Experience is not in scarce supply at Williams, with the team celebrating four decades in the top flight of motorsport, but results have not come easy for the UK-based team. They’ve scored points in every race except two, and even have a podium to their name, but 41 points from 11 races cannot be what Williams wanted from their well-regarded Brazilian and young Canadian drivers.
2017 Expectations vs Reality
Williams came into 2017 on a very awkward note. Having said goodbye to multiple race-winner Felipe Massa, replacing him with young Ferrari test driver Lance Stroll, the team were caught up in the seismic announcement that newly-crowned world champion Nico Rosberg would retire. That left a seat open at Mercedes, and the Silver Arrows targeted Williams’ up-and-coming star Valtteri Bottas. Bottas moving to Mercedes seemed to have been a deal done very quickly, but Williams held off on an announcement as they tried to coax Felipe Massa out of retirement.
Eventually, the deal was done and it was announced that car #19 would appear in 2017. The team skipped forward on their chassis numbers, naming this year’s car the FW40 to celebrate 40 years since their debut in Formula 1 (where they ran a March chassis). The hope was to provide a robust challenge to Force India, and continue the tight rivalry of 2016 which saw them overtaken for 4th in the Constructors Championship.
When the car hit the track in testing, rookie Lance Stroll started to get a name for all the wrong reasons. Multiple crashes forced the team to abandon running not once, but twice. However, quick thinking and reliable driving from Massa meant that when the team arrived in Melbourne, they had completed the most mileage of any team bar Mercedes and Ferrari.
From there, Williams started to run a very spotty season. Stroll was simply not up to pace against Massa, which meant whilst Massa scored points in three of the first four races, Stroll only finished once (11th in Russia). The Canadian racer scored his first points with a reasonable drive at home in Montreal, and then made no mistakes on a weekend in Baku where everyone else seemed unable to get it right, running most of the latter stages in second before being losing a photo finish to his would-have-been teammate Bottas. Another points finish in Austria would be Stroll’s latest, whilst Massa scored a 10th place finish in the team’s home race at Silverstone, before pulling out of the Hungarian round due to sickness, letting Scotsman and former DTM champion Paul Di Resta make a shocking return.
Prospects for the rest of 2017
The team lies in fifth in the constructors’ championship, only two points ahead of Toro Rosso, but with less than half of the points total of last year’s rivals Force India. With that in mind, it seems like Williams will need to consolidate their fifth place rather than aiming for fourth. To do that, they’ll need to use Massa to coach Stroll to be on the pace consistently. Massa says he’s happy to stay until 2018, so it looks like the team will have stability in their lineup, but they need to utilise their veteran’s experience while they still have it (especially considering the circumstances).
If they do this, expect to see Stroll slowly creep through the back end of the midfield, before maybe making regular visits to the top 10 later in the season. If not, then the team is at serious risk of slipping back in the constructors’ standings.
|Race||Felipe Massa||Lance Stroll|
Felipe Massa may only lead his teammate by five points in the standings (23-18), but Stroll’s points haul was heavily boosted by his third place finish in Azerbaijan. Whilst it is true that Stroll had a great weekend and should be rewarded, the other stats paint the picture of a very one-sided battle. In all five occasions that both cars have finished, Massa has finished ahead. Qualifying stands at 9-1 to Massa, and in all race laps completed by both cars, Massa was ahead in over 80%. Even in Azerbaijan, Massa was ahead of Stroll before issues forced him out. Massa has undoubtedly outperformed Stroll at almost every opportunity.
Driver performance: Felipe Massa
Cast your mind back to Interlagos 2016. Incredibly tricky conditions caught Felipe Massa out right at the pit entrance. Whilst the safety car was out, Massa used the rain to try and hide his tears as he walks along the pit lane. His final Brazilian GP had ended, and not the way he hoped. Members of all teams stood out in the pit lane to applaud him.
Imagine their surprise when he was announced to be returning to Williams for the following season. No-one would have predicted Massa being offered another year, not least as a result of a world champion retiring.
Sixth place in Australia proved that any rumours he had lost pace were wrong. A repeat result in Bahrain further reinforced that view. However, since then the car hasn’t gained as much in developments as other cars have, and as a result, the points haven’t come as often as Massa would have liked. His retirement in Azerbaijan cost him a welcome return to the podium, at was probably his best chance of the year.
However, in Massa, Williams have a very reliable driver who rarely has a bad weekend. If he really is ready to go for another year, he’s the best driver they’d get.
Driver performance: Lance Stroll
The first Canadian F1 driver since 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve came into this season with a nation’s hope on his shoulders. Unfortunately, from his performances, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be following in his countryman’s footsteps. Crashes in testing, followed by 3 DNFs, meant that Stroll was facing the title of ‘worst F1 driver 2017’ (thankfully, Jolyon Palmer has since saved him from that). A decent showing at home seemed to give him enough motivation and inspiration to keep his cool in Azerbaijan, resulting in a race that has been recognised as a great rookie season drive.
But one drive does not make a career – just ask Pastor Maldonado. Soon, memories of that Sunday afternoon will fade, and Stroll doesn’t have much else to his name. His father’s money means he’ll likely be retained for 2018, but Lance needs to up his game before the questions start again.
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