Felipe Massa will race for Williams in 2014, the team announced today. Massa will partner Valtteri Bottas, who has raced for the team from the start of 2013.
There are three important pieces of information in the announcement. Firstly, Felipe Massa will remain on the grid past the end of this season. Massa’s future was in doubt after it was announced some months ago that he would leave Ferrari at the end of this season. There were rumours linking him to Lotus, Sauber and, more recently, Williams. The Williams rumours have proven factual, as confirmed today.
Secondly, Pastor Maldonado will be leaving Williams. It’s been no secret that Maldonado has been unhappy with the lack of performance of the Williams cars during the time he has been with the team. Maldonado made his F1 debut with Williams in 2011, alongside the most experienced man in F1 history, Rubens Barrichello. In three seasons, Maldonado has one pole position, one podium and one victory, all of which came at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. That one win accounts for more than half the points the Venezuelan has scored in his time in Formula One.
Maldonado brings a significant amount of sponsorship with him from Venezuelan oil and natural gas giant PDVSA. Williams have been the beneficiaries of that sponsorship for three years, but with Maldonado departing, it seems certain that Williams will have to look elsewhere for that part of their budget. It’s not clear how soon PDVSA signage will disappear from the Williams cars, as the deal between PDVSA and Williams was rumoured to run well past the end of this season. If PDVSA have managed to negotiate their way out of their contract with Williams, it will doubtless have come at a significant financial cost, which will bolster the Williams team’s finances in the short-term. In the long-term, however, Williams will have to find further funding.
There has not yet been any confirmation of Maldonado’s plans for 2014. It’s been rumoured that he’s in contention for Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Lotus. Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari to replace Massa from 2014, and seems set to be replaced at Lotus by either Maldonado or Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg.
The third important piece of information in today’s announcement concerns Valtteri Bottas. The 24-year old Finn is still in his debut season in F1 and has yet to score a point. Although he was expected to have a fair chance of remaining with Williams in 2014, it was by no means certain that he would stay on the grid. This announcement confirms that Bottas has done enough to satisfy his bosses at Williams that he is worthy of another season in Formula One.
For 2014, the technical regulations of Formula One are changing drastically. There will be new hybrid V6 turbocharged engines in the cars, which will look quite different as a result of a few aerodynamic changes. Williams will be looking to tackle the new regulations competitively in order to return to the front of the grid, where they spent so much time in the 1980s and 1990s. The mix of youth (Bottas) and experience (Massa) in their driver line-up puts them in a strong position to develop into the new technical era in Formula One.
This is what the team members had to say regarding next year’s driver line-up:
Sir Frank Williams, Founder and Team Principal: “We are delighted to be able to confirm our 2014 driver line-up and welcome Felipe into the Williams family. He is an exceptional talent and a real fighter on the race track; he also brings a wealth of experience as we begin a new chapter in our story. Valtteri is a valued member of the team and I’m pleased he was able to demonstrate his talent in tricky conditions in Montréal. There is much more to come from him.”
Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal: “It is very exciting for us to be able to confirm our 2014 driver line-up as part of a number of announcements we will be making over the coming weeks. Felipe has demonstrated his talent and speed over the years, as well as his ability to help motivate and drive a team to championship success, and we are extremely pleased that he will be joining us as we embark on our 2014 campaign. Valtteri is an exciting, young talent who has done a solid job for us in his rookie season and we are looking forward to giving him the equipment he deserves to show just how good he is.
“This announcement is a key step towards our goal of returning Williams to the front of the grid, and part of our on-going plans to ensure we are stronger in 2014 and beyond. The stability of having both our drivers on multi-year contracts, Mercedes-Benz as our engine partner and a strong commercial base all contribute to the future success of the Williams F1 Team.”
Felipe Massa: “Williams is one of the most successful and important teams of all time in Formula One. When I was a kid, I always dreamed about racing for Williams, Ferrari or McLaren and I’m glad to be signing with another icon of the sport following my time at Ferrari. It is also nice to remember that some of the best Brazilian drivers raced for Williams and cemented a strong national link with the team. With such a major change of regulations in 2014, I hope my experience will be useful in helping the team in its effort to move on from a difficult period. Since my early days in motor racing, I don’t remember seeing so many new rules in a single season and I’m fully prepared to work with everyone at Grove to make sure we find the right direction. I’m highly motivated to start working hard from the very beginning in what is an exciting new challenge in my career.”
Valtteri Bottas: “I’m very happy to be staying with the team as I embark on my second season in Formula One. I have known everyone here for many years, firstly as a test driver and now as a race driver, so it feels like home. I have faith in Williams and I know we can do so much better in the future than our current performance shows. I am looking forward to having Felipe as my teammate. He is a quick and experienced driver and together we will be pushing to the maximum to improve the car and get as many points as we can next season. We will be working throughout the winter to ensure we are ready for the challenge of 2014. I would also like to thank everyone at Williams, especially Frank, Claire and the senior management for their on-going trust in me.”
On Saturday morning, a few hours before the start of the third Free Practice session for the German Grand Prix, a small broke out in the Williams pit garage. It was apparently caused by a KERS failure.
The team was carrying out pit stop practice when the incident occurred. The Williams team, together with the teams who were close by and the circuit fire marshals, managed to contain the fire and smoke. There were no injuries.
The KERS unit has been removed from the car and contained in sand, which will dissipate the heat that the failure continues to generate.
Maldonado is in his car and ready to go out for the final practice session.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez died on Tuesday after battling with cancer. He was 58 years old. A 7-day period of mourning has been announced for the deceased leader while the country prepares for an election to choose his successor.
Pastor Maldonado, winner of the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix for Williams, was a friend of the late Venezuelan president, and raced with the financial backing of Venezuelan state-owned oil and gas giant PDVSA. The company’s name appears on the side of the 2013 Williams Fw35 and the top of the main plane of the rear wing, while “Venezuela” is printed on the back of the rear wing. Maldonado’s place at Williams was initially at least partly a result of the sponsorship deal with PDVSA, which has bolstered the Williams budget for the last two seasons.
In the wake of Chavez’s passing, it is not clear what will happen to Maldonado’s financial backing, and the future of the relationship between Williams and PDVSA is similarly murky. There is no immediate reason for concern in the Maldonado/Williams camp, as the contracts in place will likely be honoured by the Venezuelan parastatal. But it could be that Williams and Maldonado will find themselves looking for additional sponsorship in the future, unless Chavez’s successor is similarly keen on supporting motor racing talent.
Maldonado has, of course, proven himself in Formula One racing, winning the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix from pole position in what was a mature, measured and professional performance. His stated aim for 2013 is to win races in the car he describes as “my best Williams yet”. Whether or not he can achieve that aim will only begin to become clear when the first race of the season gets underway next week in Melbourne.