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Did Williams' team strategy lose them the British GP?

Williams took the lead early on at the Silverstone race, with both drivers on top of the grid, but finished off the podium, with Mercedes taking P1 and P2.

Valtteri Bottas of Finland (L) and teammate Felipe Massa of Brazil

The British Grand Prix wrapped up this past weekend, with yet another Mercedes 1-2, in what seems to have become routine for this Formula 1 season.  Lewis Hamilton took first place for the fifth time this year. The Briton has been on the podium every race so far this season, and currently leads the drivers’ standings, 17 points ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg, who finished second at the British GP. 

While Mercedes have been absolutely dominant this year, they were given a serious challenge in the form of Williams, with both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas serious contenders for the podium. Massa took the lead early on, followed closely by his Finnish teammate. The two looked poised to make the results a Williams 1-2, but what was perceived as bad pit strategy by Williams and excellent strategy by Mercedes led to Hamilton taking the lead and holding firmly on to it. 

A little under halfway through the race, with both Williams leading the pack, Bottas was instructed not to race teammate Massa in order to pull away from the Mercedes vehicles. This was seen as their first major error. All four kept relatively small gaps among themselves at this point, leading the rest of the pack by 7 seconds. Hamilton had attempted to undercut Massa following his pit stop for a new set of tyres. The drivers were neck and neck but Massa tried hard to hold on to his lead. Hamilton outlapped the Brazilian, however, and took the lead. He would hold on to it for the remaining 32 laps. 

Past the halfway mark now, it still looked as though both Williams would make it on to the podium, if not in 1st and 2nd. This changed when Mercedes’ Rosberg overtook Bottas to move into P3 and then P2 as he outpaced Massa as well. 

Williams then called Massa in for a second pit stop to change to intermediates – one lap after Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, and it was this that would lose them their only chance at a podium. The lap delay gave Ferrari a time advantage the Williamses could not make up, and Ferrari found themselves back on the podium. 

Both Massa and Bottas expressed disappointment at the Formula One drivers’ press conference following the race. In his statement, Massa said he found it a “bit frustrating”. The Brazilian, who has never been on the podium at Silverstone, felt that the spot had been within reach for the team. He blamed the inclement weather at the track as one of the causes for the loss, but admitted himself that late pit strategy and said ‘maybe’ “... (Williams) got it wrong in terms of strategy.”

Bottas expressed similar complaints. At the press conference, the Finn said he “wished” that he had been freely allowed to race his teammate, as “that is what Formula 1 should be about”. He also had misgivings about the intermediate tyres both he and Massa switched to, saying he “could not get the tyres to work at all and struggled a lot.”  According to him, this lost the team their positions on the grid and chances of a podium spot.

Strategic decisions on both tyre changes and pit changes were the essential undoing of Williams, who have proven they have both the talent and firepower to win. The team has shown a definitive upswing in performance following a mid-season engine upgrade by Mercedes, who also provide power units to Williams. 

It is safe to say that this Grand Prix, while weather may have had a slight influence on the turn of events, it was Williams’ team who mistimed several key events in the race and eventually let their drivers down. This, paired with the impeccable timing of the Mercedes crew resulted in Williams missing out on what seemed to be a sure podium.

New strategy will be key in securing a victory or at the very least, a podium spot for a team that has immense talent and potential. 

Oxfordshire-based Williams are now third behind Ferrari in the constructors’ championships standings, with a 60 point gap separating the two teams. Ferrari, at 211 points, are 160 points behind leaders Mercedes, who look set to take both drivers’ and constructors’ championships this year.

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