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Formula 1 2017 team preview: Williams

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After two years back in Formula 1’s top three, Williams came back down to earth with a bump last season.

Just one podium finish left Williams to end up fifth in the constructors’ championship, trailing privateer rivals Force India and struggling to take much of a fight to the lead runners.

The knock-on effect of Nico Rosberg’s retirement announcement hit Williams hardest, but will the British team recover and bounce back into the top three this year?

DRIVERS

18. Lance Stroll (Canada)
19. Felipe Massa (Brazil)

CAR

Williams FW40

ENGINE

Mercedes M08 EQ Power+

TEAM CHIEFS

Frank Williams (team founder/owner)
Claire Williams (deputy team principal)
Mike O’Driscoll (group CEO)
Paddy Lowe (chief technical officer)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes in the Pitlane during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Williams had spates of good pace, particularly in the early part of the year. Valtteri Bottas led its charge once again and took a well-earned podium in Canada. Otherwise, the form that made Williams so impressive through 2014 and 2015 was very hard to find. It was a pretty average, uninspiring year for the team.

What went wrong in 2016: The inability to keep up with Force India was concerning, particularly given Williams’ heritage and experience against a comparatively new team. Felipe Massa’s form was very patchy indeed, taking a best finish of fifth on just two occasions and scoring a single point between June and the end of August. Williams looked absent of any killer instinct last year.

What’s changed for 2017: Quite a bit. Firstly, technical boss Pat Symonds has left and been replaced by Mercedes man Paddy Lowe, who has also become a shareholder in the team. On the driver front, 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll has arrived in place of Bottas, who had been set to stay with Williams before Rosberg’s retirement announcement. Instead, Felipe Massa has returned for a final hurrah, having initially planned to retire at the end of last year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Battling with the leading trio of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull would be a stretch for Williams. Instead, the team will be looking to regain its status as top privateer and move back ahead of Force India in the pecking order. With such a varied driver line-up – one rookie whose testing periods were dotted with crashes, one veteran who was way off the pace last year – this may be a year of ‘making do’ for Williams and staying in the top five.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: I’m struggling to see how Williams can improve for this year – or for that matter, stop falling back even further. The new-style cars appear to suit Felipe Massa more, yet his 2016 performances left much to be desired. I’m excited about Stroll, and think the naysayers in the wake of his testing crashes are jumping the gun. But the Canadian will take time to bed in. Williams will be in the battle for P4 once again, but I don’t see it beating Force India. Its line-up is far weaker by comparison. P5 at best and not a single podium is my bet.

Tony DiZinno: A tough year lies ahead here, even despite Felipe Massa’s determined comeback and heavy lifting in preseason testing. Massa, who was good as gone from the moment he announced his retirement in Monza last year, now must carry the load for a team that risks losing another spot or two in the constructor’s championship if either or all of Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas can step up. Canadian rookie Lance Stroll must sink or swim on his own, with a lot of eyeballs fixated on how the talented – if incident-prone – teenager adapts to a full season at the highest level. That said, he’ll have been an improvement on Pastor Maldonado as a rookie if he scores points more than once this year…

Kyle Lavigne: Williams Martini Racing ranks alongside Sahara Force India as perhaps the most intriguing of the teams in the midfield. The FW40 has turned quick times, it isn’t clear if that pace is genuine. Lance Stroll struggled mightily in the opening week of testing, spinning and crashing on multiple occasions. However, he made a significant improvement during the second week and appears to be improving more and more every time he gets behind the wheel. Teammate Felipe Massa was a revelation during testing, in fact beginning the second week atop the time sheets, and looks every bit as strong as he did during his prime. It remains to be seen if their testing form was a mirage, but they nonetheless have surprised many an observer. And they just might continue to do so as the year develops.

NBC Sports presents IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama Sunday live at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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From NBC Sports Group PR:

* Sunday’s Pre-Race Coverage Begins with IndyCar Live Presented by Verizon at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

* Pre-Race Coverage Includes Robin Miller Feature on Rookie Zach Veach, Following Career-Best Fourth-Place Finish at Long Beach

* CNBC Presents Live Qualifying Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, Airs on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET

STAMFORD, Conn. – April 19, 2018 – NBC Sports continues its coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend from Barber Motorsports Park with live coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Pre-race coverage begins with IndyCar Live presented by Verizon at 3 p.m. ET.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) delivered a dominant performance at the Grand Prix of Long Beach last weekend, winning the pole and leading wire-to-wire for his third career victory, and third consecutive podium finish to start the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series campaign. Rossi currently leads Josef Newgarden (Penske) in the driver standings by 24 points. Newgarden won last year’s Grand Prix of Alabama, his second career win at Barber, while Rossi finished fifth.

This weekend’s live coverage from Barber Motorsports Park begins Saturday at 4 p.m. ET with qualifying on CNBC. NBCSN will air qualifying on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET. Sunday’s pre-race coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET with IndyCar Live presented by Verizon and will take place from the grid in the lead up to the command, bringing viewers even closer to the action prior to the race.

Pre-race coverage will include a feature by IndyCar on NBC pit reporter Robin Miller on rookie driver Zach Veach, who’s coming off a career-best fourth place finish at the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Lead IndyCar play-by-play commentator Leigh Diffey will call this weekend’s Grand Prix of Alabama, analysts Paul Tracy and Townsend BellMarty Snider, Robin Miller, Kevin Lee, and Katie Hargitt will report from the pits.

NBCSN will also present coverage of the Indy Lights race from Alabama late night on Monday, April 23, at 1:30 a.m. ET. Current IndyCar driver Conor Daly will join the NBCSN booth for the race broadcast, alongside Kevin Lee and Anders Krohn, with Katie Hargitt reporting from the pits.

Following is this weekend’s IndyCar schedule on NBCSN and CNBC:

Date Coverage Network Time (ET)
Sat., April 21 Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying LIVE CNBC 4 p.m.
Grand Prix of Alabama – Qualifying (Encore) NBCSN 6:30 p.m.
Sun., April 22 IndyCar Live presented by Verizon NBCSN 3 p.m.
Grand Prix of Alabama NBCSN 3:30 p.m.
IndyCar Post-Race NBCSN 5:30 p.m.
Mon., April 23 Grand Prix of Alabama (Encore) NBCSN 12 p.m.
Indy Lights – Alabama NBCSN 1:30 a.m.

NBC SPORTS GROUP AND INDYCAR PARTNER ON COMPREHENSIVE, MULTI-YEAR MEDIA RIGHTS AGREEMENT

On March 21, NBC Sports Group and INDYCAR announced a new, multi-year media rights agreement in which NBC Sports acquired the rights to present all INDYCAR races, qualifying, practices, and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC, with all remaining races televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 INDYCAR schedule will be announced at a later date.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to INDYCAR fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date. Click here for more information.


VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES ON NBCSPORTS.COM AND THE NBC SPORTS APP

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app — NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, tablets, and connected TVs — will provide live streaming coverage of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series via “TV Everywhere,” giving consumers additional value to their subscription service, and making high quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms.

NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app are powered by Playmaker Media and available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Roku Channel Store, Apple TV and Amazon Fire.