Team: Williams Renault (Eighth in 2012 constructor’s championship)
2012 Drivers: Pastor Maldonado (45 points, 15th place in 2012 driver’s championship), Bruno Senna (31 points, 16th in championship, now racing an Aston Martin Vantage GTE in the World Endurance Championship and at Le Mans)
2013 Drivers: Pastor Maldonado (Car Number 16) and Valtteri Bottas (17)
New Car: If looks could kill… The Williams FW35 is an extremely tidy and pretty car. Its tiny transmission gives the car the appearance of missing something; there’s a big gap between the back of the engine cover and the rear wing. This space is of course where all the teams are trying to gain an aerodynamic advantage. The blanker the canvas the better, yes? Well, you would have thought so, but last year’s car was similarly compact and yet wasn’t always on the pace. When it was, like Spain, it really was. And there’s evidence the team is really pushing this year; its original exhaust exits have already been declared illegal but it’s hollow front ‘axle’ stays for now.
What Williams says about its 2012 season: “How does that theme from Rocky go…?”
What Sunday Afternoon Club says about 2012: The results say it all. Take away the 25 points for the win and Maldonado barely outscored Bruno Senna. Maldonado was a Q3 regular don’t forget, Senna’s difficulty in getting his head around qualifying meant he was often not certain for Q2. Maldonado under-performed in the races, putting in the wall/someone else’s car way too often. Senna in qualifying. Neither then really delivered all the FW34 promised.
Which is a shame, because the car was the best the team had built in nearly a decade, which may or may not have had something to do with re-uniting with Renault, partners in the Mansell/Prost/Hill/Villeneuve glory era, a period when, lest we forget, the cars were designed by Adrian Newey. It’s taken a long time to fill those shoes, we’ll know this year if Williams is getting closer.
So who’s the new guy? Remarkably aged just 23, Valtteri Bottas has two full seasons testing for Williams under his belt, along with a GP3 title. Few rookies since Hamilton have arrived in F1 so well-groomed. Built like an outdoor khazi, he has the strong silent Finnish thing going on, though more in the mould of a Hakkinen than a Raikkonen, so don’t expect any tricky interviews with Lee McKenzie.
All last year, loyally logging the miles on a Friday morning, he showed us he was ready, regularly out-pacing Senna, often showing Maldonado the way home. His is an incredible talent. Whether Williams gives him the machinery to show it or not, we will hear at lot about this young man.
Sir Frank Williams says Bottas is the best he’s ever seen. That’s quite something from a man who’s co-signed contracts with Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Mansell, Piquet and Rosberg Snr. Then again he told us Bruno Senna had the full deck last year…
What Williams has to do to impress the Sunday Afternoon Club this year: There’s something rather appealingly old school about Williams, and last year’s bounce back from the misery of 2011 showed proper spine. Bulldog stuff. “Keep Calm and Race”. So we’d love to see proof that Maldonado’s win last year wasn’t a freak. And we’d love the FW35 to be the car Bottas needs to show he really is the stuff of champions.
If you pay any attention to testing… By the time the FW35s were checked in on the Melbourne flight they were circulating comfortably, but not spectacularly in 10th (Maldonado) and 11th (Bottas). And don’t forget that the FW35 wasn’t ready in time for the first test, the team opting for virtual miles over testing miles.
Who are Williams really racing this year? If, as it seems, Mercedes has elevated itself to the leading pack, then Williams is again fighting Sauber and Force India. But with Bottas putting more pressure on Maldonado this year, maybe there’s a Q3 space for the Williams, behind the front runners but always just ahead of the midfield.