Williams embark on compromised 2017 campaign

2017 F1 season preview: Williams

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After strong campaigns in 2014 and 2015 in which they were comfortably Mercedes’ top customer team and finished third overall each year, Williams had a more difficult 2016.

While they couldn’t have expected to keep beating considerably wealthier teams like Ferrari and Red Bull, they were simply out-developed by fellow Mercedes users Force India.

Their plans for 2017 also hit a major snag. Valtteri Bottas conclusively beat the retirement-bound Felipe Massa last year, who was due to be replaced by Lance Stroll this season. However Mercedes’ needed for a short-notice replacement for Nico Rosberg means Bottas is gone and Massa returns.

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This should prove a lucrative arrangement for Williams: Bottas will have gone at a price and Stroll is reputed to bring substantial backing from his billionaire father. Retaining Massa has an obvious upside: he brings a decade and a half’s experience which will be valuable given the overhaul in the rules this year. But financial inducements aside it’s hard to describe this as a ‘first choice’ driver line-up.

Testing was a mixed bag for the team. Errors by Stroll and a shortage of spare parts meant they lost over a day-and-a-half of the eight days’ running – a significant setback. But when the car did run it was reliable and looked quick – only a tenth of a second off the Mercedes. This shouldn’t be taken at face value, however – it probably serves as an indication of how far Mercedes were ‘sandbagging’.

The technical team has been shaken up with the departure of Pat Symonds and the arrival of Dirk de Beer from Ferrari. Williams is also believed to have lured Paddy Lowe from Mercedes, which would be a major coup for a team which has been steadily drifting backwards from the front of the midfield in recent seasons.


19. Felipe Massa

Did Massa take a selfless decision to return from ‘retirement’ to help Williams – or was he fired and rehired? The man himself says he wants a competitive car but after the 17-4 pasting he took from Bottas last year in qualifying it’s only fair to ask whether the car will have a competitive driver. But alongside Stroll, Massa brings vital continuity and he’s already proved his worth to the team with his testing mileage.

18. Lance Stroll

The debate over whether Stroll deserves his place in F1 will surprise no one with the exception of Claire Williams, who said during the off-season she doesn’t understand criticism of drivers paying their way into the sport. Williams can point to Stroll’s F3 and F4 titles as proof of his ability, but doubt persists question whether he really is an F1-grade talent. This argument will probably only be settled if he delivers.

Poll: Which Williams driver will finish ahead in the championship?

Which Williams driver will finish ahead in the championship?

  • Lance Stroll (14%)
  • Felipe Massa (86%)

Total Voters: 219

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Author information

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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39 comments on “Williams embark on compromised 2017 campaign”

  1. The first 100%-0% poll result, LOL.

    1. @jerejj You’re just early

      1. @davidnotcoulthard Yeah, I know, but at least the 100% to 0% ratio lasted for a brief moment, LOL.

        1. They all have that ratio after the first vote.

          1. You must be fun @ parties

  2. Re-structuring, stop-gap driver line-up allied to the new regulations, pretty much everything indicates that Williams is taking 2017 as a transition year. They did look good in testing, and seem to be the best of the rest at the moment, but something tells me that won’t happen. If they are working to build a solid foundation for the years to come, I hope it goes well and that they don’t sink to the bottom of the field again

  3. I don’t follow junior formulas much, so I have to ask: Is it really fair to assume that Stroll is that bad (Massa 91 %, Stroll 9 % at the moment*)?

    Of course Stroll got his seat because of money, but a) at least on paper he looks promising with his titles and b) he’s driving against Massa, who was badly beaten by Bottas. His crashes during testing were embarrassing, but other drivers have crashed too and it’s better to make mistakes and test limits in testing than in qualifying or races.

    *Obviously everyone has to choose either Massa or Stroll, so the result doesn’t necessarily mean that Stroll is that much worse than Massa. Nevertheless, results tend to be more even if there isn’t a big difference between drivers.

    1. @hotbottoms
      It’s the pay driver thing – anyone with money to spend is automatically assumed to be a loser.

