Sir Frank Williams’ iconic team look to build upon the successes of 2012, brought about by the internal re-structuring of the technical department in May 2011 that in turn came to fruition 12 months later with Pastor Maldonado bringing the team its first victory since 2004. The Mike Coughlan designed FW34 was one of the quickest cars behind the front-runners, proving on many occasions capable of racing near the front in Maldonado’s hands, however the Venezuelan’s mid-season crash-fest coupled by Bruno Senna’s inability to get the best out of the car in qualifying condemned the team to finishing 8th in the Constructors Championship. This season however, the team are targeting a return to the front and the new FW35 could be the car that will allow Maldonado and débutante Valterri Bottas to deliver front-running pace consistently.
Despite team shareholder Toto Wolff having been lured over to Mercedes and chief operations engineer Mark Gillan having left the team, the team’s preparations for the 2013 have not been affected whatsoever. In Gillan’s place the team have promoted Xevi Pojular, previously Maldonado’s race engineer, whilst Sir Frank’s daughter Claire continues to increase her involvement in the team, perhaps a precursor to a succession plan being put in place when the day comes for Sir Frank to step away? However Sir Frank, once claiming Formula One is like oxygen that he breathes on, will probably not step down for a good while yet.
Last year’s Spanish Grand Prix winner Maldonado remains as one of the team’s biggest assets as a combination of his natural talent, speed, never-say-die attitude and (crucially) the substantial backing from the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA. Despite the aforementioned summer of blunders, Maldonado cleaned up his act from the Italian Grand Prix onwards with a string of clean, carnage-free drives which allowed him to return to the points and put in some of his best performances of the season, particularly at the Singapore and Abu Dhabi race weekends. This solid run was hiccuped by being caught out by a bizarrely timed, mandatory FIA weighbridge check late in Q2 in Brazil, landing him with a reprimand and giving his bitter cynics the perfect opportunity to unfairly stick the knifes in about his driving and conduct. Even now his critics eagerly anticipate his first on-track misdemeanour of the season, like a pack of rabid wolves, however Maldonado will be eager to quickly follow up on his first win and first pole position from last season.
As a rookie, 2011 GP3 Champion Bottas finds himself in a unique position of having covered thousands of kilometres in Williams cars since late 2009, having been brought in by Wolff who was his manager at the time. Most importantly he participated in the majority of last season’s Friday morning practice sessions, all in which he set very competitive times despite running a different programme from Maldonado. This piled the pressure upon Bruno Senna, who went on to claim that the programme hindered his weekends, and made the Finn a focal talking point in the paddock with many observers identifying him as one to watch. Despite Bruno’s sponsors having left with him, Bottas has managed to bring a variety of his own sponsors to the team to make up for some of the deficit, particularly Kemppi and Wihuri. The loss of the income originally brought about by Bruno’s presence however could be seen as a worthwhile gamble, in order to push the team further forward, meanwhile other sponsors such as Randstad have increased their sponsorship and there is still speculation about the alleged yearly increase of sponsorship from PDVSA.
Unlike the other teams Williams decided to delay the launch of the new FW35 until last week’s test at Barcelona, electing instead to run an interim version of the FW34 to test development parts and get as much data from the new 2013 Pirelli tyres as possible. Mike Coughlan explained that it was hardly worth running at Jerez due to the circuit’s unusual configuration, cold temperatures at the start of February, abrasive track surface and the fact that it’s only used once all year round.
When the covers were finally removed from the FW35 last Tuesday the world didn’t just see an evolution of its predecessor, it saw an aggressively designed car with an even tiger rear-end and gearbox, a semi coanda-effect exhaust and innovative hollow wheel nuts that act as brake ducts. It’s not the first time that these have been tried out as Red Bull introduced them last season at Monaco, they were however quickly banned by the FIA as the exiting airflow from the duct was channelled through the rim, hub and wheel, all of which were moving parts. Williams’ unique system however channels the air through a section of the rim which remains stationary at all times. On the flip side however, the team’s exhaust system has been deemed illegal by the FIA due to there being pieces of bodywork in the exhaust channels. As with Caterham the team will be able to continue to run the illegal exhausts until the end of the final test, however knowing the team there may already be an upgrade in the pipeline to address the issue.
Performance wise the FW35 has shown good potential so far, although there appears to be still more to come from the car yet. On the opening two days the car demonstrated good pace and outstanding reliability out of the box, with both Maldonado and Bottas struggling to hide smiles from their faces after their runs. The team’s decision to have run the FW34 in Jerez may have also bore fruit as well, allowing the team to understand the new Pirelli tyres better. On Thursday when Maldonado and Bottas both did race simulations the car did slower lap times than others such as Lotus and Red Bull, which may indicate heavier fuel, however they each did 3 pit stops in their runs as opposed to 4 by their Enstone and Milton Keynes rivals. The initial signs are promising, however only time will tell if the team’s unique pre-season programme pays dividends at the final test and in Australia.
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