to get replaced no matter how badly he underperformed.

      He would pull his socks up just before they signed his contract… and then he would get back to slacking.

      It’s a shame that Ferrari seat was wasted in 2012 and 2013 on a driver like Felipe. There are so many other drivers on the grid that deserved that seat more than him

      1. To be fair, FM was told from mid-2010, along with the world who witnessed it, that he was FA’s subservient, not that it was any big surprise other than perhaps the timing that year given the number of races that remained. So given that, I don’t know why FM wouldn’t be confident that his ride was safe…they weren’t looking for someone to beat FA. However, given how much LdM talked around that time of how FM needed to pull up his socks or be gone, are you sure FM was confident in keeping his ride?

        It can’t be easy being on a team that likes only one rooster which puts the second driver in the position of having to perform well enough to help ensure the WCC, but not well enough to beat the WDC. That’s why I’m not sure I would wish that position to any ‘deserving’ driver. I don’t think that any driver who has dreamed of F1 and the WDC since he was a kid, and actually makes it to F1, deserves to get there only to find he has to help someone else see their dreams through.

      2. @todfod: +1, I made calculations showing that Massa was the worst no 2 driver of the top teams, because he, as the only no 2 driver, never was able to “take” points from the direct rivals of the teams no 1 driver. It has been a massive mistake of Ferrari to keep Massa more than 1 year after his accident. But as I’m not a Ferrari fan, I’m kind of glad they did:-)

      3. If Ferrari went as far as to order Massa to cede his place to Alonso, imagine what went on behind the scenes and in strategy. Were it otherwise, Alonso’s seaons would not have been as good, and Massa’s as poor. Massa’s pre-Alonso seasons were v good. FA is good, no doubt, but you will never know how much of his good fotune can be credited to Santander.

    5. I have a feeling instead it will be shades of barichello, leave an abusive relationship at ferrari be in a team having a revival and have the chance to win only to be thoroughly trounced by his teammate.

    6. @magnificent-geoffrey I couldn’t agree more! Add to that the schadenfreude at the probability that Maldonado will be lucky to even see the gearbox of a Williams, and this is really a team with a very positive fresh start that I can really feel good about. It also doesn’t hurt that Bottas is one of the most exciting of the younger drivers in the field.

      1. I wouldn’t be so sure that Lotus and Maldonado should be written off so easy.

        It’s a long season. You don’t win it at testing……

        btw, please remind me, who crashed into the same bit of wall in monaco twice in the same weekend???

  7. Interesting to see how Massa works with Symonds. The same Pat Symonds who was involved in Crashgate, which Massa sites as the incident which cost him the 2008 championship.

    1. I think that FM knew as those words were leaving his mouth that many factors added up to him not winning the 08 WDC…you can’t just take one incident and play woulda, coulda, shoulda. He knows that…we all do…although I often see remarks on this site from people trying to make their argument based on that, forgetting how convenient it is to say if only such and such had happened…assuming that everything else then would have stayed the same, and nobody else could possibly be affected once in hindsight you change the circumstances for one driver. But then, I can’t really blame armchair fans for doing it, when driver’s do it too.

      FM was taking a shot at FA that day more than anything, not at Symonds, and I remember the remarks immediately from participants here were to the effect of reminding FM of the mistakes he also made that year. Mistakes that FM himself would acknowledge did not help his own cause.

    2. Steph (@stephanief1990)
      3rd March 2014, 17:15

      @brum55 he’ll also be working alongside Stepney who was Mclaren’s mole while working for Ferrari back in 07. Even if Felipe doesn’t achieve anything on the track with Williams he’s the champion of taking the moral highroad…

      1. @stephanief1990 Stepney’s going to Williams? I thought that was Smedley.

        1. Steph (@stephanief1990)
          4th March 2014, 10:29

          @journeyer sorry. I’ve just had a look online to confirm he went to Williams and I can’t find it anywhere. I swear I saw him do some work for them last year on JAonF1 blog though. I must have imagined it! Not entirely implausible as I did dream that Alonso won a wet Valencia and Felipe was racing on a motorbike…

          1. You might have your spygate actors mixed up @steph, because the other guy, – Mike Coughlan – was at Williams last year, until they fired thim and Symonds took his place.

          2. eh, sorry, that should be for you @stephanief1990

  8. I want to believe that’s the case, both for Williams and for Massa, but we really need to take a deep breath, and remember that pre season tests never tell the whole story, and rarely an accurate one.

