Williams’ best year since ’03 not just due to Mercedes

2014 F1 season review

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Williams team stats 2014

Best race result (number)2 (3)
Best grid position (number) 1 (1)
Non-classifications (mechanical/other) 4 (1/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,064 (88.66%)
Laps led (% of total) 34 (2.92%)
Championship position (2013)3 (9)
Championship points (2013)320 (5)
Pit stop performance ranking5

There are compelling reasons to believe that after the false dawns of past seasons, Williams’ successful 2014 campaign showed the former championship winners could again become the formidable force they once were.

This team’s form has varied wildly in recent years. The toiled at the back in 2011, won a race in 2012, then slumped to the rear of the field again in 2013. Each disappointing season was greeted with the departure of key technical staff and the appointment of new names.

But the arrivals of the likes of Pat Symonds and Rob Smedley within the past 18 months seems to have given the team the direction and organisation it was crying out for. Clearly, it enabled them to not only produce a car which made excellent use of the superb Mercedes power unit, but also to take full advantage of it – at least from around the middle of the season.

There were four Mercedes-powered teams on the grid and Williams ended the year ahead of two of them. Without the best engine in the field of course they would not have enjoyed the kind of season they did, but it’s equally clear they owed their turnaround to more than just the 1.6-litre lump with the three-pointed star on it.

Harnedding the Mercedes PU106A V6 turbo hybrid’s grunt to full effect, the FW36 was like a dragster on the straight. Its efficient aerodynamics also made one of the best cars in terms of fuel consumption.

Williams’ potential was masked somewhat at the beginning of the season. The car’s key weakness was its performance in wet weather conditions, so rain-hit qualifying sessions at the start of the year held them back, as did tyre management problems in Bahrain.

Felipe Massa was eliminated at the first corner of the season. But in the same race the speed with which Valtteri Bottas made his way through the field after two separate setbacks – a gearbox change penalty in qualifying and contact with the wall in the race – showed the car had serious speed.

It was Bottas who unlocked it first, taking four podiums from five races at mid-season. Massa, meanwhile, lost a lot of points due to misfortune (collisions with Ericsson in Monaco and Raikkonen at Silverstone) and self-inflicted mistakes (rolling after hitting Magnussen in Germany). However Massa did keep Mercedes from taking a clean sweep of pole positions, leading a Williams-lock-out of the front row in Austria.

Given that, and Massa’s pursuit of Lewis Hamilton at the final round in Abu Dhabi, it’s reasonable to ask whether Williams should have won a race in 2014.

Their conservative strategy in Austria saw them take third and fourth place behind Mercedes. Could they have been bolder? Perhaps, but they had every incentive not too. With some poor championship results in their recent history, the importance of grabbing points while they were able to cannot be underestimated.

Given the virtual impossibility of beating Mercedes to the title, concentrating on getting ahead of Ferrari and staying there made absolute sense. If those running F1 wish to see teams like Williams take more risks in their pursuit of victory, it should note that the present points and prize money structure provides a very strong incentive for them to play it safe.

A major part of Smedley’s role was to iron out the kind of operational errors seen the previous years, where sloppy pit work led to costly fines. Pit stop problems delayed Massa in China and Canada – the latter compromising a potential shot at victory – though on the whole the team took a step forward in this area.

A double podium finish at the finale – their first in nine years – showed Williams had mastered the niggling problems they had been working on all season. If they produce as good a car next year they should be in far better shape to take advantage of it.

2014 Williams race results


AustraliaMalaysiaBahrainChinaSpainMonacoCanadaAustriaBritainGermanyHungaryBelgiumItalySingaporeJapanRussiaUSABrazilAbu Dhabi
Felipe Massa771513712451335711432
Valtteri Bottas58875732283411635103

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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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19 comments on “Williams’ best year since ’03 not just due to Mercedes”

  1. I hope they come back even stronger next year and we have a real fight between them and Mercs, that would be awesome!

    1. More realistically, I hope they can win a few races. Don’t think anyone will be able to fight with Hamilton in a car so dominant.

    2. A bit more downforce, slightly better grip, and fewer bumper-car incidents, and Williams should be fighting for the top 3 steps regularly.

  2. Williams should have got 2nd this year, but nonetheless its still an amazing season

    1. The races which Williams where strong sadly the mercs stayed reliable Mercedes would have won every race this year not for the odd bit of reliability issues, had Hamilton had a problem at Abu Dhabi then Williams would have been on for a 1-2 swings and roundabouts I suppose but always great to see them at the sharp end fighting for wins!!

