Williams was damned if it did, damned if it didn’t execute team orders on Sunday


Williams Martini Racing found itself trapped between a rock and a hard place during Sunday’s British Grand Prix, following what had been a “start of the season” contender from both its drivers, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.

Essentially, it couldn’t win – both on-track or in the court of public opinion – by staying true to its morals and core values Sir Frank Williams has instilled for nearly the better part of 40 years.

More: British GP Post-Race Paddock Pass 

Rare is the chance in modern day Formula 1 when Mercedes AMG Petronas is vulnerable.

The team won the last seven Grands Prix of 2014 and eight of the first nine to open the 2015 Formula 1 season.

In that 15-of-16 streak that matches the run achieved by McLaren in its all-conquering 1988 season, what Mercedes hasn’t witnessed frequently are races where rivals have the opportunity or the occasion to beat them in a single Grand Prix.

Yet Sunday, as at Austria last year, Williams had that all-too-rare shot. As in Austria, Williams didn’t capitalize on it.

Massa and Bottas made the aforementioned dynamic start, before the radio calls came out over the broadcast… and the armchair quarterbacking began.

Initially, the call was for the two to hold position. Later, Bottas was told he could pass cleanly, but the Finn never got close enough to make a move, even with DRS.

We’ll never know whether Bottas could have banked enough of a gap, if Williams made the call to allow him past, in order to make his first stop and retain the lead ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

Frankly, the race was lost as much when Hamilton undercut the Williams pair in front of him.

The Englishman stopped first, before either Williams driver or Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg; the team made an excellent 2.4-second stop, and by Lap 22 Hamilton had the lead he would not relinquish the rest of the race.

From a purely personal perspective, it felt as though Williams lost the race by virtue of not allowing Bottas past early… but this is Williams we’re talking about, so it didn’t surprise me too much.

Team orders and Williams have not been inextricably linked as say, team orders and Ferrari.

Still, twice there have been drivers ignore team orders to move aside for teammates. The 1981 Brazilian Grand Prix was arguably the most famous in the team’s history; Carlos Reutemann refused to let that year’s defending World Champion Alan Jones through in Rio.

On a much smaller scale, this wasn’t the first time Bottas and Massa have been involved in potential team orders situation. At Malaysia last year, Massa ignored a call to let Bottas past for seventh. The two were back to racing each other for position the next race at Bahrain.

This wasn’t a case where anyone ignored orders; it was just that no call was made from the pit wall to say Massa needed to move over.

Psychologically speaking, I’m not sure it would have done Massa any good to hear “Felipe, Valtteri is faster than you,” as my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted was a possibility during the race.

If you’re a fan of fair play and letting teammates race each other without team intervention, then chances are you will have liked Williams’ call to let it play out as it did, even though it may have been the call – or non-call – that lost them the race.

If you’re a fan of team orders, ruthlessness and “win-at-all-costs” mentality, then I can see where you take issue with Williams’ strategic decisions and letting the race play out as it did.

As Williams notes though, they’d get negative feedback either way:

The thing this proves unequivocally is how difficult it is to beat Mercedes, now, in 2015.

This was the first time Williams has led all season and as the race built up I never had a sense of “well, Williams could actually win this thing;” it was more a sense of “when does Mercedes get ahead?”

The way Williams allowed the race to play out, from a sporting perspective, was grand. There was tension throughout as to whether they would make a call, and that, coupled with the late rain made for a highly entertaining Grand Prix from start-to-finish, as Luke notes here.

But Williams was damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t on Sunday.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)