  9. Lets just hope all these seemingly well informed – and particularly well timed decisions bear some fruit in 2014. After so many pre-seasons promising so much, only to (usually) disappoint. Therefore I’ll use the phrase ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. Even a top 4 finish in the Constructor’s would be huge.

    I know which team I’m supporting this year – Williams.

  10. It’s all gloriously up in the air, and Williams have raised a lot of hopes in the tests. I’m expecting Mercedes to be ahead on pace at Melbourne – somewhere between marginally in front and Brawn-like domination – but if somebody in a more reliable car can apply some pressure, it could be a classic start to the season.

    It’s a good-looking car. It got some stick because it was the first one released, but I’m looking forward to seeing it with its warpaint on in the next couple of days, and I would love to see Massa in a sequel to that last memorable visit to the top of a podium.

    from being third-worst at best to being third-best at worst

    Try saying that in live commentary… and I wouldn’t rule out Force India.

  11. It has really been painful watching Williams in recent years. The once dominant team almost seemed to have lost its way. But this team has always battled to hard to succeed and Frank Williams’ road to success is legendary. I really do hope this is the beginning of their rebirth.
    Unfortunately for Maldonado, he may not have read the tea leaves accurately.

  12. Very skeptical about any speed predictions coming out of pre-season testing, but the laps ran and reliability look excellent indeed. I want to hope against hope all this and the off season personnel moves equal much improved performance for the Williams team. Hopefully they can strike early while other teams are still having difficulties and then keep a good development pace throughout the season.

  13. Williams may have a very good (probably quicker than their last years hehe) car, but I doubt they’ll be title challengers.

  14. Theres actually a tweet on the Mercedes page that says Hamilton’s fastest time was set on the Super-soft tires and that Pirelli had made a mistake. This makes the Williams seem even more impressive!

    1. @skett This has been revised above – see here.

      1. My mistake, didn’t see that! Cheers @keithcollantine

  15. Williams are certainly due for a return to competitiveness. You could say that the mark of a great team is its ability to recover from disaster and return to the front. We’ve seen Williams accomplish this on several occasions – 86/87, 92/93, 96/97 and to a lesser extent the Ralf/Montoya years. Maybe 80-82 too, before my (F1-watching) time. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them do it again this year, much as I try not to read too much into winter testing. Williams-Mercedes may not roll off the tongue too easily, but at least it can roll out of the pits when required.

    1. totally agree with Williams-Mercedes – terrible

  16. One thing is for sure: it can hardly be worse than last year, good for them !

    1. Well… Technically, it could… They could score less than 5 points and not have a top 3 in quali? @spoutnik

      1. @craig-o True :) , but with that Mercedes engine and the fastest lap of all the pre-season tests it would be a shame if they can’t capitalize at least while the Renault engine is in the limbo. They should at least be able to score a dozen points in the first three races.

  17. i hope williams has a great season. and hopefully bottas beats massa: a driver that happily served as carpet for his team mate is not worth much…

    1. I agree. Massa is a friendly face and victimizes him self a little bit to world press but then he goes on his own country raving of being miss treated by Ferrari truth is that he’s not good enough, even Barrichello who had a notoriously error prone career is a better man.

  18. Beat Mclaren. I think that is their hidden objective and I think that people are over hyping McLaren’s pre-season. In the end McLaren’s design has some issues and some over the top concepts whereas the neat Williams beam wing replacement is much more sane lighter and efficient, that is the trinket that other teams will copy, I hope that Williams has learned the lesson and I hope that McLaren will learn the lesson too.

  19. It would be great if someone can tell me the fastest sector times from Bahrain testing…. Is Mercedes fastest in all of them? Does ferrari have any fastest sectors?

  20. Williams to score more points in Melbourne than the whole of 2013? It looks quite likely at the moment.

    It is certainly going to be fascinating to see their revival. I’m not expecting them to be title contenders in the slightest as it is a long season and there are other big teams who I’m sure will be improving throughout, but regular solid points and a few podiums are certainly looking on the cards which would be a very successful season for them after 2013, for sure.

    Just to add, the Martini livery is apparently going to be revealed on Thursday.

    1. Just off reliability alone they stand a decent chance of getting both cars in the points, so more points than they got in 2013 doesn’t sound too unlikely!

