Sir Frank Williams: Our chance to capitalize in 2014

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Count 2013 as a bit of a lost year for Williams, which scored a total of 5 points from only two Grands Prix (Pastor Maldonado in Hungary, and Valtteri Bottas in Austin).

So for 2014, with a host of new commercial partners including Martini, Genworth and Petrobras, Felipe Massa replacing Maldonado alongside Bottas, a host of technical staff additions, and Mercedes set to power the FW36, hopes are high for a big bounce back season.

Sir Frank Williams said Thursday after the team’s Martini reveal that regular points finishes must be the goal, and the team must take advantage of the relative clean slate provided by the change in regulations for 2014.

“A team like Williams Martini Racing, with our history, facilities, and personnel, should be mixing it up at the sharp end of the grid. 2014’s regulation changes have reset the field to some extent and we need to capitalize on this opportunity,” he said.

“I’m under no illusion that it will take time for our new technical team to make their mark, but I will be looking for us to make a strong improvement from last year and regularly finish in the points at a wide range of circuits.”

Williams can take comfort in the fact they had a very solid preseason testing program, both in terms of mileage completed and reliability. Their ultimate pace relative to the rest of the field remains unknown, but Sir Frank said they did what they could at Bahrain and even Jerez to an extent.

“What I do know is that despite a few inevitable teething problems, the FW36 has performed reliably and clocked up a good number of laps,” he said. “The regulation changes have forced the teams to take a step in to the unknown this year. Reliability will be paramount in the first few races of the season and we are looking strong in that regard.”

There’s been a lot of talk about “throwbacks” in IndyCar this year, with several familiar faces returning to the scene there who raced in the 1990s.

Williams seems F1’s best “throwback” candidate at the moment. The legendary independent team last won a Grand Prix in 2012 with Pastor Maldonado at the Spanish Grand Prix. Prior to that, it was in 2004, with Juan Pablo Montoya in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. It last won a World Championship in 1997, with Jacques Villeneuve in the FW19-Renault.

Based on the preseason testing and some of the other comments made – notably from Jenson Button – this could be Williams’ chance to shine once again.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.