Dry qualifying in Bahrain reveals Williams’ true colors

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After two wet qualifying sessions in Australia and Malaysia, a dry qualifying session at the Bahrain Grand Prix finally revealed the true one-lap pecking order of the teams in 2014. However, there was never really any doubt about who the pace-setter was: Mercedes duly delivered by locking out the front row on Saturday night in Bahrain.

The one team that had lamented the wet conditions so far this season was Williams. In Australia, Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa could only line up ninth and tenth on the grid, whilst in Malaysia there was even more disappointment as neither driver made it through to Q3.

However, Bottas was sensational in Australia, overtaking nineteen drivers as he fought back from a grid penalty and a puncture to eventually finish fifth, whilst the team scored its first double points haul since the 2012 United States Grand Prix in Malaysia. It was clear that the team had the pace in the dry, but wet qualifying sessions were causing more than a few headaches.

As expected, Bahrain produced a bone-dry qualifying session on Saturday as the drivers ran in the cooler night time conditions. Despite running just once in Q2, both Massa and Bottas easily made it through to the final session, where they continued their good form to secure the team its best qualifying result of the season. Massa finished eighth, and although Bottas was only three-tenths faster, it was good enough to secure the Finn fourth place.

Daniel Ricciardo qualified in third place, and because of his 10 place grid penalty, both Williams drivers will make up a position on the grid.

After a disastrous 2013 campaign, Williams has certainly turned a corner this year. Gone is the volatile Pastor Maldonado, and in has come the compliant and cheerful Felipe Massa. The new regulations have given the team a chance to start with a blank page, and the results have improved significantly as a result.

In the whole of 2013, Frank Williams’ team scored just five points. After just two races in 2014, it has 20 points. The proof is in the results.

However, it could get better still. From third place tomorrow, Bottas will be keen on fighting for his first podium finish in Formula 1, and considering Williams’ pace in the dry, he could be the man to beat in the battle to be ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.