      1. Australia – Massa-Kobayashi crash : 6 pts
        China – Massa pit problem : 4 pts
        Canada – Massa-Perez crash : 25-10 pts (Bottas will be 9th)
        Britain – Massa crash with Raikkonen : 15 points+ 5 (Ricciardo and Vettel drop positions) : 20 points
        Germany – Massa crash : 15-12 points + 4 (Ricciardo and Vettel drop positions) : 19-16 points
        Belgium – debris in Masaa car : 12-10 points
        Singapore – Bottas steering issue : 8 points
        Russia – Massa Qualifying issue 12-10 points + 4 (Vettel and Ricciardo drop positions) : 16-14 points
        United states – pit problems for both drivers : 5 points + 5 (minus for Ricciardo) : 10 points
        Not a 100% representative but this showed how close could Williams to Red Bull

        1. Oh yeah and Monaco – Mechanical issues : 4 points

          1. @deongunner
            If you do the same with Red Bull, they end up way in front again.

          2. @kingshark that is why I said not 100% representative and how close could Williams to Red Bull

  3. Williams are my favourite team again. Are they the most popular atm?

    I don’t see how they can take on Merc, but I’d love to see them beat Red Bull. Hopefully they’ve come up with some downforce.

  4. Stunning success. McLaren showed how not to harness the Mercedes “power unit” so as you say it wasn’t that simplistic and I think Massa must be under rated in terms of his development feedback. He can be a whingeing liability in a race but Ferrari going backward and Williams forward may just have been influenced slightly by the nearly man. However, one wrong turn in the off season and your Sauber. Still too early to say if this is a renaissance but great to see Frank’s team back near the front.

    1. I’d have to agree with you about Massa. I remember Alonso stating more than once that in testing, the main reason he was always able to get stuck in with his program & help drive development forward was due to Felipe’s usually spot on setup. He said he never had to waste time trying to setup the car because Felipe always had it bang on by the time he got in the car. He always gave Massa his due.

  5. I have always had a great deal of respect and yes some love for Williams. So it has been great to see them rise from the lowly places they have found themselves, to now being talked about challenging for wins or at least a podium position.

    An illustration of keeping it together they show time and time again. I was very keen to see how Claire Williams got on in her role when she was appointed. I can only say how wonderful she comes across, giving praise with a smile of joy, admitting to needing to learn with earnest furrowed eyebrows. The team seem well knitted together and a happy place to be, which always helps in my opinion.

    Sam Michael leaving to go to McLaren late 2011, I feel was key to the fortunes of both teams, I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I always get an uneasy feeling about him. Admittedly it’s taken a change in regulations to really see Williams being able to shed recent years, it was key and they did a fantastic job in learning from teething issues.

    Bottas while can make mistakes also shows he has a beating racer within and is a joy to watch most races. Massa I have always felt is a driver that performs best when less cars are around, over the years he has in my opinion driven expecting the car by his side to yield as it just takes the racing line, so it was a surprise to me when Hamilton passed him in Monza, it looked like trouble all the way going into that chicane, but they both came out of it and I found a better respect for Massa after that.

    What has also been nice, is to see the reactions of other teams towards Williams, though it will change, I even think Ferrari didn’t mind as much losing to Williams as they would McLaren. I hope to see Williams carry on in the same vain, they bring some thing much needed to the grid.

  6. I am glad Williams did so well this year. They are among the teams that exist for F1 solely and should be among the core of F1. Alas they results don’t often reflect that, so it is joyful to see them where they are, and seems they are highly motivated for the coming season as well.

  7. A major part of Smedley’s role was to iron out the kind of operational errors seen the previous years, where sloppy pit work led to costly fines.

    Also known as the Sam Michael effect.

  8. While it is a shame that Williams did not win a race this year, Valtteri said after a few close calls (like Austria) that no matter what Williams did, Mercedes would always finish ahead. They simply did not have the speed to beat them with, for example, doing one stop more/less in a race.

    I just hope that Williams can keep up this pace and be a real title contender next year.

    1. I think they had the speed, but not the grip– They consistently had higher speeds in the speed trap, and lower fuel usage than the W05, suggesting less downforce / drag. That also means their brakes have to work harder.

      1. There has been talk that Mercedes can dictate the power/delivery that the customer teams are able to extract from the engines. Perhaps another reason why Williams were not able to beat the factory team this year?

    2. Actually i could say they didn’t have the tyre behavior they needed to win. They couldn’t do anything because their speed was slightly slower than the Mercs and their tyre life was slightly worse. If at least one of the two was better they could play. So if the tyres were better for them they could have played with a win against the Mercs but they didn’t even had that.

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