Williams poised to end 24-year USGP podium drought after second row lockout

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AUSTIN – Williams has made it an all-Mercedes top four for this year’s United States Grand Prix, and in no real surprise after emerging at the head of the queue behind the Mercedes factory squad earlier Saturday morning in third free practice.

Both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas have been on strong form this weekend, with Bottas finding his comfort level in fewer sessions. He sat out free practice one while Felipe Nasr was in there.

Massa and Bottas improved from fifth and 11th in FP2 – 1.3 and 1.7 seconds off the Mercedes, respectively – to third and fourth in FP3, albeit still 1.1 and 1.3 seconds in arrears.

Once the field went to Pirelli’s soft tire for qualifying, the Williams pair came in even more. Bottas, who was one of the stars this race last year in a then-Renault-powered Williams chassis, emerged third at the end of the session with Massa fourth. The gap to the Mercedes on the softs came down with Bottas within eight tenths and Massa just under 1.2 off.

“I’m really pleased with the couple of good laps I got in Q3 today actually,” Bottas said in the post-qualifying press conference. “It’s been a difficult weekend from my side for some reason, to get in a good rhythm and then finally during the qualifying I could really trust the car, like you should do.”

“But I’m really happy for us as a team. We locked out the second row, which is great for tomorrow’s race. We’re pushing in the Constructor’s Championship.”

Williams is currently 28 points clear of Ferrari for third in the Constructor’s Championship.

After this result, Bottas has now ended in the top three in six of the last eight races, whilst Massas is four for his last eight in terms of ending in the top four.

Bottas discussed how much he improved in qualifying to get within less than half a second of Lewis Hamilton in second.

“Qualifying in general from the practice, I managed to improve myself a lot during every session,” he said. “I could really trust the car a bit better in the qualifying and get those lines right and get every corner right.”

The team is seeking its first podium in the U.S. since, surprisingly, the 1990 United States Grand Prix at Phoenix, when Thierry Boutsen came third in a Williams-Renault behind Ayrton Senna’s McLaren and Jean Alesi’s Tyrrell.

Williams never podiumed in eight years at Indianapolis (2000-2007), including their BMW-powered years from 2000 through 2005, and is currently 0-for-2 at COTA.

With either Bottas or Massa, or perhaps both, perhaps that 24-year drought is poised to end this weekend.

It’s already been a weekend of celebration for the team – Williams played host to a small gathering of reporters Friday to celebrate NBCSN producer Jason Swales’ 250th Grand Prix this weekend.