      1. Except in Stroll’s case, some of his would-be rivals left the series he was racing in because they couldn’t compete with his dads wallet

        1. I would compare Stroll’s performance in junior categories as the same as a Nelson Piquet Jr, who always had the best available machinery until he got to F1. Both drivers had massive support from their fathers along the way, and everyone saw how it turned to be for Nelson (even if we not consider the crashgate scandal), he was an average driver at the best. So the only way to judge how good Stroll really are will be now on F1. He might be lucky because he also looks to have a really decent machinery and a team mate that past his prime, so this might help him this year compared to Nelson’s debut year.

      2. @clive-allen, I would say that it is more of a case that the votes are a reflection of what people want to see happen – because there is a sense of resentment and bile against him because the public think that he is “just a pay driver”, I suspect that most people want him to fail.

    2. Roth Man (@rdotquestionmark)
      15th March 2017, 13:38

      In a nutshell; he had a reckless first season in F3 where he was banned for 2 races I believe, I think he finished 5th behind the likes of Giovannaci/LeClerc. In his second season his Dad ploughed crazy money into the team, so much so they were getting parts from Williams and half of the grid dropped out before the season started because they knew they couldn’t compete with the Stroll money juggernaut. So I hope he proves people wrong but it’s fair to say he doesn’t yet deserve the drive. He’s the ultimate pay driver. @hotbottoms

      1. @rdotquestionmark, he was excluded from the round in Spa for his driving conduct, but Monza was a bit more complex.

        He was given a grid penalty after a collision between himself and Giovinazzi in the previous race, but the team filed an appeal and Stroll was allowed to start from his original grid slot. He went on to finish the race without incident, only for his team to announce that they were withdrawing the appeal against the penalty – the FIA therefore excluded him on the basis that he had not served his grid penalty.

        On another note, I thought that there was some question as to whether Williams really did produce parts to be fitted to Stroll’s car – I note that, when Keith produced his profile on Stroll, he questioned whether that claim was true (casting some doubt on how reliable the original sources for those claims really were).

    3. In 2014-2015 Bottas wasn’t so superior, even in 2016 if you compare them by time difference not by overall results, Massa is about 0.2-0.4s slower, that’s not too much.

      But I really think Massa problem isn’t about age at all, highly degrading tires and low downforce really doesn’t suit his driving style. This year he feels a lot more confortable and Bottas already said that he needed to change something in the way he drives. So this pretty much confirms what I’m trying to say.

    4. It’s Strolls first season in F1 and F1Metrics stats show that drivers tend to perform considerably worse in their first season in F1.

    5. I don’t think Stroll “is really that bad” at all @hotbottoms. But the new cars seem to fit Massa’s style a lot, so he would be able to have a good season. Stroll on the other hand is a rookie, and given his experience up to now, I think it’s fair to expect him to have trouble getting up to speed maybe even as much as Palmer had last year (only getting into it in the last 3rd of the season)

  4. All my other picks have been careful. It was about time I went for a crazy choice – Stroll it is. :D

  5. For Williams’ sake, they need the Stroll of week two testing, not week one. Otherwise a potentially lucrative deal is going to turn into a self-serving repair bill.

  6. “But when the car did run it was reliable and looked quick – only a tenth of a second off the Mercedes. This shouldn’t be taken at face value, however – it probably serves as an indication of how far Mercedes were ‘sandbagging’.”

    Interesting point

  7. I really hope Massa raises up his game this year. It looked to me like he couldn’t handle the ‘made-to-degrade’ Pirellis at all. Looking back to the Bridgestone era, he looked fine before thw crash in 2009 and also looked promising in 2010, although the latter was a very competitive year. Since then he went completely downhill, but I think this year he can pick up his true pace.

  8. Paul Di Resta would destroy both of them.

    1. I’d be inclined to agree

    2. I think the same. Massa was decent to good before the 2009 accident but after it… he lost some speed and concentration. Also against Bottas he was decently matched, but 2016 was a bad year for Williams. I think 2017 is more of a transition year for Massa & Williams. After it either Massa leaves and Williams hires maybe Di Resta or well Stroll might leave?

