- On the third day of Christmas, Ben Sweeney gave to me…. Williams
Driver: Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas
Championship standings: 9th
Highest finish: 8th (Bottas, USA)
For the fifth year in a row, Williams was starting the season with a new driver. Bruno Senna had lost his seat at the Grove based team while Pastor Maldonado would be joined by the team’s former test driver, Valtteri Bottas. The combination of the 2012 race winner and the hotly tipped rookie seemed to suggest a stronger year for the struggling team.
It was a disappointment then when the team out-qualified only the four ‘backmarkers’ and Esteban Gutierrez in the Sauber. It was hoped that the race would be more of a success but Maldonado spun out on lap 24 to retire from his third consecutive Australian Grand Prix. In the other Williams, Bottas finished ahead of only the backmarker quartet.
The next round in Malaysia was a mixed affair. Maldonado retired again to make it his third retirement out of three races in Sepang, while Valtteri Bottas converted a poor Quali performance into an eleventh in the race. Fifteenth and seventeenth for Maldonado and Bottas respectively in Chinese qualifying saw them finish in formation with Bottas thirteenth and Maldonado fourteenth.
Maldonado replicated the team’s best result when he finished eleventh in Bahrain while Bottas finished a distant fourteenth. Catalunya, the scene of Maldonado’s 2012 win, showed no mercy to the Venezuelan who dropped out of Q1 and started the race in eighteenth. He went on to finish the race in fourteenth ahead of Bottas in sixteenth, in a quiet race for the team. Moving onto Monaco, Maldonado suffered his third retirement of the season, and his third consecutive DNF at the principality when the Marussia of Max Chilton moved across in a botched overtaking attempt and sent the FW35 into the barrier at Tabac in a whopping 9G impact. The buckled barrier blocked the track and prompted a red flag. Bottas took advantage of the drama to move from sixteenth to twelfth, where he finished the race.
The Canadian Qualifying session saw an absolutely stunning performance from Bottas who placed his Williams in third place on the grid. Maldonado was nowhere near as fast and qualified in thirteenth. Despite the strong Quali pace, Bottas dropped steadily back to fourteenth in the race while Maldonado dropped from thirteenth to sixteenth by the end of the race. The duo took fifteenth and sixteenth in Qualifying at the British round and were spared the mid-race tyre dramas. However, they failed to use the drama to score a point, instead finishing painstakingly close when they placed eleventh and twelfth.
The German Grand Prix was the team’s 600th Grand Prix, although they held the celebrations at their home round in Silverstone. However, there were no cause for celebration as both drivers dropped from Qualifying during Q1. It was no more successful during the race when they finished fifteenth and sixteenth. The team’s first point was finally scored at the Hungarian Grand Prix when Maldonado went from fifteenth to tenth in the race. Valtteri Bottas suffered the first retirement of his Formula One career when he pulled over on the last corner with a smoking engine.
Coming back from the summer break, Maldonado and Bottas qualified seventeenth and twentieth respectively. Mid-race, Maldonado had progressed closer to the point-scoring positions when he tangled with the Force India duo. Adrian Sutil attempted to pull a pass on the Venezuelan into the bus-stop chicane and clipped his front wing, prompting Maldonado to bolt for the pitlane and hitting Di Resta. Maldonado pitted for a new front wing and later took a ten-second stop/go penalty while di Resta retired on the spot. Pastor eventually finished in his starting position while Bottas progressed to fifteenth.
In Monza, Maldonado started and finished fourteenth while Bottas jumped from eighteenth to fifteenth in a pretty dull race. The Singapore Grand Prix two weeks later was equally as monotonous as Italy, although Maldonado narrowly missed out on a points finish when he took eleventh. Bottas was thirteenth.
Maldonado had a pretty dismal weekend at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka; losing his rear wheel at Spoon Curve and crashing out during the first practice session, before spinning into the gravel and becoming beached in the second session. He finished a lap down in sixteenth, with Bottas behind him in seventeenth. Pastor moved from eighteenth to twelfth at the Indian Grand Prix while Bottas finished sixteenth, down one place from his qualifying position. Maldonado also finished eleventh, just shy of a points finish, in Abu Dhabi.
The United States Grand Prix, was a bittersweet affair for Williams. On the one hand, Maldonado announced he was leaving the team (for Lotus, as it turned out), then qualified eighteenth and ridiculously blamed the team for sabotaging his car in qualifying. He went on to finish seventeenth. In the other Williams, Rookie Bottas qualified ninth and progressed to eighth during the race, securing Williams’ best finish (quadrupling their points tally).
And so to the final round of the season where Bottas lined up thirteenth in comparison to Maldonado’s seventeenth. Unfortunately for Bottas, (who had just been announced as homeboy Felipe Massa’s team-mate to-be at Williams in 2014) he fell down the order during the race and was eventually hit by Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes when the Finn tried to unlap himself. Maldonado survived the race, but finished a lap down in sixteenth – a disappointing ending to yet another disappointing season for the team.
It’s not been the season Williams and their supporters were hoping for when they partnered Bottas with Maldonado. Claire Williams becoming the team principal in April saw no immediate improvement and the overall sense of impending glory seems to have passed without recognition. Williams’ decision to recruit veteran Massa is surely a strategic move, in the hopes that the Brazilian can help in the recovery of the team. Bottas, on the other hand, seems to be talent who has, of yet, not had the opportunity to shine his brightest. Williams will have to hope for a break when the field is levelled with the new regulations in 2014.