2016 Season Review: Williams Martini Racing – Momentum Lost

Williams endured a tough 2016, taking only one podium and finishing fifth in the standings - Credit: Andrew Hone/Williams

#77 – Valtteri Bottas – Finland – 21 starts, 85 points, Best finish: 3rd (Canada) Championship Position: 8th

#19 – Felipe Massa – Brazil – 21 starts, 53 points, Best finish: 5th (Australia, Russia) Championship Position: 11th

Williams Martini Racing had a difficult 2016 Formula 1 season that did not live up to the expectations from previous seasons, where the British team were consistently on the podium, with the Grove-based outfit visiting the podium just the once.

Williams finished down in fifth place in the Constructors Championship with 138 points, which was well down on their aims, having finished third in the past two seasons, with the team having wanted to press on and challenge both Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bull Racing for best of the rest behind the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team.

The season started promisingly consistently scoring points in the opening five races, with the best place finish a fourth by Valtteri Bottas in Russia. Williams scored some impressive points in the first flyaway races before the downturn in form in Europe.

Valtteri Bottas scored his only podium finish of 2016 in Canada – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Australia, Bahrain, China and Russia saw the Grove based team score some solid points, with the team often just on the edge of a podium, but even though the team managed finishes as high as fourth and fifth places across those opening rounds, their pace was some way off the Red Bull’s and Mercedes’.

An unscheduled gearbox change saw Bottas start the Australian Grand Prix down in sixteenth, but he recovered in the race to take eighth, while Felipe Massa started sixth and finished in fifth, behind the two Mercedes, Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull.

Bottas and Massa started sixth and seventh respectively in Bahrain, with the former playing an integral part of the action at the start, when he attempted a last gasp move on Lewis Hamilton into turn one that half spun the Mercedes driver around and caused the Finn to pit for a new front wing. Massa moved up to second at that point, but neither driver had the pace to challenge up front, the Brazilian falling down to eighth at the chequered flag while Bottas took ninth.

Bottas was fifth on the grid in China, but Massa was eliminated in Q2 and would start eleventh, but it was the Brazilian who executed the better race come the Sunday, finishing sixth while the Finn was eleven seconds and four places further back in tenth.

Heading to Russia, hopes were high after qualifying at Sochi when Bottas qualified third, which became second on the grid when Vettel took a gearbox change penalty, while Massa was fifth, but neither driver ended their races on the podium, Bottas taking fourth, fifty seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg, with Massa fifth, twenty-four seconds further back.

Massa was a surprise elimination in Q1 at the Spanish Grand Prix, starting down in eighteenth, but again showed good race craft as he climbed to eighth place on Sunday, while Bottas started seventh and finished fifth, helped by the first lap elimination of Rosberg and Hamilton.

In the wet race around the streets of Monaco, Williams once again showed a lack of pace in wet conditions, with Massa finishing down in tenth having started fourteenth, while Bottas finished a lonely twelfth having lost a position from where he started.

Whereas Monaco was a disaster, Canada was by far the highlight of Williams’ season as Bottas drove a superb race to defend from faster cars to finish third and collect the teams’ only silverware of the year from seventh on the grid. Unfortunately Massa was forced to retire from the race due to an overheating engine, but it was a great achievement for a team that was obviously struggling at this point of the season to match the top three teams.

As the season progressed it was clear that Williams and the Sahara Force India F1 Team would be battling for fourth place in the championship. So, Canada was a huge boost for Williams heading into several challenging European races.

The first trip to Azerbaijan for the European Grand Prix proved to be a success as the team scored nine points finishing sixth and tenth respectively. The long straights suited the aero package of the Williams and allowed the drivers to keep the Red Bull’s behind them, although Sergio Perez’s podium finish for Force India, his second of the year after taking one in Monaco, meant the team lost some of their advantage over the Silverstone-based team.

Valtteri Bottas scored 85 Points in 2016 and finished eighth in the standings – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

The team settled into the European leg of the season but the results did not come for the team, Felipe Massa failed to score any points from Austria to Germany while Bottas continued to outclass the Brazilian whilst consistently finishing in the lower end of the top ten.

Massa started in the pit lane for the Austrian Grand Prix after changing his front wing after qualifying but ultimately retired from the race with braking issues, while Bottas could only finish ninth, and only just withstood the pressure from the Manor Racing MRT of Pascal Wehrlein to the chequered flag.

Neither driver finished in the points in the British Grand Prix, with Massa just outside the points in eleventh having being pushed off track by Vettel towards the end and losing another position to Daniil Kvyat, while Bottas had an off afternoon, finishing down in fourteenth despite having started sixth on the grid.

