Williams will be able to take very few positives from a 2019 Australian Grand Prix that became a glorified test session as a result of a curtailed pre-season testing programme.
Perhaps both cars going the distance could be considered a small win, but in an age of unprecedented reliability it’s now considered relatively unusual if a car breaks down. Three cars failed to see the chequered flag at Albert Park in Melbourne yesterday, and that trio (Ricciardo – freak accident, Sainz – engine failure & Grosjean – front wheel/pit calamity for the second year running) were the only cars behind Williams’ drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica at the end of the Grand Prix.
Another plus point is that rookie Russell now has a Formula 1 race weekend under his belt and that he performed faultlessly throughout.
Other than that, the narrative of the weekend was one that fans of Williams are familiar with, and has all but banished thoughts of a Williams turnaround that was mooted pre-season.
Kubica, starting 20th, made contact with Red Bull’s Pierre Gasly at the start and was forced to pit on lap 1. If his race wasn’t already compromised enough by being four whole seconds off the pace in qualifying, then it was completely done by the time he emerged a minute behind the rest of the field with a new front wing and lasting damage to his Williams FW42.
George Russell drove a solid race, managing to hang on to the back of the Alfa Romeo of Antonio Giovinazzi for half a dozen or so laps at the beginning of the race, before the Italian was able to stretch the gap to eight seconds by lap ten, from which point he was in a race of his own, pitting for fresh tyres on laps 26 and 42.
Kubica’s lap 1 contact forced him into an early stop for a new front wing, then opted to stop for tyres on laps 28 and 44 making the two Williams cars the only drivers to opt for anything other than a 1 stop strategy which is indicative of the team wanting to learn more about the car in different scenarios and with different rubber rather than to be competitive.
16th and 17th (or last and second last) was the reward.
Afterwards, Russell maintained his (outward at least) positivity, commenting on the Williams website:
“I feel happy that I brought the car home with no dramas. I physically feel fine and it was a good first race from my side but obviously it is disappointing that we are so far behind the pace.”
“Overall, I can be proud and pleased with myself because we went into this weekend knowing what to expect and I achieved pretty much all of my goals”
Kubica too was looking to the positives from the Australian Grand Prix weekend, albeit with a degree of pragmatism:
“Overall I am leaving Australia with definitely more experience and reasonably happy. Although I would never think I would say something like this having this pace and finishing so far behind. But that’s the reality.”
Is last and second last disappointing? Yes. Is it surprising? Not really.
This year’s Australian Grand Prix was always going to be a struggle for Williams, but if it was short term pain that was necessary to ensure long term gain, then it’d be tolerable.
However, it’s beginning to look like it’s short term pain with more pain expected long term, and periodic bouts of sporadic pain in-between.
Has Williams resigned itself to treading water until the new formula is introduced in 2021 in the hope that it might somehow salvage a lost cause?
If it has, two more years of Williams in survival mode isn’t going to make for pleasant viewing.