The iconic outfit returned to their winning ways in 2012 with a stunning victory at the Spanish Grand Prix, thanks to the departing Pastor Maldonado, but couldn’t maintain the positive momentum this season.
The FW35 was doomed from the very beginning, as its exhaust system was declared illegal by the FIA on the day of the unveiling. A revised design was completed and both Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, who was the teams test and reserve driver for three years, felt relatively happy with the progress made over the winter.
However, the car proved to be uncompetitive from the moment it hit the racetrack in Australia, with Maldonado branding it “undriveable” after practice. It didn’t get much better over the course of the year. The Venezuelan driver failed to finish season opener, the first of many underwhelming performances over the course of the year, after he spun into the gravel.
Despite a difficult third and final year with the team, the 28-year-old had a slightly more consistent campaign and he out-raced several faster cars to score Williams’ first point of the season in Hungary, although he did benefit from a few retirements. However, his relationship with Williams soared towards the end of the season, with his suggestion that the team had sabotaged his car in Austin proving this.
On the other side of the garage, his Finnish team-mate had a quietly impressive rookie year and made steady progress in the first few races. He couldn’t challenge for points finishes in the early stages due to the lack of pace in the car but proved to be a strong match for the more experienced Maldonado, finishing ahead of him in five of the 14 races that they both were classified in.
Bottas knows the team well after joining them in 2010 as their test driver. He decided against racing in a junior category in 2012 and instead took the opportunity to drive for Williams in 15 free practice sessions. It proved to be the right decision, as he was by far the best prepared rookie on the 2013 grid and this showed with some mature performances early on – including finishing just one second off a point-scoring position in Malaysia.
He also put in some impressive performances in qualifying, putting the FW35 on the second row of the grid for the Canadian Grand Prix. Unfortunately he couldn’t hold on to a place in the top 10 on race day and slipped to 14th by the chequered flag. He, surprisingly, won the inter-team qualifying battle 12-7.
The 24-year-old finally managed to score the first top 10 result of his career in Austin. He was the fastest Williams driver all weekend despite tackling the Circuit of the Americas for the first time on Friday morning. He completed some strong overtaking moves en route to eighth place, collecting four points.
Williams have a promising line-up for next season, retaining Bottas and bringing in the experienced Felipe Massa. It will also be their first season powered by Mercedes-Benz and with a strong technical team tackling the regulation changes for 2014, it could be their chance to return to the front.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic