Williams face a fight to hold on to third place

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By finishing third in the constructors’ championship for the second season running last year Williams achieved its strongest showing since 2003.

But whereas 13 years ago it enjoyed the factory backing of BMW, today Williams is a Mercedes customer. While that means they enjoy the benefit of the best engine in the field it also deprives them of the design harmony between chassis and power unit which Mercedes and Ferrari enjoy.

Can Williams match the development pace of richer rivals?
That being the case, Williams appear to be at the limit of what’s possible for an engine customer under the current rules. This is exactly why McLaren are enduring the pain of getting the Honda project working – because Ron Dennis is convinced engine customers cannot win championships at the moment.

For now Williams don’t have an alternative. The ship has been steadied since its wild fluctuations in form between 2010 and 2013, and now the focus is on making the most of its improved position.

There are clear areas where the team can improve on its 2016 showing. The FW38 is clearly geared towards addressing its predecessor’s weakness in slow corners and on wet tracks. And the team was been both operationally week and strategically inflexible on race day.

The team kept its cards close to its test during testing. As with Mercedes, the FW38’s best time was set on the soft tyres – not the super-softs or new ultra-softs. Even so it was within two-tenths of a second of Mercedes. These more aggressive compounds could help Williams unlock more of that missing low-speed performance.

But even if it does make progress in these areas the team may find itself running to stay still in the season ahead as better-resourced teams make strides in the development war.

19: Felipe Massa

Massa’s second season at Williams was a convincing riposte to those who claimed he should have hung up his helmet after being ditched by Ferrari two years ago.

However he did end the year behind his junior team mate on points for the second season running. In the third and final year of his original deal with Williams, the question of whether he will continue with them in 2017 will have to be settled.

77: Valtteri Bottas

Though undeniably quick, Bottas has at times stood accused of being a little too timid in battle, particularly on the first lap of the race. He went some way towards challenging that view at the end of last year, particularly when he stood his ground in combat with Kimi Raikkonen in Mexico.

The backdrop to that clash with Raikkonen – and another in Russia – was Ferrari passing over Bottas when they rehired Raikkonen another season. Bottas needs a stand-out campaign if he’s to be a candidate for a top team promotion next year.

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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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7 comments on “Williams face a fight to hold on to third place”

  1. The way people at Williams are talking, they seem to have made a cracker this year.

    Relative development stagnation due to lack of funding compared to Red Bull may be the case, but according to Symonds, much focus has gone into operations this year and as we know there are a lot of points to be gained or lost there, maybe that will balance the issue.

    1. PR to attract sponsors. This is a team that from 2014 had a huge engine advantage and were the richest and biggest of the Merc customer teams (ok McLaren but they were out come 2015 and are in a downwards spiral) so no surprise they were elevated to near the front from years of being no where. Cannot help but feel they are a mediocre team with a great engine and as other engines get closer to Merc Williams will fall back into the midfield. This may well be the last year they have a chance of holding onto 3rd in the Constructors.

      1. Force India only had 10–20m less in their budget (around 90% Williams’ budget), I have no idea why people like you give little credits to Williams, when even Force India(both VJ and Bob) gave a lot of credits to Williams in the last 2 year, considering Williams’ budget is only less than 40% Mercedes’ and Ferrari’s budget (exclude PU budget)
        Could you answer me?

        ” (ok McLaren but they were out come 2015 and are in a downwards spiral) ”
        Yeah, outclassing a team with a double-size budget is nothing for you.

        1. Williams are simply mediocre in MY OPINION (opinion not fact). When engines become equalised they will drop down the grid in all likelihood. They were dropping down the grid when they had one of the top budgets in F1 their relatively small budget to the front runners is down to their downturn in performance as will happen with McLaren unless they have a large upturn in performance over the next few years. Before they got the Merc engine they were a middle to lower grid team, their upturn in performance appears to be down to the advantage given by the Merc engine.

          1. Well, that and their pretty handy, slippery car that is good on it’s day. You can have a good engine mated to a dog of a car (or vice-versa) and be absolutely nowhere, as the lower-placed teams show.

            Williams may have ‘lucked’ into moving to Mercedes at just the right time, but the team have managed to develop and maintain their position on a significantly smaller budget than their nearest rivals, which is pretty much fact. They just tend to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory sometimes because they’re worried if they push that extra 1%, they’ll drop the ball and often end up doing so anyway.

          2. I am not at all sure that Williams resurgence can be credited solely to Mercedes. Has everyone forgotten that when they switched from Cosworth to race winning Renault their overall results did not improve? This is a sure sign that the chassis was to blame and like McLaren, seemingly chased the wrong design philosophy which happens to the best of teams including Ferrari (wind tunnel correlation?). The downturn also came at a time when Patrick Head bowed out and it is my belief that brilliant engineer that he once was, modern techniques simply overtook him and it has taken this long to re-establish a successful engineering path. Unfortunately, they also lost at least a year with Mike Coughlan’s disastrous input – somebody I was convinced could turn their chassis fortunes around.. I would definitely put Williams improvement in fortune down to a 50/50 combination of both chassis and PU development and their further progress will unfortunately be pegged by budget. It is possible to punch above their weight however and it is now up to superior pitwall strategy and their two drivers how well they do this season. I agree with other comments too that Bottas needs to be more muscular, but in Massa, they have a rock solid, but not spectacular points hoover who can still turn it on from time to time.. In my view, a great driver combination. We need teams like Williams to do well and succeed as they are part of the backbone and DNA of modern F1..

  2. I actually like that Bottas has been kind of conservative at the beginning of his career. I think his consistency will be rewarded. There is fire in him, make no mistake, but he is smart enough to know when to really ignite. I think that it was wonderful to have the drama between him and Kimi last year, and I like how he managed to hold it together under the media scrutiny.
    I hear that Toto has sold his William’s shares, but is he still involved in Valteri’s career?

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