Could Williams be the team to beat in the race for P2?

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As far as the Formula 1 constructors’ championship is concerned this season, there isn’t really much of a fight for the top honors. Mercedes has been dominant in 2014 and sent shockwaves through the sport, setting up an exciting battle for the drivers’ title between Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Behind the Silver Arrows, though, there is a far closer contest between the teams shaping up; so close that the team in fourth may in fact be best placed to indeed finish as the ‘best of the rest’.

Williams has seen its fortunes turn through 180º in 2014. After scoring just a solitary point before last year’s summer break before going on to claim just four more by the end of the season, the British team has bitten back hard this time around. With a number of fresh faces – Felipe Massa, Rob Smedley, Pat Symonds, Jakob Andreasen – and a rebrand courtesy of Martini, the team has looked, for want of a better word, happy again in 2014. Everything at Grove is good.

The team currently ranks fourth in the constructors’ championship, some seven points behind Ferrari, but the target of second in the standings may seem an unrealistic one with Red Bull 84 points ahead. Can the British outfit really do it?

Yes. It may be a big ask, but Williams should be in the mix for P2 come the end of the year as the circuits in the final stretch suit the FW36 perfectly. Its key strength has been straight line speed this year, allowing the team to excel in Austria and Germany; Valtteri Bottas reached the podium on both occasions.

Felipe Massa spoke about the upcoming tracks before the summer break, and made clear that Williams should be fighting at the sharp end if all things go to plan.

“I think Monza, Spa, maybe USA, maybe Brazil,” he said when asked which tracks will suit Williams. “Also on the last race [Abu Dhabi] you have some good straights as well.

“I think the car can be competitive at many tracks, not just Monza and Spa. Definitely it’s also true that Monza and Spa we can be more than the others, but I think we need to concentrate and think that we can have a good car at most of the tracks.”

So with Spa and Monza coming up, this is where the swing to Williams could take place. Red Bull’s Christian Horner is wary about his team’s chances at both circuits, believing that it may just be a case of doing everything possible to score some points and limit the damage.

“Singapore has to be the next golden opportunity for us in reality,” Horner admitted. “I think it will be damage limitation in the next two races because Force India will suddenly reappear, Williams will be quick, McLaren will be quick and obviously Mercedes will be quick.

“So we’re got to take what we can out of the next two races and then for the flyaways really try and turn things up.”

However, as Massa said, the tracks after Singapore (Sochi, COTA, Interlagos, Yas Marina) should all play into Williams’ hands. Although the RB10 car itself is pretty sound, the Renault engine has really harmed the team at the high speed tracks; Austria was proof of this, with Ricciardo the top scorer in P8.

Eight races, 84 points, eleven points per race to pick up on Red Bull. Is it going to be tough? Yes. But is it possible? Certainly. If Mercedes hits trouble once again between now and the end of the season, it may just well be either Bottas or Massa who picks up the pieces to claim a famous win for Williams.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.