Massa missed out on Q2 again at the Hungarian Grand Prix after failing to get a good lap in during the wet qualifying session, and finished two laps down in eighteenth, while Bottas started ninth and finished tenth. Both drivers made it into the top ten on the grid for the German Grand Prix but Massa found his afternoon cut short after just thirty-six laps due to a suspension issue, while Bottas once again finished ninth.

Following the summer break, both Bottas and Massa started inside the top ten at Spa-Francorchamps, and both finished in the positions they started in, the Finn in eighth and the Brazilian in tenth despite a lot of drama going on around them.

Monza should have been a circuit that suited the characteristics of their FW38, but Massa once again missed out on Q3, starting eleventh while Bottas started fifth on the grid. Both drivers finished inside the top ten, with the Finn dropping once place to sixth while Massa climbed two to ninth.

It was at Monza that Massa announced that he would be retiring from Formula 1 at the end of the season. Each race would be emotional for the Brazilian as the much-loved driver would be retiring at the end of the season. His team-mate and the rest of the paddock praised Massa for his contribution to the sport and his special personality.

The focus quickly shifted to who would be replacing Massa, after much speculation an announcement was made by Williams that eighteen-year-old FIA European Formula 3 Champion Lance Stroll would drive for them in 2017. Stroll has stated that he has the credentials to compete at the top level even at such a young age.

Felipe Massa announced his retirement at the Italian Grand Prix – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

The Singapore Grand Prix however was a big struggle for Williams as the characteristics of the circuit certainly did not suit the car as both failed to finish in the top ten while rivals Force India continued to impress finishing in the points on a regular basis. Bottas and Massa started eleventh and twelfth respectively, with the Finn retiring from the race due to an overheating engine, while Massa trailed home in twelfth.

Malaysia proved more of a success as Bottas finished an impressive fifth ahead of both Force India’s despite starting outside the top ten, although team-mate Massa could do no better than thirteenth despite starting in tenth.

Neither driver broke into the top ten during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix, but race day saw them both move forward, Massa finishing just ahead of his team-mate in ninth and tenth, with both holding off the challenge of Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean in the final stint.

Qualifying at the Circuit of the Americas was a much better affair, with Bottas eighth and Massa ninth, but the Finn had a nightmare afternoon that left him down in sixteenth after a first lap collision with Nico Hülkenberg left him with a puncture and at the back of the field, while Massa took a well-earned seventh.

The team took a double points finish in Formula 1’s return to Mexico, with Bottas starting and finishing eighth and Massa doing the same in ninth, with the latter holding off the challenge of home hero Perez in the final stint despite the Force India driver appearing to have the stronger car.

Felipe Massa scored 53 points in finishing eleventh in the championship – Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd

Bottas was somewhat overshadowed in the final flyaway races as much of the attention was focused on Massa and his emotional final race in his home country of Brazil. The race was extremely tricky with wet conditions making it difficult for the drivers to keep it on the circuit. Massa unfortunately crashed out but was met with a round of applause from the paddock and fans. It was understandably an emotional time for the much-loved Brazilian who wore his heart on his sleeve. Bottas also missed out on the points after gambling on Intermediate tyres when full-wets were the best option.

Williams headed to Abu Dhabi conceding defeat to Force India in the battle for the fourth place and with Massa only scoring two points for the team in the final race of the season this allowed Force India to comfortably finish fourth place behind the big three teams. Bottas was unfortunate to retire after just six laps with a suspension issue.

Williams will look to reinvent themselves in 2017 ahead of the new regulation changes that could alter the pecking order, 2016 was largely disappointing after being beaten by Force India and only scoring one podium all season. The team lacked financial backing that would allow them to develop the car throughout the season, which left miles away from the top three teams.

This season really showed the difference in budget between the teams, as Williams were unable to build on two strong seasons in 2014 and 2015. Williams capitalised on the new hybrid regulations but over the three seasons Ferrari and Red Bull have developed the hybrid system to overtake Williams and become race-winning teams. The Grove-based team have yet to win a race in the new hybrid era, which will be hugely disappointed for the Williams team.

Both Bottas and Massa drove the FW38 consistently with very little mistakes but the car lacked downforce, which was even more evident in the rain. The Mercedes power unit still proved to be the strongest engine out of all the power units, this gave the team an advantage over the Renault and Honda power units. This helped on tracks with long straights but that was not to be as effective throughout the whole season.

Overall the season could have been better if Williams adopted a risky strategy in many of the races but the Grove-based team lacked overall pace throughout the season. Both drivers were reliable but lacked a spark that could push the team forward, whether a young risk taker could be the solution to their short-term problems we will yet to see.