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Formula 1

Is Williams’s latest big chance any better than the others?

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Williams heads into what could potentially be its 35th consecutive race without a point in the Styrian Grand Prix. But with George Russell starting 10th and with free choice of starting tyre thanks to being elevated by Yuki Tsunoda’s grid penalty there is at least a chance of that run ending.

Of course, we have been here before. Russell could, and should, have scored points in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in April but for his controversial – but avoidable – collision with Valtteri Bottas while battling for ninth place. Things also looked promising when he started 11th in the following race in Portugal, only for Williams to struggle unexpectedly on race day.

But despite Russell’s Saturday heroics and the occasional one that got away, the reality is that he has not been quick enough on race day. Russell’s ability to extract close to the maximum from the car in qualifying regularly puts him ahead of quicker cars on the grid, but that’s unsustainable in the race – and not through any shortcomings on his part.

There are at least some promising signs for Williams. Recent bargeboard upgrades appear to have made the car a little less wind-sensitive, while in last week’s French Grand Prix Russell finished 12th – beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the Alfa Romeos, and Tsunoda thanks to a superb second stint on hard Pirellis.

The car has also been genuinely quick at the Red Bull Ring, missing out on Q3 by only 0.012s, but also setting eye-catching times during the Friday long-runs. That’s why Russell is taking an ambitious approach to the race.

George Russell Williams F1 2021 Styrian Grand prix Red Bull Ring

“We’ve been learning a lot about the car recently, we’ve been going in a slightly different direction and putting more emphasis on our Sunday,” said Russell

“It felt very good in the high fuel [runs] yesterday. I’ve got to look forward. I’m looking forward to get inside that top 10 I’m not looking behind me in my mirror.”

Williams head of vehicle performance Dave Robson believes that the approach taken by the team has not changed dramatically, although extra focus was put on the long-run laps during FP2 on Friday. The team also suspects the recent tyre technical directive might also have assisted it.

But he is hopeful the car can perform well in the race from its lofty starting position given the encouraging race pace, even if that was boosted by Russell starting his long run on brand-new rubber.

“The high-fuel pace yesterday was very encouraging and the pace was good in terms of the lap time, the driver feedback on the state of the tyres, the balance of the car,” said Robson.

“So I think in that regard, we’re in good shape. Starting where we are bodes well for tomorrow.

“In terms of an overall approach, we haven’t changed too much, to be honest. We’re always very conscious that Sunday is where the points are scored. And we’ve always been largely focused in that direction.

George Russell Williams F1 2021 Styrian Grand prix Red Bull Ring

“So it’s just a few minor things. We did change the run plan slightly yesterday, favouring the the high-fuel running but to a large extent that was because we thought it might rain towards the end of the session.

“But it probably has helped get the car where it is, hopefully in good position for tomorrow.”

Williams’s performances in races have been erratic this season, sometimes down to the wind sensitivity. While the Paul Ricard form is encouraging, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the Red Bull Ring given the French GP was all about tyre management. But there are reasons for the team at least to hope that it could end its points drought.

Much could depend on the first lap, which as Russell admitted after dropping to 17th by the start of lap two in France is a weakness he’s working on. Any hope of points without the help of incidents and attrition will likely depend on not losing positions on lap one.

If he can do that and perhaps settle into a midfield DRS train and stay ahead of potentially faster cars, Williams gets the strategy right and no mistakes are made, then Williams may be able to pull it off given Russell generally executes races well. But it’s still far easier said than done.

Despite the encouraging race pace, it’s still a big ask without the outside assistance. But it is at least a possibility, even if it remains a long-shot.

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