#19 – Felipe Massa – Brazil – 11 Starts, 40 Points, Best Finish: 4th (Austria), Championship Position: 9th
#77 – Valtteri Bottas – Finland – 11 Starts, 95 Points, Best Finish: 2nd (Britain, Germany), Championship Position: 5th
The Renaissance of the Williams F1 Team has been one of the more pleasing aspects of the 2014 F1 season. Last year the team scored just five points all year, but after switching from Renault to Mercedes power, and with an aerodynamically strong car, they have become one of the front running teams, and in recent races have been the closest challengers to the dominant Mercedes team.
The speed of the car was first seen in the opening round of the year in Melbourne, with Valtteri Bottas making a number of places up while fighting back after a spin and a subsequent puncture. Felipe Massa’s debut with the team, after switching from Ferrari, was short-lived however, when an out of control Kamui Kobayashi, minus the rear brakes on his Caterham, collided with the Brazilian at the first corner.
It could be said that in the early races that the team did not maximise the results the car deserved. Ignored team orders in Malaysia, when Massa failed to move aside when asked to move over to let Bottas through cost them possibly a better result than the seventh and eighth they ultimately achieved, as the Finn was on a much fresher set of Pirelli tyres. In Bahrain they were in the hunt for a podium finish all afternoon, but excessive tyre wear necessitated an extra pit stop, and when the safety car was introduced late in the race, it relegated the two drivers to once again finishing seventh and eighth.
It all came good for the team at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. The team not only took the only pole position not taken by Mercedes in 2014 so far, but also locked out the front row of the grid. It was Massa who led the way from Bottas, with the team’s first pole since Pastor Maldonado at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2012, while it was Massa’s first pole since the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2008!
Whereas the Mercedes duo were able to get ahead during the race, the statement had been made by the Williams team that they were back on form, and Bottas was able to claim his maiden F1 podium on the Sunday in Austria, with Massa one place behind in fourth.
It would get even better for Bottas at Silverstone next time out, despite the team being caught out by the changeable weather conditions and finding themselves being eliminated during the first part of qualifying. Despite his lowly grid slot, which ultimately became fourteenth after other drivers penalties were applied, he used the superior pace of the Williams to make some great overtaking manoeuvres, and ended the race in second position, behind only the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. He crossed the line in the same place in Germany too, holding off Hamilton excellently in the final stint for his third podium in a row.
Massa on the other hand has had more than his share of bad luck. He was on course for a good points haul in China before a botched pit stop, and then was heading for a top four placing in Canada before a collision with the Force India of Sergio Perez on the final lap. He then suffered two consecutive opening lap retirements at Silverstone and Hockenheim, though neither could be considered the Brazilian’s fault.
He was in the wrong place at the wrong time in Britain as he was forced to take avoiding action as Kimi Raikkonen crashed his Ferrari on the Wellington Straight, while in Germany he was launched into a frightening roll by the McLaren of Kevin Magnussen at the opening corner, in a clash that the stewards deemed a racing accident.
With two power-dependent circuits coming up at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, Williams should be aiming for another couple of strong races. No one would begrudge seeing Massa back on an F1 podium, and should Mercedes falter, Williams should be able to take advantage. It is great to see the team back at the front of the field; their struggles in 2013 were hard to watch at times. But everything is different now, with two drivers pushing each other to better results.
The team are in a fight with Ferrari for third place in the championship, and they have not ruled out gunning for Red Bull Racing in second. They are in the ascendancy, and could be disappointed if they ‘only’ end up in fourth in the championship. What a difference a year makes.