A legend of the sport that had fallen on hard times, Williams returned to winning ways last season for the first time in eight years. Pastor Maldonado’s shock victory in the Spanish Grand Prix was the team’s first success since Juan Pablo Montoya took the chequered flag in Brazil in 2004.
After a disastrous 2011 in which they could only manage five points, Williams bounced back in 2012 with a car that was capable of challenging for points on an almost weekly basis. However, the inconsistency of Maldonado, who found himself caught up in several collisions with other drivers coupled with Bruno Senna’s lack of true pace meant the team could only manage eighth in the constructors’ standings.
Although their final position was not what they would have wanted, Williams will have taken a lot of heart from the performance of their car last season, and the team’s new chassis has fared well in pre-season testing.
And with a hopefully calmer Maldonado paired with an exciting rookie in Valtteri Bottas, the team will be confident of continuing their passage back up towards the front end of the grid.
16) Pastor Maldonado
Pastor Maldonado had a mixed season in 2012. The Venezuelan showed blinding speed at times, particularly on Saturday where he regularly qualified the car in places it had no right to be, and took an incredible win ahead of home favourite Fernando Alonso in the Spanish Grand Prix.
However, for every good moment Maldonado had there was a bad one. A series of needless collisions brought about by his ruthless driving style meant the 27-year-old failed to realise the true potential of the car during races and put him out of contention several times, with fellow drivers even calling for the Venezuelan to be banned at one point in mid-season. After his win in Spain, it was ten races before Maldonado even finished in the points again.
On the whole though Maldonado had a solid year, and if he can tame his aggressive approach and mix it effectively with his vast outright speed, he could well prove to be a surprise package on the grid this season.
17) Valtteri Bottas
Despite having the least amount of racing experience of any of the drivers on the grid, rookie Valtteri Bottas is one of the most exciting talents in the field this season.
He may not have raced at a level any higher than GP3, a series in which he took the title in 2011, but Bottas impressed in a third driver role with Williams last year to the extent that the team were persuaded to sign him as a race driver this season, despite the Finn not bringing anything in the way of funding with him.
Having taking part in 15 practice sessions last year, Bottas is already used to driving for the team at race weekends and hopes are high that the 23-year-old will immediately impress in Formula One. It is not out of the question that Bottas could even outperform his vastly more experienced teammate Maldonado and he has a great chance of ending the season as the highest placed rookie in the championship.
Hopes for the season
Although their car last season (combined with a new Renault engine package that significantly improved power) was a vast improvement on the last few years, Williams’ eighth place finish in the championship was a poor reflection of what the FW34 was actually capable of.
The team’s new car has been impressive from the off in pre-season testing and looks to be more than a match for anything else the other midfield teams have to offer.
It’s unlikely that they will be able to challenge and beat the top teams on a regular basis, but Williams look to have taken a step forward with their new car and with two very quick drivers in Maldonado and Bottas, could well be looking at heading the midfield teams and finishing sixth in the championship come the end of the season.