Williams salvages points in race of two
Williams found itself in a race of its own at the Malaysian Grand Prix, with Valtteri Bottas leading Felipe Massa over the line in fifth and sixth.
The team from Grove had comfortably the third-quickest car on Sunday afternoon — so much so that it was too far up the road from Toro Rosso to be caught, and too far off the pace of Ferrari and Mercedes fight for the podium.
2015 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX
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So unchallenged were the Williams cars that Valtteri Bottas was able to recover from a terrible first lap that saw him drop to P14 to be hustling Massa by the end of the race.
The result was significantly more solid than the team had predicted after qualifying, when the car seemed to chew through its tyres far faster than its competitors did.
Come race day, temperatures were so extreme — 34°C ambient and 64°C track, the highest readings of the weekend — that all cars were equally troubled on the Pirelli rubber, equalising performance to a degree.
“It was some about tyres, they definitely featured,” said Smedley. “I think we were not the worst on using the tyres, but we certainly weren’t the best.
“Compared to some cars behind we could use the tyres a little bit better, but there were some cars in front of us who definitely used the tyres better than we did.”
However, the gap to the frontrunners proved as extreme as the weather, with Bottas leading home the Williams partnership 70 seconds behind race winner Sebastian Vettel.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” explained Smedley. “I think tyre management is probably part and parcel of what we need to do now.
“There’s a car package pace deficit, and it’s not as if we should shy away from that. There is a car package pace deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari, and we have to work hard do to improve that — but at the same time we have to concurrently look at tyre management.
“Why were there cars in the race that could do one fewer stop than us? That’s the key point. It’s not that we look at it afterwards and say we could’ve done one fewer stop, because we couldn’t have today.
“The key factor here is that we have to understand as a group of people that there’s work to do in that area. It’s like everything: if you have a deficit, you have a deficit in all areas. There’s never one area or one eureka moment where you unlock half a second or a second from the car.
“We have to go away, look at it, and do our due diligence. We’ll do it right and find the right answers.
The pit stops proved the defining blow of Williams’ race in Malaysia, with the team copping the triple blow of not having the tyre management to strategise for a two-stop race, the time hit of the additional stop, and two botched pit stops that all contributed to the enormous gap to the front of the field.
“We need to improve the consistency of the pit stops,” admitted Smedley. “We had some good pit stops, but then both cars lost in some time in very slow pit stops.
“The positive thing is that these were two problem we hadn’t encountered before: one way getting a tyre blanket off for Valtteri during the double pit stop — it’s a procedural thing, we just didn’t take the blanket off quickly enough — and the second problem was the jack during Felipe’s last stop, which didn’t engage properly on the rear crash structure.
“We have to look at it, understand what happened, and tidy up to make sure it doesn’t happen again. They are procedural things we can fix.
“We didn’t do a great job, but we didn’t do a great job as a group of people, there’s no one person in particular at fault. It’s all of us together who have to improve.”
Malaysia represented another slip for Williams, which was the team most consistently challenging Mercedes in 2014, despite its blank win tally that year.
Now with Ferrari stepping up to compete for victories, Williams appears to have slid further off the pace both on track and in the development race.
“To be 70 seconds behind at the end of the race, of course I’m concerned,” said Smedley. “It would be remiss of me to say I wasn’t concerned about that.
“But there are certain bits of it, like the fact Sebastian could do one less top than us, which have certainly contributed to that minute. That’s where we need to start concentrating, and at the same time we need to start developing the whole car package.
“It’s a concern. If anybody’s in front, it’s a concern, no matter what colour their car is.
“We need to push on and make sure we’re developing at a faster rate than them, and if we do that, we’ll close the gap. It’s very simple.”
Formula One continues in a fortnight with the 2015 Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 10-12.