Williams back at the front


By Lee McKenzie

For the first time in 11 years the hills were alive with the sound of F1. The race in Austria might not have thrown up a classic Grand Prix, but it did create some memorable moments: Felipe Massa’s first pole position since 2008, Valtteri Bottas’s first ever podium and some interesting battles throughout the grid.

The track is a gorgeous, mountainous roller coaster and all weekend the fans were out in force, delighted that Formula 1 was back in their country. They’ve waited since 2003 for this race to be on the calendar and they certainly made up for lost time. The grandstands were a sea of patriotic red and white and the organisers had brought in Austrian sports and pop stars and created a fun park area for the children.

At times it felt more like a country fair than an F1 race, but bizarrely it worked and the atmosphere was incredible. It didn’t feel like we were at a ‘new’ race and it makes you wonder how it is possible that tracks like this leave the calendar when they have the fans, facilities and enthusiasm. Admittedly thanks to Mr Red Bull, they do have a huge amount of backing and power, but it was a good event in its own right.

Williams in Austria

Pole positions
 Nelson Piquet
1997 Jacques Villeneuve
2014 Felipe Massa

 Alan Jones (1st)
1980 A Jones (2nd), C Reutemann (3rd)
1982 Keke Rosberg (2nd)
1987 N Mansell (1st), N Piquet (2nd)
1997 J Villeneuve (1st), HH Frentzen (3rd)
2002 Juan Pablo Montoya (3rd)
2014 Valtteri Bottas (3rd)

The talk in the paddock on Thursday was still very much dominated by who caused the crash between Sergio Pérez and Felipe Massa at the end of the Canadian Grand Prix. Both drivers went to hospital, but left in good health, if a little sore. It was deemed to be the fault of the Force India driver, but Checo was adamant that it was not. The public row between the drivers continued, but ironically both left Austria happy, maybe not with each other, but certainly with their own performances.

The atmosphere in the Williams motorhome on Saturday night was great. Since pre-season testing we have talked about the potential of the FW36. This year the team has a Mercedes engine in the back of its car and has the experienced package of Massa and Rob Smedley combined with the enthusiasm, talent and Finnish cool of Bottas. Williams wasn’t hiding from the fact that Mercedes made mistakes in qualifying, but out of all the other teams, it was the one which put itself in the best possible position to capitalise on Merc’s problems.

Massa is an emotional character at the best of times and to get pole position in front of his family and Sir Frank Williams – and bag the first pole for the team in this new era of F1 – was a huge boost for him. Massa’s story is one of a best – lots of highs punctuated with many lows. The last time Felipe had pole was Brazil 2008 – the day when he became World Champion for 20 seconds before Lewis Hamilton‘s name was written into the history books. Since then he had that huge life-threatening accident in Hungary which saw him out of the car for six months.

At the same time he became a father to Felipe Jr who is now a favourite fixture in the paddock. Massa was a staple at Ferrari, a loyal team player who did what the team told him and still carries the respect of all at Ferrari – especially from Fernando Alonso who is his close friend. It was a shame it didn’t work out for him on Sunday, but he’s shown he is still fast, hungry and has his confidence intact.

Valtteri Bottas says slightly more than your average Finn, but he’s still steely and as cool as they come. He arrived in F1 with a big reputation and to see him deliver and show how consistent he can be when given the right tools is great. He’s managed by Toto Wolff and Mika Hӓkkinen who have both guided him through his career so far. The hardest thing for Williams will be to keep the 24-year-old, although if it continues to challenge at the front then, for the first time in a long time, a Williams will be at the top of the drivers’ wish list.

As we head to Silverstone, to have a British team like Williams making the headlines is a perfect story and you can guarantee that the factory, nestled in the British countryside, will be working harder than ever over the next 10 days.

You may also like