Williams face crucial driver decision after failing to put up a fight for fourth

2017 F1 season review

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As in 2016 Williams secured fifth place in the constructors’ championship, a position they held for most of the year. By this measure you could argue it was a season in which they held position. But realistically it was a significant step backwards.

Like Force India the team’s Mercedes engines proved almost bullet-proof and matchless in performance. Yet the points tally in comparison to its closest doesn’t make for good reading.

Force India scored over 100 points more over the course of the season. Its a continuation of the sharp downward since it finished in third place two years ago.

Williams team stats 2017

Best race result (number)3 (1)
Best grid position (number) 2 (1)
Non-classifications (technical/other) 7 (4/3)
Laps completed (% of total) 2,129 (88.56%)
Laps led (% of total) 0 (0%)
Championship position (2016)5 (5)
Championship points (2016)83 (138)
Pit stop performance ranking2

A weak driver pairing was at the root of their problems. Like Force India, Williams brought an inexperienced new racer into its line-up. But while their Silverstone rivals had the nascent promise of Esteban Ocon, Williams’ hasty promotion of fellow European Formula Three champion Lance Stroll had an obvious financial dimension.

Exacerbating the problem was the sudden departure of Stroll’s intended team mate Valtteri Bottas during the off-season. This too came with a pay-off from Mercedes, who called him up as a replacement for Nico Rosberg. This meant Felipe Massa, dropped last year, was ushered out of retirement to give the rookie the support he needed.

Stroll retired from his first three grands prix: brakes were blamed in Australia, he clattered into Sergio Perez at Shanghai and was taken out by Carlos Sainz Jnr in Bahrain. He was still point-less six races in and the cried of ‘I told you so’ from his critics were growing louder.

His inexperience cost the team at the point in the season when it was most competitive. Felipe Massa was the first non-Mercedes/Ferrari/Red Bull home in Australia and Bahrain, form he did not rediscover until his home race at the end of the season.

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Finally Stroll, at his own home round, achieved a breakthrough with a retirement-assisted ninth place. The team then enjoyed its best result of the season in Azerbaijan. Against the run of play this was scored by Stroll, as Massa’s car suffered a suspension failure. The team might have been in with a chance of winning had the other car kept going, instead Stroll took a joyous podium finish despite being pipped to second on the line by Bottas.

Stroll’s Baku podium was a rare highlight
Results like this showed the performance peaks of the FW40. And the team remained one of the sharpest in the pit lane.

Their best race and qualifying positions were higher than Force India’s. But that potential was too rarely realised.

Stroll under-performed massively in qualifying, lagging 0.7s off Massa on average with little progress over the season. He was a poor benchmark for whether Massa was exploting the car’s capabilities to the maximum. Massa often qualified little more than tenths behind the Force Indias, suggesting a truly first-class driver pairing could have put up a serious fight against the pink cars.

It is this which makes their driver selection for 2018 all the more critical. How sure could they be of next year’s car if they pair a still very green newcomer with a driver like Robert Kubica, who was once among the very fastest but whose present ability remains an unknown quantity due to his injuries?

The major positive for Williams this year was the return of Paddy Lowe, now in a senior technical position and well-placed to influence that vital driver decision and produce a more competitive chassis. This will be essential as they team faces rising threats from Renault’s works team and their engine customers McLaren. Holding onto fifth place next year may be more of an achievement for Williams.

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24 comments on “Williams face crucial driver decision after failing to put up a fight for fourth”

  1. I wanted Pascal to take over whoever would leave Mercedes… Sadly he has got no chance of even staying in f1. He has been in backmarkers for a long time and he deserves to be in a better team than Sauber..

  2. @robertdonaldson – Hey Robert, I just want to drop a note of appreciation that these end-of-year report cards make for great reading, and are also very well written.

    1. @phylyp I wasn’t aware before you point it out. Yes, cheers @robertdonaldson

    2. I agree @phylyp
      One question though @robertdonaldson: why is the “Best grid position”-statistic used, and not the “Best qualifying result”? In this case, it differs quite a lot: the 2 as best grid position was the result of a 4 as qualifying result (at Monza both Red Bull’s got grid penalties, promoting Stroll from 4 to 2 on the grid).

    3. @phylyp thank you for your kind words and positive feedback!

      @keithcollantine maybe you can help answer the question from demercer?

  3. BTW, any chance of F1 fanatic getting a new logo as well? You know, it’s being long enough and it doesn’t render itself to 3D :D :D

    1. Heh – I sometime wonder if Keith should co-opt the logo that @ruliemaulana uses – its in the F1 Fanatic colours, and uses the old F1 logo :-)

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        5th December 2017, 19:56


  4. With hindsight, I don’t actually think that Williams’ placing in the WCC was affected by the driver choice. If they didn’t take Stroll, who would have been in the seat? Wehrlein or Di Resta most probably? Could either of them have scored 100 points more than Stroll (needed to overhaul Force India)? I doubt it… let’s assume that the very best placing for Williams is 7th (worth 6 points). They would have needed that result 17 times to make 100 points. Granted, that would take some points off Force India, so call it 12 times. I don’t think it was do-able without Alonso or Hamilton or similar in the car.

