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Williams Martini 2017 Season Review


By Andrew Hooper
January 2 2018

Well it's that time to look back at the Williams Martini teams 2017 season, a difficult and ultimately disappointing one. The team would finish in fifth place in the Constructors having dropped from third. It was a year that saw not only the 2017 FW40 fail to deliver but overall neither team driver, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, would have a season that really would be remembered. The only real highlight was the third placed finish from Stroll in Azerbaijan combined with his second place qualifying in Italy. Apart from that the Williams team really failed to deliver and this showed in that their main midfield rival Force India would finish their 2017 well ahead.

 
 Williams Martini 2017 Season Review
 
Massa
 

Well it's that time to look back at the Williams Martini teams 2017 season, a difficult and ultimately disappointing one. But having said that their season should also be looked at from the perspective of having to lose experienced Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes seeing Felipe Massa come out of retirement as well as having to contend with a rookie in Lance Stroll coming on board, even if he was very well funded.

Prior to the 2017 season we had seen the Williams team compete with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas and 2016 would see performances good enough to see the team end the season third in the Constructors Championship. With the team retaining Mercedes engines for 2017 and based on their 2016 performances their was every reason to believe the team would again secure a reasonable haul of points as well as the occasional podium. But this was not to be and the team would drop down to fifth losing out significantly to their main rivals Force India.

The 2017 season would again be one of the the Williams team struggling at a wide number of circuits with only the occasional moment of being competitive, the most notable been the Baku circuit where Lance would produce a podium finish. There were other glimpses of a competitive car including Canada and Monza but overall the 2017 FW40 failed to deliver even with what is view as the best Formula One engine powering it.

But where did it go wrong for the Williams team. Even though the Williams team had Paddy Lowe move from Mercedes to Williams it was at a time where it really did not have any impact on the design of the FW40. The design of the 2017 FW40 was largely guided by the then Technical Chief Pat Symonds and as far as the design was concerned it appeared to carry on all the short comings of the 2016 car and not make any real improvements with their 2017 design.

This was even taking into account the fact that all the teams were having to design completely new cars for the 2017 season catering for the wider tyres and improved aerodynamics. One would have expected a 2017 design where the Williams team could start afresh but it would appear that their design philosophy would remain the same. During the 2017 season we even had the team openly discussing how they felt that the car would not perform well at certain circuits. It would appear that they understated the FW40's lack of performance at an even wider range of circuits. This was supported by comments made by Lowe late in the season where he said that the 2018 Williams would see a vastly different approach in order to overcome the short comings of the 2017 design.

 
Massa
 

Another limiting factor was the teams inability, mostly budget driven, to keep ahead of their rivals in terms of development. That is not to say that the team did not bring new parts to the FW40 at various races but what they did bring did little to improve the FW40 as well as even keep it ahead of the other teams in the midfield group. If it hadn't been the case that their rivals were also struggling with their own issues, McLaren with their engines and Renault with their team rebuilding process, the Williams team may have slipped down below the fifth place that they would finish 2017.

On the driver front the most notable event to occur which hampered the Williams team season would have to be the loss of Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes. In 2016 Bottas had always had the upper hand in terms of performance over team-mate Felipe Massa so to lose him was to have a major impact on the Williams team 2017 season. But having said that maybe even Bottas would have struggled to get the best out of the difficult FW40.

This would see the Williams team forced to ask for Felipe Massa to come out of retirement in 2017 to partner Lance. Felipe was certainly not an uncompetitive driver with extensive experience but again it should not be forgotten that he was slower than Bottas in 2016 and it was not likely that 2017 would see a major step-up from the Brazilian. Despite this Felipe was the better driver of the Williams team in 2017 but that is not saying that he was way above his team-mate as the season progressed.

