Formula 1 2017 team preview: Williams

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After two years back in Formula 1’s top three, Williams came back down to earth with a bump last season.

Just one podium finish left Williams to end up fifth in the constructors’ championship, trailing privateer rivals Force India and struggling to take much of a fight to the lead runners.

The knock-on effect of Nico Rosberg’s retirement announcement hit Williams hardest, but will the British team recover and bounce back into the top three this year?


18. Lance Stroll (Canada)
19. Felipe Massa (Brazil)


Williams FW40


Mercedes M08 EQ Power+


Frank Williams (team founder/owner)
Claire Williams (deputy team principal)
Mike O’Driscoll (group CEO)
Paddy Lowe (chief technical officer)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes in the Pitlane during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Williams had spates of good pace, particularly in the early part of the year. Valtteri Bottas led its charge once again and took a well-earned podium in Canada. Otherwise, the form that made Williams so impressive through 2014 and 2015 was very hard to find. It was a pretty average, uninspiring year for the team.

What went wrong in 2016: The inability to keep up with Force India was concerning, particularly given Williams’ heritage and experience against a comparatively new team. Felipe Massa’s form was very patchy indeed, taking a best finish of fifth on just two occasions and scoring a single point between June and the end of August. Williams looked absent of any killer instinct last year.

What’s changed for 2017: Quite a bit. Firstly, technical boss Pat Symonds has left and been replaced by Mercedes man Paddy Lowe, who has also become a shareholder in the team. On the driver front, 18-year-old rookie Lance Stroll has arrived in place of Bottas, who had been set to stay with Williams before Rosberg’s retirement announcement. Instead, Felipe Massa has returned for a final hurrah, having initially planned to retire at the end of last year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Battling with the leading trio of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull would be a stretch for Williams. Instead, the team will be looking to regain its status as top privateer and move back ahead of Force India in the pecking order. With such a varied driver line-up – one rookie whose testing periods were dotted with crashes, one veteran who was way off the pace last year – this may be a year of ‘making do’ for Williams and staying in the top five.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)


Luke Smith: I’m struggling to see how Williams can improve for this year – or for that matter, stop falling back even further. The new-style cars appear to suit Felipe Massa more, yet his 2016 performances left much to be desired. I’m excited about Stroll, and think the naysayers in the wake of his testing crashes are jumping the gun. But the Canadian will take time to bed in. Williams will be in the battle for P4 once again, but I don’t see it beating Force India. Its line-up is far weaker by comparison. P5 at best and not a single podium is my bet.

Tony DiZinno: A tough year lies ahead here, even despite Felipe Massa’s determined comeback and heavy lifting in preseason testing. Massa, who was good as gone from the moment he announced his retirement in Monza last year, now must carry the load for a team that risks losing another spot or two in the constructor’s championship if either or all of Renault, Toro Rosso and Haas can step up. Canadian rookie Lance Stroll must sink or swim on his own, with a lot of eyeballs fixated on how the talented – if incident-prone – teenager adapts to a full season at the highest level. That said, he’ll have been an improvement on Pastor Maldonado as a rookie if he scores points more than once this year…

Kyle Lavigne: Williams Martini Racing ranks alongside Sahara Force India as perhaps the most intriguing of the teams in the midfield. The FW40 has turned quick times, it isn’t clear if that pace is genuine. Lance Stroll struggled mightily in the opening week of testing, spinning and crashing on multiple occasions. However, he made a significant improvement during the second week and appears to be improving more and more every time he gets behind the wheel. Teammate Felipe Massa was a revelation during testing, in fact beginning the second week atop the time sheets, and looks every bit as strong as he did during his prime. It remains to be seen if their testing form was a mirage, but they nonetheless have surprised many an observer. And they just might continue to do so as the year develops.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
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Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”