The Williams team has announced today that Pastor Maldonado will be partnered by Valtteri Bottas in 2013. It has long been speculated that Bottas would replace Bruno Senna, and today’s announcement confirms that Senna is without a drive for next season.
Bottas has been the Williams team’s test driver since 2010, and in 2012 participated in 15 Friday practice sessions as part of his development. The 23 year old Finnish driver has been successful in Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP3 on his path to Formula One, winning the GP3 title at his first attempt in 2011. In 2012, Bottas focused solely on his role as Williams test driver, and after impressing the team during Friday practice has been promoted to a full-time race seat from 2013.
Bruno Senna is now without a drive for 2013. His Formula One career has been unsettled, with stints at three different teams – HRT, Renault (now Lotus) and Williams. Unfortunately for the nephew of Brazilian legend Ayrton Senna, he has been comfortably out-driven by team-mate Maldonado in 2012, which has surely contributed to his exit from Williams.
Senna’s options for remaining in Formula One are dwindling as teams continue to announce their driver line-ups. Seats are still available at Lotus (where Romain Grosjean is expected to be retained), Force India, Caterham, Marussia and HRT, although HRT are currently not expected to make the 2013 grid. Senna does have the advantage of bringing sponsorship to his team, which will make him an attractive option for the teams with smaller budgets. Speculation has linked him with a possible move to Caterham, although nothing has yet been confirmed.
Williams have retained Pastor Maldonado for a third season. The Venezuelan had a very mixed 2012, with a dominant win in Spain and the unfortunate record of being the season’s most penalised driver. While he has been accused of driving recklessly, there is no doubting Maldonado’s speed, and if he can tame his aggression he could turn into a very successful driver.
Bottas and Maldonado will be on track as team-mates for the first time when pre-season testing begins on 5 February 2013.
In January of this year, Williams announced that Bruno Senna would join the team to drive alongside Pastor Maldonado. The announcement meant the end, at least for the moment, of Rubens Barrichello’s Formula One career. The choice of drivers was fairly obviously financially based, with both Maldonado and Senna bringing significant sponsorship to the team. But what they brought in funding they lacked in experience, with only one full season each in the sport.
Maldonado has demonstrated that he is very quick when the circumstances are right. The Venezuelan driver won this year’s Spanish Grand Prix from pole position with a mature and measured drive that greatly impressed everyone in Formula One. However, he had to wait almost five full months for his next points finish – at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix- and produced some scrappy performances in between, showing just how new he is to the top level of motor sport.
Senna’s Formula One career has got off to a difficult and unsettled start. He raced for back-of-the-field HRT in 2010, before joining Renault as their reserve driver for 2011. When Nick Heidfeld departed from the team mid-way through the season, Senna was given the opportunity to drive for the team in the last eight races of the season. Now with Williams, he has yet to set the track alight with his speed, but has performed consistently and is now only eight points behind Maldonado in the Drivers’ Championship.
While both Maldonado and Senna could have long and successful careers ahead of them, their lack of experience has a crucial downside for the Williams team. They are unlikely to be able to extract maximum performance from the car on a consistent basis. Furthermore, they do not have experience in developing a front-running car, unlike more seasoned veterans such as former Williams driver Barrichello.
The 2012 Williams FW34 car is a good car. The victory in Spain clearly shows that. But one has to wonder if a more experienced driver could have done more with the available equipment. Rubens Barrichello is the most experienced driver in Formula One history. He was team-mate to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari during the most dominant period of the team’s history. He has unique and valuable experience that could only help an outfit like Williams to re-assert itself as a front-running team.
Williams discarded Barrichello too soon, and are now paying the price for that decision. The Williams driver line-up for 2013 has not yet been confirmed, and it is possible that the team could look to recruit at least one experienced driver. It would certainly make sense to have a mix of youth and experience going forward. The current youth-only formula is not likely to work long-term.
Mark Gillan, Chief Operations Engineer: “Following the last two sets of race results we are keen to continue to demonstrate our team’s improvement and ensure both cars come home in the points. Valencia proves a difficult track for both driver and car and with the expected large track evolution throughout the weekend tyre management will once more be crucial. Pirelli bring the medium and soft compounds to this race, a pairing that was last used in Bahrain. The track layout places a lot of stress on the braking system and the high ambient temperatures, coupled with a lower than average mean speed, forces one to open up the cooling package.”
Pastor Maldonado: “Valencia is a challenge for the drivers because it combines a street circuit that’s used by regular road cars throughout the year with sections of regular race track so it can be tricky to achieve the ideal set up. The layout is quite quick with some long straights but there are also some slow corners so finding the right balance will be crucial to doing well. We’re constantly developing the car and it is showing good long run consistency at the moment and hopefully we can improve on the last couple races and pick up some good points.”
Bruno Senna: “Street circuits are always challenging for a driver and Valencia is certainly no different, requiring decent straight line speed combined with an efficient braking system to cope with the heavy braking areas. Our pace in Canada was not really reflective of the cars potential, but we’ve been working hard to understand the reasons why and hopefully we can put that behind us and gain a stronger result here.”