As for Lance the fact that the team was forced to take on board a rookie with limited experience was not the best road to success. His 2017 season didnít start well even prior to the start of the season with the rookie having to contend with the label of a paying driver as well as crashing in winter testing. This would limit his track time prior to the start of the season and boy did it show with Lance unable to secure a points scoring results until the seventh race of the season in Canada. But the next race in Azerbaijan did see Lance produce his best result of the season with a third place finish having been unlucky not to have finished second. But after this he failed to shine with points only coming in five of the last twelve races. Lance certainly is not at the level of Verstappen but in what was his rookie season his results showed that he has potential with 2018 to be the big test for the young Canadian.

Overall to sum up the drivers in 2017 Felipe was the most consistent in terms of pace and the fact that Lance did struggle until late in the season was not much of a surprise. In a pure points scoring comparison the gap between the two drivers was only three points at the end of the season which from my point of view was more an indication of how the experienced Felipe failed to deliver rather than we saw Lance perform consistently in his rookie year. But overall both drivers were let down by a 2017 FW40 that made their task that much harder. The last series of races in the season would see the Williams drivers finish a lap behind the leader such was the lack of pace of the FW40 at a time where you would expect to see improved performances what with the development of the car.

Overall to sum up the 2017 season for the Williams team it was most definitely one where its supporters and I would imagine the team would come with a feeling that it was a season where the team under performed in many areas. Their continued inability to design and develop a car that would perform across all types of circuits been the most notable. Were there any positives to come away from the season? Well they did come away with a race to remember in Azerbaijan but beyond that there was not much to feel that the Williams team had a year to remember. The team continued to be pace setters in terms of pit stops but really of what relevance is this if your car is a lap behind the leaders.

Looking to the 2018 the Williams team has a big task ahead of them in a wide variety of areas from their second driver to the design of the FW41. All these are worthy of discussion in their own right but at the minimum the team has to maintain their fifth place but with their rivals also looking like they will make gains in 2018 this task may be a significant one for the Williams team.

 
  Massa Stroll
Points 43 40
Race Wins 0 0
Podiums 0 1
Qualifying Performance 17 2
Average Finishing Position 9.4 11
Race Result Performance 13 6
Retirements 2 4
 
Stroll
 

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Williams Martini 2017 Season Review
Williams F1 (IP Logged)
02/01/2018 06:43
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Re: Williams Martini 2017 Season Review
Myvatn (IP Logged)
02/01/2018 16:06
Thanks for the sum up Andrew.

Taken out of context, fifth in the WCC with a podium is not too bad of a result for a basically independent team, especially since it comes on the back of two third and another fifth place. Still, I agree that there are definitely few positives to be taken from last season, and that there are reasons to be worried about the team's next seasons.

In my opinion, the worst thing is that the team seems to have lost the positive momentum gained in 2014 and 2015. One could have hoped that passing from a hopeless ninth to third in the WCC would help the team attract sponsors and/or investors and allow it to develop consistently thanks to increased TV rights earnings; this didn't happen, and the heavy spending required to get to speed in 2014 is now taking its toll on the team. We are now back to 2012 situation of having to hire two pay drivers to survive, and even if I agree that the main point of concern is the team's ability to produce a more competitive car than the FW40, we already saw in 2012 the cost of having two inadequate pay-drivers behind the wheel.

On the drivers front I am really disappointed by the team's inability to find a decent replacement for Bottas. The team was clearly put in a very difficult position following Rosberg's retirement, as retaining Bottas would have been very difficult (even if the team did not allow the transfer, would Valtteri's performances not suffer?) and replacing him at such short notice with the driver market already closed was a very difficult task. But now Williams have had a full year to go out and find a suitable candidate for the second seat, and the fact that they managed just a shortlist of rejects is really disappointing. Even considering the team's financial situation, I can't believe that Sirotkin was the best possible solution.

I really hope I will be proven wrong. 2014 started with quite bleak prospects too, and it turned out to be the team's best season in 10 years. Still, right now it is really hard to be optimistic..

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