(Photo credit: Artes Max)
Williams had a peculiar 2017 campaign - the Azerbaijan and Austrian rounds being perfect examples of this. Brazilian Felipe Massa and Canadian rookie Lance Stroll performed incredibly well around the Baku street circuit (the former lamenting losing a potential win due to retirement, the latter taking the car to the podium in a photo finish) but failed to get out of Q1 in Austria just two weeks later. The second half of the year brought a lot more consistency to the Martini-sponsored cars, but the team had been resigned to a best of fifth place in the constructors championship early on.
Impressions from testing
Now, sorry to anyone who is a Williams fan, but there are some hard truths coming up here. Williams finished bottom of the timesheets on each of the four days in last week's test, and therefore lowest overall. Whilst this can partly be attributed to the fact that their fastest overall time was set on the soft tyres (1:19.189 by Sergey Sirotkin) rather than the super, ultra or hypersoft tyres used by other teams, this could well be a return to the Williams we saw in 2013 rather than the resurgent team of 2014. The announcement that title sponsor Martini will leave them at the end of the year also brings finance-based concerns. We all hope Williams can find form, but their showing from testing doesn't bode well.
On the lighter side, this definitely means the team has a lot of potential to grow over the coming 21 rounds! Lance Stroll proved last year he is capable of a good drive (his aforementioned Baku performance, along with a 6th place finish in Mexico), and needs to make this a more regular occurrence in 2018 as he moves to being the de facto team leader. A lot of noise was made about Sergey Sirotkin a few years ago when he tested for Sauber in 2013, but the fact he took so long to get to a race seat has led to accusations that his sponsors are paying for his presence. Beating fan favourite Robert Kubica to the seat probably hasn't made him a popular man with the fans, but at least Russia will still have someone to cheer on after Daniil Kvyat's dismal 2017 season lead to him being dropped by Toro Rosso towards the end of the season.
As I mentioned above, Williams' driver lineup is inexperienced (only the Toro Rosso duo start the year with fewer F1 starts between them). Lance Stroll must show maturity as team leader, a difficult feat for someone who will be a teenager until the penultimate round of the championship in Brazil. If he can, then Sergey Sirotkin will flourish and the team may be the surprise package of 2018. If not, then the team is likely to fall behind McLaren, Haas, Toro Rosso and a fast-advancing Renault team, and be left fighting Sauber at the back of the field. This can't be what a team who once saw the likes of Piquet, Mansell, Prost and Senna all driving their cars in the 1980s and 1990s wanted. Williams need to have a strong pair of drivers, and it can't help but be noticed that the current pairing doesn't have that depth.
What do you think? Will Sirotkin show Stroll how it's done? How high up the order will Williams finish the season? Have your say in our poll and the comments below!