F1 2016 Team Preview: Williams Martini Racing

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After proving that the upturn in fortunes in 2014 wasn’t a one-off, Williams enters 2016 hoping to build on the success of last year and cement its place as one of Formula 1’s front-running teams.

Quite how much more can be achieved given the strength and budgets of the manufacturers remains to be seen. That said, if any team is going to break the Mercedes-Ferrari stranglehold at the front of the pack, one would expect it to be Williams.

TEAM: Williams Martini Racing
ENGINE: Mercedes
CAR: Williams FW38

2015 STATS

Races: 19
Wins: 0
Podiums: 4
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 257
Laps Led: 20
Drivers’ Championship Positions: 5th (Valtteri Bottas); 6th (Felipe Massa)
Constructors’ Championship Position: 3rd

2016 LINE-UP

77. Valtteri Bottas (FIN)
19. Felipe Massa (BRA)

2015 TEAM RECAP

For ‘Williams 2015’, see ‘Williams 2014’. Last year was very much a case of the same again. After ending a barren few years of form and finishing third in the constructors’ championship in 2014, Williams did it again in 2015 with relative ease. Red Bull’s struggles meant it had little competition from behind, while Ferrari grew in strength through the season, putting P2 out of reach. Both Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa were solid if unspectacular, with the only opportunity to take the fight to Mercedes being squandered when the team played it safe with strategy at Silverstone.

2016 OUTLOOK

It is difficult to see Williams moving any further forward this year. Pre-season testing pointed to big gains by both Mercedes and Ferrari, appearing to leave the rest of the pack a step behind. Williams will be wary of the renewed fight from Red Bull this year, with the Renault power unit’s issues reportedly being remedied to some end. If anything, a ‘boring’ third-place finish for the third year in a row might be the best thing for Williams, allowing it to focus on prepping for the regulation change in 2017 and giving Valtteri Bottas to car to become a grand prix winner – if it can hold on to the Finn, that is.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.