    So in hindsight, I’d rather be a distant 5th with Stroll’s sponsorship (Daddy) than a close 5th with Wehrlein or Di Resta.

    That said, it’s likely to be a very different year in 2018, with a packed midfield. McLaren and Renault are likely to jump up the standings, as well as Alfa Romeo. As the team is insistent on keeping the worst of their two drivers, then the occupant of the over car is crucial, but I don’t think any of the options will have enough to stop the team falling to 7th or lower.

    Difficult times for Williams unless they come out with a Paddy Lowe monster next year.

    1. @ben-n you don’t necesarily need 100 points, because by scoring more your rivals are also scoring less… so whatever improvement you show would have a consequence on a rival.

      If scoring 50 points means your rivals lose 50 points too, that’s all you need. Williams seriously underperformed anyway, having better results regardless of your end of the year position can only help you.

      1. Indeed – I mentioned this “swing” of points in my post at the end of the first paragraph. I still don’t think it was possible to overhaul Force India without a driver not only better than Stroll, but also better than Massa and probably better than Bottas (to use a 2016 Williams reference point). Force India were simply too consistent with both cars, when not punting each other off the road, to be caught.

        1. @ben-n, not to mention that, if Williams had been a bit more competitive, we might have seen Force India impose stricter internal discipline far earlier than they did and, as a result, not waste as many points scoring opportunities by letting their drivers fight with each other and take each other out a few times.

          If the car was good enough to fight with Force India – and given the FW40 seems to have been a fairly conservative design that still had some of the flaws of its predecessors, I think that the VJM10 might have been a better car on average anyway – you’d still either need two drivers scoring at least 80 points each, and hoping that those drivers were able to take 30-40 points off Force India at the same time – to have a chance of beating them.

          It’s not impossible, but I do agree that the odds would probably not have been in Williams’s favour – especially since, over the past few years, Williams tend to lag behind their rivals (including Force India) when developing their cars, and the same thing seemed to happen this year too. Even with a much stronger driver line up, I would still expect Williams to have fallen behind Force India by the end of the season due to the failings of the team.

  5. I feel Massa performed well this year, he was hit with his share bit of misfortune at the start of the season which robbed him of a substancial amount of points, those performances matched imo his last couple of races

    And while it is true their best race and qualifying positions were higher than Force India’s. The race position was in Baku iirc, where the FI guys collided, and the qualifying was on a wet weekend, where Stroll performed very well on the saturday. With this I just want to say that we have to be careful taking conclusion with those statistics, they aren’t a real indicator of Williams’ and FI’s car performance.

  6. Williams got what they wanted out of 2017: $40 million from Laurence Stroll so that Lance can play Grand Prix racer.

  7. Indeed, the real or potential performance of the Williams was one of the bigger unknowns this year. Massa may have been a desperation choice, but it seemed to me he got stronger as the season went on. Either way, out of all the possible options, it’s not a bad bet that Stroll will finish behind his team mate next year on qualifying, points and pretty much every other stat.

  8. So Williams now are uncertain which driver to pair with Stroll…..but out of all the potential ones….none are as fast as Massa…inc Stroll…….so having retired him once and brought him back…..would anyone bet they would do it twice??…..I dont think Felipe is going quietly

  9. I think that, as most pundits have mentioned, if Kubica was to be the driver, it would be clear by now. I think his pace is just below what they were expecting and with Stroll in that other seat, they have no room for a second below-par driver. Which to me makes the very mention of Sirotkin so worrying.
    I sincerely hope Williams give a talented young racer a chance, but if not, Kubica. So, a Wehrlein, a Kvyat, even someone unknown like a Rosenqvist (old enough) or a Lucas Auer. Oli Rowland. Or even Di Resta.
    But please not Sirotkin. A team of two pay-drivers would be too painful for Williams’ illustrious past.

    1. Bruno Senna and Maldanado?

  10. “Massa often qualified little more than tenths behind the Force Indias, suggesting a truly first-class driver pairing could have put up a serious fight against the pink cars.”

    Nice bias.

  11. To be frank inspite of the weak driver pairing, Williams cars were at it’s worst in comparison to the force India, so a good driver pairing might have helped Williams but not making them leap frog ahead of force India.

  12. Sundar Srinivas Harish
    6th December 2017, 9:56

    While Stroll’s poor performances in the beginning and fag end of the year did bring down Williams’ points potential, I think their mid-season slump and reliability brought them down. Force India was on-point with respect to reliability, and they had virtually no challenge for 5th and 6th places in a lot of races.

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