Williams might have expected to be beaten by Red Bull in 2016, but losing to fellow Mercedes customers Force India was a bitter pill.
The team went into their third season with the three-pointed star upbeat that having turned their attention to the FW38 early in 2015 they had cured some of the key weaknesses of its predecessors. But as the season went on it appeared more as though their high-speed strengths had been lost yet the usual slow-corner and wet weather weaknesses remained.
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They were never in the hunt as far as Red Bull was concerned but their nip-and-tuck battle with Force India could have gone either way.
In pure performance terms Williams had a fractionally quicker car on average – 1.71% off the pace compared to the VJM09’s 1.72%. Given Williams’ phenomenal record in the pits they might have been expected to come out ahead. But once Force India got their car hooked up Williams looked likely to lose this fight.
It didn’t help matters that a retirement-bound Felipe Massa turned in a lacklustre season. This included a ten-race spell during which time he contributed just ten points.
But as Valtteri Bottas ended the season behind Sergio Perez in the standings it would be wrong to lump all the blame on the Brazilian’s shoulders. Nonetheless Bottas delivered the team’s only podium finish of the year, in Canada.
The team kept a stream of upgrades coming, though as they lacked the budget of the front-runners sometimes these were only for one car. More troubling was the success rate of the new components.
Group CEO Mike O’Driscoll admitted “the development of this year’s car hasn’t gone as well as we would have like”.
“All of the upgrades we brought haven’t been as effective as we would have wished.”
“I also think it’s fair to say that we made an early decision in the season to focus on the 2017 development,” he added. However the same was also true of last year’s car.
However as 2016 drew to a close it emerged the team was undergoing significant upheaval. Chief technical officer Pat Symonds departed amid rumours he was to be replaced by Paddy Lowe.
The traffic between Williams and their engine supplier is widely expected to be a two-way affair, as Mercedes are believed to be pursuing Bottas following Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement. Massa has already been enticed back from what will prove to be a very brief retirement.
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