Although they scored no points in China, Williams‘ had their best weekend of the season in Shanghai, finally getting the FW33 to the end of a grand prix.
However, this does not sugar the fact that the Grove-based team are having their worst start to an F1 season since 1979. Technical director Sam Michael has, however, identified what is needed for the team to secure a top ten finish and their first points of the year.
“Although it was good to see the reliability improvements get both the FW33s to the finish, we don't get any satisfaction out of not scoring any points,” he said. “However, the gap between 15th and 10th isn't that big so that is our next target. As well as the technical regrouping that we're currently undertaking, our focus is to get some points on the board.”
Rubens Barrichello finished the race in thirteenth place, but his plight on Sunday was not helped by the fact that he qualified down in fifteenth place. Michael suspects that, if it were not for the red flag that came out towards the end of Q2 on Saturday, Barrichello would have made it through to Q3.
“Rubens could have qualified higher up if there hadn't been any qualifying interruptions,” he suggests. “After the problems that Webber and Petrov had, I think he should have been able to qualify in the top eight on the new option tyres that he had remaining.”
In their quest for more speed, Williams tried a new exhaust system on Barrichello’s car in the practice sessions on Friday, but did not run them for the rest of the weekend. “We saw some quite positive signs [from the new exhaust system] during the traction phase, but unfortunately we had some reliability issues with parts of the floor burning and subsequently causing degradation of aero performance,” Michael explains. “We're redesigning some parts and intend to reintroduce an upgraded version of this exhaust system at the Barcelona GP.”
The race in China was made particularly interesting by the varying strategies used – both on Sunday and during qualifying. Three stops turned out to be the best option for the grand prix, but it was those drivers who saved some sets of soft tyres during qualifying – whether intentionally like Lewis Hamilton or unintentionally like Mark Webber – who had particularly good drives in Shanghai. This begs the question, will the teams start to do the minimum number of flying laps in future qualifying sessions, possibly sacrificing grid positions for more fresh sets of Pirelli tyres in the race?
“We had already noticed [the benefits of saving tyres] in Melbourne as after the problem on Rubens' car during qualifying, we were left with an extra set of new tyres for the race,” said Michael. “It is difficult to find the right balance between qualifying and the race, and it is a task that is interlinked with what decisions other teams make. It really depends on who you are competing against as there are different optimums for each team.”
One thing that is certain: Williams will be glad to see the back of the flyaway races, and have reason to be optimistic for the start of the European season in Turkey. “We are introducing a modified floor, new front wing, new rear wing and new brake ducts to both cars for Istanbul,” said Michael. “We expect this to give us a few tenths to help our drivers get into the top ten.”