Friday, November 15, 2019
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F1: Fast-improving Williams can be best of the rest

Great news for Formula One fans. After the extended domination of the thoroughbred runaways like Red Bull and Ferrari, it looks like the underdog is all set to bite back in the long-running set-to for grand prix glory.

And that brings me to team Williams, respected veteran Sir Frank’s faded outfit of the past few seasons, but now threatening to break free of their hum-drum anonymity and seriously challenge the more illustrious front-runners.

As sulky Red Bull’s multi-billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz threatens to pull his all-conquering team out of the championship in a dispute over the rules, Williams and their ilk are only too anxious to get on with it.

That is vividly evidenced by their new signing Felipe Massa, the Brazilian veteran offloaded by Ferrari and snapped up by Sir Frank to front a charge from down among the no-hopers.

Massa and his Finnish teammate Valtteri Bottas, high-fliers in pre-season tests, carried their speed through to Australia for the Melbourne opener and, with a bit more luck, could well have challenged for the podium.

As it was Massa, who started ninth, was rammed out of the running on the first lap by Caterham’s Kamui Kobayashi. And, if the ever-improving Bottas had not been forced to make an unscheduled pitstop and smacked the wall on the exit of Turn 9 when he was running sixth and catching up fast, Williams might well have been second and third in cars of blistering pace.

Both drivers are itching to get stuck into the heart of the fray this Sunday in the boiler of a track called Sepang in Malaysia and I see no reason why, with a bit more luck than they had Down Under, they cannot continue their resurgence.

Massa, who knows how to win after his service with Ferrari, refuses to be kow-towed by the supposed superiority of those gridmates around him.

He reckons the Mercedes-powered Williams has the capability of being the best of the rest if the works Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, the winner last time out, and Lewis Hamilton hold their promise.

“Everything is possible right now,” said 32-year-old Massa to the delight of Sir Frank. ”And looking at how we compared with the others in Australia, I would say we are in with a fine chance.

“It is not impossible for us to be the best of the rest. We have had a good start, but there is a lot to do.

“There is still a huge margin to improve on with this car and I am pushing the team as hard as I can to go in the direction where the car will be even better.”

Massa, a winner 11 times and the championship runner-up to Hamilton in 2008, has wiped out any worries that his offloading by Ferrari has remotely dented his dreams of climbing to the top step of the podium ever again.

“I am as fired up as I have ever been,” he says. “And I would love to be able to get Sir Frank’s very famous and respected team back to the top, where it belongs.”

Williams, once regular victors and title holders with Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Damon Hill, haven’t won the championship since Jacques Villeneuve’s triumph in 1997.

If his actions behind the wheel can speak as fluently as Massa’s words, Formula One could be in for a pleasant surprise. Sir Frank, too.

— The writer is a motorsport expert based in the UK