It was a mixed bag of results for the Williams Martini Racing team at Sochi, with Valtteri Bottas qualifying an excellent third and within touching distance of the pacesetting Mercedes duo, but for Felipe Massa it was a session of disappointment as a mechanical issue affected the power of his car and he qualified a lowly eighteenth.
Bottas was on course to improve his best time on his final attempt but a lack of grip from his tyres over the final few corners cost him the opportunity to start on the front row, although he was happy to qualify third.
“I took a bit too much out of the tyres in the first two sectors and they started to fall away in the final corners and this maybe cost us a chance of finishing on the front row,” reflected Bottas. “Mercedes have looked very strong in the final sector all weekend so I don’t think pole was possible but it would have been good to see where that lap would have put me.
“The benefit is that we will be starting on the cleaner side of the grid and this could be very beneficial on a new track with a lot of dirt off line. Third is a good result and we have strong race pace so hopefully we can battle with the Mercedes cars and secure another podium finish tomorrow.”
Despite showing good pace throughout the three practice sessions, it all went wrong for Massa in qualifying, with a loss of power caused by a fuel pressure problem meaning he was eliminated in the first part of qualifying when he should have been fighting for a high place on the grid.
“I’m very disappointed as the car has been looking very competitive at this track and we should have been looking at the second row at least, but a problem with the car in Q1 has pushed us down the grid,” said Massa. “I had no real power throughout qualifying and we were trying different things to resolve this out on track but in the end there was nothing I could do.
“P18 is far from ideal but I know I have the car underneath me to overtake tomorrow so we should have a chance to score points and limit the damage.”
Head of Performance Engineering Rob Smedley felt Bottas could have snatched second but like his driver felt pole was possibly just out of reach for the Finnish driver. He was disappointed to see Massa struggle with a mechanical issue after having a reliable car for pretty much the whole season up to now.
“From a performance point of view I’m extremely happy with the pace of the car so far this weekend,” said Smedley. “Valtteri did a great job and second was possible if he had managed to put all of his sectors together.
“Our reliability record has been very good all season and this is something we can be proud of, but unfortunately we had a problem with Felipe’s car in Q1 which is disappointing. We have a great car and we’re confident that in the race we can get both of them ahead of the teams we’re fighting in the Championship, which is our aim at this point in the season.”
Subsequently, Williams have decided to change the Mercedes engine of Massa’s car after qualifying, but he will not take a penalty as he is still within his five-engine limit this season.