      1. I’m pretty sure Williams will look at poaching Wehrlein once Massa is gone… that is.. if Wehrlein proves himself against Ericcson this year. Honestly, there’s a high chance that Stroll might not last more than 2 seasons in the sport, or at Williams as well, so it will be interesting to see who enters Williams in the post 2018 era.

    3. @the-last-pope yup, but Di Resta would have to get special licence granted, not enough licence points and his experience was too many seasons ago – he has sat out three seasons already! would love to see him back on the grid though, its weird without a Scot to cheer for!

      1. Di Resta should be right in getting a licence as he’s driven in F1 previously. I believe it’s a clause somewhere on ex-F1 drivers.

    4. Absolutely no basis for that.

  9. Dirk de Beer. Reckon he loves a pint.

  10. Two underwhelming drivers.

    Let’s hope for an improved line-up in 2018.

    1. One at least has potential

  11. “Williams is also believed to have lured Paddy Lowe from Mercedes”

    I thought was acknowledged to be a done deal?

  12. voted for Massa simply because a Sunday Stroll is never gonna win a race!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. I some how feel that Williams will unlock something magical during the season and will fight against the Redbulls and Ferraris. But I am not sure if the driving line up will have what it takes to unlock this potential. Looking at Stroll’s achievements I think once he gets some handling experience under his belt he will be the better of the two. I used to think he was nothing (being a paid driver) but looking at his stats I think he is more than that.

  14. As underwhelming as Massa has been in recent seasons, I still think it’d be a tall order for him to be beaten by a rookie.

    I don’t want to imply that Stroll is written off in my eyes, by any means. It takes some rookies longer to settle in than others.

  15. Massa’s 2016 was indeed dissappointing, but I think this year we may see something a lot closer to the Felipe Massa of the 2006-2008 period because of the new regulations. If we do, then Williams is in for a great season. If not, results may not live up to the car’s apparent potencial. In any case, though…. the only way to see Stroll close to Massa this season would be adaptind a tow cable to the back of the #19 Williams. He is not F1 level.

  16. I still think Williams should have gone with someone else other than Massa.

    Stroll is a constant at this stage, he isnt going anywhere until Daddy decides to take his money elsewhere. Williams found themselves in a tough situation, and they made the safe choice with Felipe, which feels like they’ve gone backwards.

    With a dearth of over-25 (stipulation by Martini) suitably qualified F1 drivers around, perhaps they could have turned to Paul Di Resta (As many have said). He would have been a perfect fit considering he is their test/development driver and a proven quantity. Felipe Nasr would have also fitted the same bill, but hey, Williams’ decision basically shows that it didnt have as much faith in them.

    Would be fair to say that they should have considered someone from outside F1? The LMP1 one grid would have fertile grounds. Perhaps it was too risky, and the fact that most drivers in that class are contracted to manufacturers would have made it difficult. Would have been nice to see someone like Andre Loterrer in reasonable car though!

  17. Meh. He’ll be strolled over by Massa.

  18. I think it will be another season of fighting to be best of the rest behind the big three for Williams in 2017 however it is not a battle I see them winning. The changes behind the scenes will take a while to take effect, and at the moment I don’t see Williams improving on last season.

    Even if the car has the same level of competitiveness the driver line-up is not as good as last year.

    According to reports Massa only retired from F1 because he knew he wouldn’t be able to get a drive for 2017, although he didn’t have a bad season in 2016 from a performance point of view I don’t think many were seriously questioning his decision to retire. I think he should still be able to do a job for Williams and his experience should prove vital.

    As for Stroll, I don’t follow the junior formula so I can’t really make any judgement on how good he is, but the rule changes for this season are supposed to make the cars more difficult to drive and so it will be a harder for rookie drivers than it has been in recent seasons.

    Given Stroll’s youth and inexperience it will be a challenging season and even though he was supposed to be doing testing last year in an old Williams car he will be the only driver making his debut in Australia.

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