Williams double podium caps phenomenal comeback season

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Williams has put a period on a phenomenal turnaround season with its first double podium finish in nearly a decade in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

After scoring seven podiums between them this season, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finally made their first trip to the rostrum together with second and third behind race winner and 2014 Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton.

It’s the first Williams double podium since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix, when Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber came second and third behind race winner Kimi Raikkonen.

It was another 2000s era year – 2008 – fresh on the minds of observers today as Massa mounted a charge reminiscent of his stirring drive to win the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, on the same day Hamilton was poised to clinch a World Championship.

Unlike that day in his home country though, Massa came up short of the victory.

Massa started fourth but was quickly up to third off the line, while Bottas had something of a shocker from third on the grid and fell to eighth.

By Lap 9 though, order was restored with Massa and Bottas back to third and fourth, Bottas having carved through a number of runners and also seizing the advantage as others peeled off for their first pit stops.

The win possibility for Massa began to simmer mid-race once Nico Rosberg had his ERS failure, and the beginning of his slow, prolonged agony that slowed him for the rest of the race.

Massa took the lead past Lap 30, once Hamilton pitted. Massa later stopped again for Pirelli’s supersofts, which while it cost him the lead at the time would allow him to close the gap back to Hamilton on fresher tires.

But while Massa started out closing about or more than a second per lap from the original 10-plus second gap, he was unable to catch Hamilton and ended 2.5 seconds in arrears.

“It was an incredible race. I didn’t expect to have this pace,” Massa told Martin Brundle on the podium. “Then I was able to keep the tires, but run through a long part of the race. We tried the option late, we thought ‘Why not.’ We tried, but unfortunately Lewis was too far. I wanted that victory too much. I hope this is a start for next year.”

The rapid degradation of the option tires meant Massa’s charge went off about four laps into his final stint.

“With 10 laps to go, I was a bit more than a second per lap faster,” he said. “If the tires stayed like that I could win, but they degraded. The last four laps I didn’t have the gap anymore to catch like I was catching him before.”

Bottas – whose race settled into a form of normality after his start – was happy to be back on the podium for the sixth time this year, if now frustrated considering he wants to become F1’s next first-time Grand Prix winner.

“I always like to be here,” said the Finn. “The higher the step, the better it is. But for this season it will do. It shows how strong we are getting. I’m expecting a lot for next year. I’m really thankful to be part of this team and to drive this car.”

The result brought Bottas back to fourth in the Driver’s Championship, after coming into the race sixth. Massa ended seventh, only one spot behind Fernando Alonso and a full five spots, and 79 points clear of his Ferrari replacement Kimi Raikkonen.

The two podiums brought Williams’ season total to nine, and the points accumulated (66 for the 36 for second and 30 for third) brought Williams’ final tally to 320. That’s good for third in the Constructor’s Championship, a year-on-year growth from ninth with just 5 points.

It’s in a different points-scoring system and era, but the 320 points smashes the old record for Williams in its illustrious 35-plus year history as an organization. The previous best had been 175, set by Damon Hill and Jacques Villenueve in 1996, en route to a 1-2 finish in the Driver’s Championship.

For another form of perspective, this marks Williams’ first season north of 100 Constructor’s points since 2003, when Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and Marc Gene scored 144.

It’s obvious having a Mercedes power unit was a key part of the turnaround, but the people involved and the leadership from both Sir Frank Williams and daughter Claire in particular have helped contribute to this incredible comeback.

Massa, who just arrived at Williams this year, summed it up best.

“I’m so proud to be on this team. You guys are my heart. We can do so much more next year,” he said.

Marvin Musquin’s Indy win may have come too late

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Marvin Musquin answered one question at Indianapolis last week, but the biggest one may well plague him for the next six weeks.

Musquin has won a battle, but can he win the war?

After standing on the podium in eight of the first 10 races, Musquin finally showed the field he was capable of winning in Indy when he grabbed the holeshot and led every lap on the way to Victory Lane. He was never seriously challenged and it was the Musquin that Supercross fans expected to see all season.

It was a long time coming. Musquin must have felt like victory was just around the corner after finishing second in the overall standings in Anaheim II’s Triple Crown race. He was third in the first Main that night and second in the last two Mains.

As it turned out, that single race defined his season until last week. Musquin stood on the podium all night, but he finished two spots behind Cooper Webb in the first Main and was one spot back in the second. It was only as time ran out that he was able to beat Webb by a single spot in the third Main. If Musquin had won either of the first two Mains, he would have had the overall victory – denying Webb his first career win in the process.

Webb’s Anaheim win revitalized the rider and gave him the confidence to rattle off four more wins in the next seven races.

Meanwhile, Musquin scored podium finishes in the next seven races, making him almost perfect. In another season, a record like that would have been enough to give him a comfortable points lead. In 2019, he sit 14 markers out of first, which is the points’ equivalent of the difference between first and 11th in one race. In other words, Webb cannot lose the points lead at Seattle unless he finishes outside the top 10 while his teammate wins.

Looking at the numbers another way the scenario is not quite as hopeless. Musquin needs to shave only 2.3 points off Webb’s lead each week to win the championship. Three points separate first and second. Five points differentiates first from third, which is where Webb finished in Indianapolis. Webb is vulnerable as his 10th-place finish at Glendale and an eighth at San Diego attest.

Those bobbles came early and Webb seems to have forgotten how to make a mistake.

A third-place is Webb’s worst finish in the last six weeks and since Anaheim II when Musquin started his impressive string of podium finishes, Webb has recorded an average finish of 2.2. That came with a worst finish of eighth on an extremely muddy and heavy track in San Diego. Musquin has a worst finish of only sixth, but his average of 2.8 still lags behind Webb.

Worse still, since Anaheim II Musquin has finished behind Webb in every race except for the outlier of San Diego.

It is no longer a question of keeping pressure on Webb. Musquin cannot expect his teammate to make a mistake; he has to find a way to pass him on the track. If Webb adds only two points to his lead at Seattle, Musquin’s fate would no longer be in his hands. He would need to gain 3.2 points per race. With that scenario, Webb could finish one spot behind Musquin every week and still win the championship.