Rémi Taffin, Head of Renault Sport F1 Track Operations: “It’s actually a big challenge to get the engine mapping right for Valencia as the corners are so similar. Ten corners are taken in first, second or third gear, and if you get one corner wrong then you will be at a disadvantage for the rest of the lap. Typically delivering this driveability at low torque and mid revs is one of the strengths of the Renault engine as our engineers are adept at tuning drive maps to deliver torque smoothly to help the driver control slip ratio and tyre wear.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: “For Valencia we’re bringing the P Zero White medium tyre and the P Zero Yellow soft tyre. We normally experience hot weather there and Valencia contains more corners than any other circuit on the Formula One calendar, with reasonably high average speeds, so we need harder compounds than we have had at the last two street circuits: Monaco and Canada. Last year, the frontrunners all adopted a three-stop strategy, with three stints on the soft tyre followed by a final stint on the medium tyre. It will be interesting to see what they opt for this year, with the cars so closely matched. As there are limited overtaking opportunities, qualifying well to gain track position at the start will be crucial, just as it is in Monaco.”
Lewis Hamilton has topped the times in the first two practice sessions for the Canadian Grand Prix. The McLaren driver led almost the entire first session, and then set the pace early in the second session and stayed at the top of the times.
Behind Hamilton, the times were very close, as has become the norm in 2012. The top 13 drivers were separated by less than three quarters of a second in Free Practice 2, which suggests that we are in for a very close and exciting qualifying session tomorrow.
The day’s proceedings were dictated by the threat of rain. A few of the teams chose to use the supersoft option tyres in FP1, as they expected FP2 to be wet. In the end, although there were a few drops of rain in the first session, the running time remained mostly dry. The heavens opened shortly after the end of FP2, the promised thunderstorms finally arriving.
With walls so close to the track, it was inevitable that there would be one or two accidents. The first came in FP1, when Heikki Kovalainen lost the back end of his Caterham and hit the wall on the exit of turn nine. Although the suspension on the right hand side of the car was destroyed, the team managed to repair the car in time for Kovalainen to complete 24 laps in FP2.
Bruno Senna became the first driver to hit the “Wall of Champions” this weekend in FP2 when he carried too much speed into the final chicane and his car swapped ends on the exit. A big impact resulted in extensive damage to the front and rear of his Williams, meaning the team will have their work cut out to get his car ready for tomorrow morning’s practice session.
Although Hamilton appeared to have a comfortable Friday, Jenson Button had a nightmare day in the other McLaren. The team identified a problem with the gearbox early in FP1, which took until mid-way through FP2 to solve. Button completed only 14 laps in FP2, ending up ninth, just over half a second off the pace of his team-mate.
McLaren, Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, Force India and Sauber all look quick. Lotus were surprisingly slow given their strong start to the season, but it is possible that they have yet to show their true pace. Qualifying tomorrow afternoon will reveal the pecking order. At this point, Hamilton is a good bet for pole position.
Pastor Maldonado: “We have been working very hard to improve the performance of the car and I can feel it getting better all the time. I am therefore hoping for a strong finish in Canada, a circuit which I really enjoy. It has a nice combination of corners with very high speed straights followed by slow speed chicanes, and the feeling of speed is increased by the closeness of the walls. There is a big DRS effect on the straights as well so we should see some overtaking this week.”
Bruno Senna: “Canada is one of the most challenging tracks of the season. It is a combination of a street circuit and a normal fixed circuit with a mixture of very fast, long straights and tight slow corners with heavy braking. It is also important to have as much track time as possible before the weekend to learn the track surface because it can evolve quickly. Our car is looking competitive at this stage of the season so hopefully we can show good pace here.”
Mark Gillan, Chief Operations Engineer: “On the back of a mixed weekend in Monaco the whole team is looking to demonstrate further improvement in Montreal, with the aim of getting both cars home in the points. Montreal is a great race and usually full of drama with a very low pit lane loss which pushes the strategy towards having more stops. The high likelihood of a safety car deployment adds to this drama. The track layout is very hard on brakes and one must also ensure that the aerodynamic package has an appropriately high efficiency target. Pirelli bring to Montreal the same tyre compounds used in Monaco, namely the soft and super soft tyres. Weather wise we are expecting ambient temperatures into the high 20Cs with corresponding track temperatures in the high 30Cs, although there is a chance of rain throughout running.”
Rémi Taffin, Head of Renault Sport F1 Track Operations:” Canada is a completely different track to Monaco and also unique in itself. The long straights demand good top end power but the heavy braking zones of the hairpin and chicane need effective engine braking and good pick up on the exit, so it’s rightly called an ‘engine breaker’ because the engine doesn’t get any respite at all. The challenge is to find the right balance between delivering maximum performance and maintaining 100% reliability, just like at Spa and Monza where the risks have to justify the gains.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli Motorsport Director: “Montreal is a great place and a fantastic race track, which has thrown up more than its fair share of unpredictability and excitement in the past. We have the same nomination as for Monaco – P Zero Red supersoft and P Zero Yellow soft – but they will be used in a very different way, as Montreal is much faster and gives greater tyre degradation. So there will definitely be scope for a lot of strategy, with teams having the possibility to be quite inventive in their approach. The rear tyres in particular have plenty of work to do in Montreal, due to the heavy traction demands, so looking after those will be crucial.”