George Russell, Williams, Red Bull Ring, 2021

Williams are having their most competitive weekend for five years

Lap time watch: 2021 Styrian Grand Prix

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Williams have turned up at a grand prix in the most competitive shape they have been in since the same race five years earlier.

George Russell may have missed the cut to reach Q3 by an agonising eight thousandths of a second, but his lap of 1’04.671 was just 0.83 seconds off the quickest time seen this weekend.

You have to go back five years – 99 races – for the last time Williams was closer to the pace than this. At the same venue in 2016 Valtteri Bottas produced the team’s best lap time in Q2, 0.683 seconds off the pace set by Nico Rosberg for Mercedes. Of course it’s no surprise that their closest margins in absolute terms should occur at the track which yields the shortest lap time of the year.

This is a new high watermark in the improving performance of a team which was in the doldrums two years ago. For an illustration just how far they’ve come since that grim season, note their worst performance this year (2.3 seconds off the pace in Bahrain) is better than their best performance two years ago (2.4 seconds off the pace in Hungary and Italy).

The last time Williams were this quick, Bottas drove for them
For all that, they still only had the eighth-quickest car in the field today, which is no better than they’ve had all year. That makes Russell’s starting position of 10th (after Yuki Tsunoda’s penalty), in a car which on paper is good enough for 15th, all the more remarkable.

After Ferrari’s race pace troubles in France, their one-lap speed appears to have deserted them in Austria, where for only the second time this year they are not among the four fastest cars. How this might change next week, when they race on the same circuit but with the softer tyres Charles Leclerc used to take pole position in Monaco and Baku, could be highly revealing.

The gap between the two top teams bodes well for Sunday’s race. Red Bull out-qualified Mercedes again, by a smaller margin than they managed in France. Mercedes tend to be quicker in the race, which suggests another fight between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton is on the cards for Sunday.

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2021 Styrian Grand Prix

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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 are having their most competitive weekend for five years”

  1. Time for a promotion!

  2. Coventry Climax
    27th June 2021, 0:38

    I so hope they really are on their way back. This is a team that belongs in F1, and belongs to be among the top contenders. It would be so nice if Sir Frank Williams would live to see the day that the team bearing his name scores another F1 victory.

    1. Yes, would be great to see, sometimes stuff like that is better than even being competitive all the time.

  3. It is encouraging to hear news like this about Williams. The new management are doing a great job in turning the team around. I’m hopeful 2022 will produce better results than this year.
    It was interesting to see the response to Nicholas’s Q2 lap time that was something like 6th or 7th, because suddenly everyone realised they might get excluded from Q3 by a Williams driver, and their Number 2 driver at that! So almost everyone had to come out and do another few laps to make sure they weren’t the one who didn’t make it into Q3.

  4. Russell really should score points in this race. He has “free tyre choice pole” and a car which is competitive enough at last. As long as he doesn’t get his customary poor start he should be able to run long at the start and make up a place or two.

    I’ll flag that I’m conflicted here – I’m a fan of Bottas so I’d rather Russell didn’t perform well, but I’ve been a Williams fan for 30 years so I’m massively hoping he can perform so this agonising pointless run can come to an end.

    1. In that sense, the best news would be Russel getting a point in for finishing somewhere 8-10 while Bottas has an epic race from 5, with say one of those lighting quick starts to get in between the top 3, and then see him somehow making things work while Hamilton drops back (might even tangle with someone, or have a tech niggle, he never looked like totally in control at this track) to win the race @geemac :-)

    2. I’d say he was on track to score points without the issues, given where tsunoda ended up.

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