  21. I was so unhappy when Crashtor Crashtonaldo got the Lotus seat and Nico Hulkenberg didn’t. But now I am happy that Pasta Smashdonado has a not entirely good car made worse by the unreliable Renault engine and Nico Hulkenberg has a reliable Mercedes powered Force India. It makes me even more happier that the Williams this year is much better than last year and has gone with Merc as well so Bashtor made the wrong move at the wrong time. I can only hope now that Romain Grosjean moves to a better team as he has much more potential than Pastor sauce…

    1. Tbh I actually think its a bit of a shame that the Lotus is so unreliable since I’d be interested to see how Grosjean and Maldonado compare

  22. It would be awesome if Felipe can notch a win this year. It would warm alot of peoples souls to see him prove his mettle after being dogged the last few years. Massa is a class act/ nice guy. It will be fun to see him fight with Alonso and not have to give way for team politics. Williams and Massa are a great match. I hope they improve one another. (it appears they already have) :)

  23. That Royal Blue Williams looks Majestic, Albeit I am assuming that they will have a new livery before the race. I am also little surprised that the Mercedes Logo is missing on the Williams.

    I am happy for both Massa and Williams. Hope they are able to recover well and show a good form through the year…..

  24. In F1, lap time generally correlates with budget – the lower the lap time, the bigger the budget. The great exception to this rule was when BMW got together with Williams in the late 90s. Despite massive spending, the performance wasn’t there, and as sponsors fled, the cash dried up and performance suffered further, in a vicious circle. That was one of the biggest mistakes Frank Williams ever made.

    Having said that, it seems Williams have found some money – possibly from Martini – and this has coincided with some wise, or at least fortunate, technical choices (or perhaps they’ve been saving for a couple of years and this year is a big push for them). This season’s technical changes mean we could be in for some unpredictable racing. If Williams can grab a handful of podiums before the summer break, their budget for next year will be bigger still, and that should put them back at the front, where they belong.

    1. @rsp123 That’s not always the case though. Sauber have always operated on a relatively small budget compared to the larger teams and have surprised them on a few occasions. Whereas Toyota had a budget as big as Ferrari’s and they were not exactly on the same pace

  25. They got a good start, now let’s see if they can develop the car equally fast as Redbull, Mercedes and Ferrari. Lotus did a pretty good job last year in that area, now let’s see if Williams can do it. It certainly hasn’t been one of their strong points over the last couple of years. But i hope they do well.

  26. Really looking forward to that Martini livery powering Williams to the podium (which I’m told may be hiding underneath that current blue)

  27. Every year before the season starts there is an article about Williams “revival”. It is getting silly really. Having said that I do hope they do well, but we will have to wait and see.

  28. To come back to the question or the OP, I really would love to see Williams back at the top with Massa (I don’t really dig Maldonado), even if, for me the name reminds me of some tragic events which shook my F1 history, I believe that they have made some interesting HR moves, and deserve to be back, maybe not for some big wins, but by exciting the paddocks and the races.
    I think it was a good move from Massa, who, end of the day, was more or less a puppet at the SF.
    Hopefully he will release some of his outrageous temper, as he showed in 2008, don’t forget that he did take the n°1 of the Scuderia from Raikkonen at the time…

    1. Hi @nomeg1, Maldonado has moved on – to the struggling Lotus. Massa is paired with Bottas this year.

      Also we mustn’t forget that the post-injury Massa doesn’t seem to have the pace he once displayed – maybe the temper you allude to was part of that.

      However, on-topic, I agree that it would be great to see Williams up there mixing with the top teams again. I suspect it might be with Bottas rather than Massa though.

  29. Wow, this is a great comparison of Rosberg’s pole lap of 2013 and Massa’s test time in Bahrain 2014. Startling to see the massive increase in the speed of the cars, sector times are lower, mostly I suspect to the loss of aerodynamic performance, which the teams are sure to recover at the later part of the season.

    1. Not sure it’s a fair comparison or at least I question the relevance. Tires are now different. Air and track temps probably different. Etc etc. It is interesting, but I think the real comparisons will be quali vs quali for the same venue, last year vs. this, and race times vs races times too. But regardless, the speeds are only one component, and mean little if the racing is not good. Hopefully the reduced aero will be hard to retrieve, and I’d love it if they would reduce it even more next year.

  30. Fingers crossed that 2014 is the season we’ve been waiting for. Hope this pace keeps up, but have a feeling that not all the players have shown their hand….

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