Williams bullish on upgrades, past history for breakout Spanish GP

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It was two years ago at the Spanish Grand Prix that Pastor Maldonado delivered one of Formula One’s biggest upsets, when he drove his Williams to victory and held off hometown hero Fernando Alonso of Ferrari to win the 2012 race.

Flash forward to 2014 and the reborn Williams team, now with Mercedes engines, a better car on paper, a completely different driver lineup and strength in depth on the technical and engineering fronts, seeks another win, or simply its first podium of the season.

Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa have shown excellent pace throughout the early portion of the 2014 campaign, and Massa’s starts the last two races have been great.

But for a bit of luck, neither’s made the podium yet. Despite his double charge through the field in Australia, Bottas ended only fifth there; the timing of the Safety Car in Bahrain negated the podium shot for both drivers there as Massa and Bottas ran third and fourth for most of the race.

This could well be Williams’ weekend, though. Williams Martini Racing Head of Vehicle Performance Rob Smedley described the team’s updates and game plan heading into the weekend in its pre-race release.

“Spain is a good leveller. Getting back to Europe gives teams the opportunity to bring further upgrades, which we will also be doing,” he said. “Barcelona and the following two or three races gives everyone a good indication of how the rest of the season will play out and who has made the most progress since the start of the season. The teams and drivers know the track well, meaning we can gain a lot of accurate data on how the upgrades are working.”

Massa, who won the Spanish GP in 2007 and scored his most recent podium finish at this race last year (third for Ferrari), is bullish on the upgrades and thinks he could match the result this weekend.

“I know what it takes to win at the circuit so I can have a little confidence when driving there,” he said. “Downforce is really important in Spain so we have to make sure the aerodynamic set-up is correct. We have been working on developing the car in this area.”

Bottas was quick to note that although teams have a wealth of data with this track, they haven’t yet tested at Barcelona with this new car.

“We haven’t driven in Spain with the current car, which is unusual as in previous years we completed a lot of laps in testing, so we all know the layout well, but will need to work on the set-up,” said the Finn.

If Maldonado’s win two years ago was a surprise, a similar result wouldn’t be as much of one this year given the team’s pace to start the 2014 campaign.

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”