Williams hoping for improvements as opening race of 2020 season beckons

Following months of relative inactivity as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, teams are finally prepared for the opening race of the 2020 season at the picturesque Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.

For the famous WilliamsF1 team, partnered by Acronis, it will be interesting to see if the progress made during a productive pre-season Barcelona test will transfer to gains on the racetrack.

Nicholas Latifi’s Williams Racing 2020 Livery

But, as Senior Race Engineer Dave Robson is quick to emphasise, it will only be when cars again take to the circuit again that the true pace relative to the competition will be known.

“When we last ran the car in Barcelona, we were encouraged by the improvements made since the end of 2019, however, we are under no illusion that we need to keep working hard and maximise every opportunity we can find to get us further up the grid,” said Robson in his team’s race preview. “We are also aware that teams will have taken the opportunity to improve their cars since February; more than ever, predicting the pace of the opposition is difficult and futile.”

The Red Bull Ring is one of the more challenging circuits on the 2020 calendar but, because the opening two races of the season are at the same venue and only a week apart, it provides an ideal test bed from one weekend to the next.

“The layout of the track as well as the tyre compounds are the same for both events, and so if weather conditions are stable, then we have a rare opportunity to test the cars and the drivers over two full race weekends in near identical conditions,” adds Robson.  “Austria is a tricky venue for the first race of the season as the circuit demands efficient downforce, strong ride characteristics and often very high levels of PU cooling. The lap is short and there are few opportunities to make up for a mistake, which increases the pressure on the drivers and the engineers.

“That said, it is a wonderful setting in which to race Formula One cars, and it will provide a great atmosphere and intensity despite being staged behind closed doors. Our initial efforts will be on making the most of our car, ensuring that it is reliable and raceable, and on learning for the intense series of races that lie ahead of us. Both George and Nicholas are familiar with the circuit and this will allow us to concentrate on the engineering during running on Friday.”

For George Russell, the opening weekend means a welcome return to racing proper after the Englishman dominated the official F1 Esports events, winning four races whilst entertaining fans at home.

“I’m really excited to get back racing and at a circuit that I enjoy driving and have gone well at in the past,” said Russell. “It was probably one of my best races in Formula One last year so I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve done a lot of virtual racing recently so it will be great to now race in reality and provide some entertainment for the fans that will be supporting us from home. From a performance perspective, I don’t want to pre-empt how we will get on as we’ve only really had winter testing. Regardless though, I will be going out there to give it my everything.”

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW43. Formula One Testing, Day 1, Wednesday 19th February 2020. Barcelona, Spain.

And, for new teammate Nicholas Latifi, it has surely been a long and agonising wait to make his F1 debut since the Canadian left the Albert Park paddock back in March.

“It goes without saying that I am extremely excited to finally make my Formula One debut! It’s definitely not been a conventional build up to the first race of the season but these past few weeks have been good getting back into the swing of things, upping my preparations, and getting back into the factory and into the groove with the team,” added Latifi. “I feel ready and I feel prepared. It will be a bit strange with all the new protocols and it will definitely be a lot quieter without any fans. There will be a lot to get used to but we’re getting to go racing again and that’s the main thing. I can’t wait to hit the track.2

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.