Three years on from the team’s front-row lockout at the Red Bull Ring, the Williams team crashed back to earth with its worst qualifying performance of the season in Austria with Felipe Massa and teammate Lance Stroll only managing to outpace the Saubers on Saturday afternoon.
Confident that it could unlock more pace from the car after Stroll claimed his maiden podium finish a fortnight ago in Azerbaijan, the Grove team brought an aggressive package of updates for its Mercedes-powered car. Featuring a number of concepts successfully pioneered by rival teams this season, the new parts included a redesigned front wing pillar, bargeboards and sidepods.
While the FW40s showed reasonable pace on higher fuel loads, the cars’ handling deteriorated during qualifying-style runs in Friday’s two practice sessions which saw both Massa and Stroll well down the timesheets.
Despite overnight set-up work the situation failed to improve on Saturday, giving the team its worst qualifying result since 2013.
“It wasn’t a good day for us,” summed up the team’s Chief Technical Officer, Paddy Lowe.
“We simply weren’t quick enough, there’s not much more to say than that really. We’ve had good and bad balance through the weekend so far, but in the end it’s not about the balance, we just simply aren’t quick enough today.
“We did a lot of work overnight trying to understand the pace from yesterday but none of the things we’ve tried really adjust the fundamental issue, so we need to go away and analyse that further to see where we are.”
The team’s veteran driver Felipe Massa was equally perplexed by the team’s dramatic loss of form.
“We definitely struggled to make the tyres work and get the best lap out of the car, so it was a disappointed qualifying for me and the team,” he said.
“I had a lot of oversteer in Turn Six, which cost me a couple of tenths. But we need to concentrate on the race tomorrow. We know that the race pace is much better than qualifying pace, but starting 17th definitely makes our life tricky and quite difficult for the race.”
Rookie driver Lance Stroll was under no illusions that he will not repeat his podium-winning form in Azerbaijan.
“We have been struggling with the car all weekend and have been trying to work on the balance to improve it. We are simply losing time in the high speed corners to some of the other cars. On the positive side, we are better on our long runs than we were in qualifying on our short runs and that gives us hope going into the race,” he added.
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