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F1 mid-season review part three: Force India takes on Williams in fight for fourth

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F1 mid-season review part three: Force India takes on Williams in fight for fourth
Aug 10, 2016, 4:32 PM

In the third part of our mid-year review of the 2016 Formula 1 season, JAonF1 examines the close battle between Williams and Force India for fourth...

In the third part of our mid-year review of the 2016 Formula 1 season, JAonF1 examines the close battle between Williams and Force India for fourth place in the constructors’ championship.

Williams began 2016 hoping to hang on to the third spot in the teams’ standings that it had secured in the last two seasons. The Grove-based squad scored solid points in the early stages, but it quickly became clear that the resurgent Red Bull outfit had pushed Williams down the grid and the podiums it had enjoyed in 2014 and 2015 would become harder to achieve.

The team’s work to improve its form on slow-speed circuits yielded a point for Felipe Massa in Monaco and Valtteri Bottas drove superbly to secure third behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in Canada.

Valtteri Bottas

Williams openly targeted the power dependent tracks of Azerbaijan and Austria as races where it could score heavily, but only came away with 11 points from those events.

Things took a turn for the worse in Silverstone, when Massa and Bottas could only manage 11th and 14th at the team’s home race, and the Finn’s pair of ninth places were its best results as it headed into the summer break searching for answers to the lack of pace.

Force India started 2016 with just one points finish in the first three races, which came via Nico Hulkenberg’s seventh place in Australia. But the Silverstone-based team’s season really came alive after it introduced a major upgrade to the VJM09 at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez

Although Sergio Perez could only manage seventh in that race, while Hulkenberg retired with an engine failure, Force India scored points with both cars at the next three events, which included two sensational third places for Perez in Monaco and Baku.

The team’s struggles with heavy tyre degradation in Austria stopped Hulkenberg from converting his front row grid spot into a good result, but a solid haul of 22 points from Silverstone, Hungary and Germany brought Force India to within 15 points of Williams’ fourth place in the constructors’ championship at the start of the summer break.

Pace Progression

A look at Williams and Force India’s best times from qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix – the first purpose built track F1 visited this season – versus the qualifying result for the German Grand Prix last time out, demonstrates their contrasting fortunes over the second quarter of the 2016 season.

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas’ Bahrain lap was 1.66s adrift of Hamilton’s pole time for Mercedes, whereas Hülkenberg was 2.127s behind the world champion. But in qualifying for the German Grand Prix, Hulkenberg had improved to just 1.147’s behind Nico Rosberg’s pole time – which the Mercedes driver set with more fuel on board than was necessary so could have been faster – and Bottas was 0.02s behind as Williams’ best qualifier at Hockenheim.

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Team Driver Bahrain time Grid spot Difference to pole
Mercedes Hamilton 1m29.493s 1st N/A
Williams Bottas 1m31.153s 6th +1.66s
Force India Hulkenberg 1m31.620s 8th +2.127s

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Team Driver Germany time Grid spot Difference to pole
Mercedes Rosberg 1m14.363s 1st N/A
Force India Hulkenberg 1m15.510s 7th +1.147s
Williams Bottas 1m15.530s 8th +1.167s

Driver highs and lows – Valtteri Bottas:

Bottas’ third place in Montreal was his standout drive of the first half of 2016 and gave Williams its first podium finish of the season. He resisted sustained pressure from the Red Bulls and beat a works Mercedes.

The Finn’s low-point came early on when he hit Hamilton at the first corner of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Although the drive-through penalty he received for the incident was arguably questionable, his clumsy move wasted a good opportunity to score heavily.

Sergio Perez:

Sergio Perez

Perez’s best moment of 2016 so far was his brilliant drive to seal an opportunistic podium in the changing conditions at Monaco. This was closely followed by his drive the third in Baku and the Mexican’s performances so far this season have done much to repair his reputation after being dropped by McLaren at the end of 2013.

His results early on in the year were nothing to celebrate and he reckoned he lost a good chance to score points in Bahrain by clipping Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso at the start of the second lap.

Felipe Massa:

Massa delivered a fine performance to finish fifth in Russia, which is his best result of the year so far, but his tenth place in Monaco represented a good result considering Williams’ recent struggles at slow-speed circuits. His battling drive at Silverstone also caught the eye, even if he was not rewarded with a points finish.

Felipe Massa

The Brazilian’s crash in the wet qualifying session for the Hungarian Grand Prix stands out as a low point, which was compounded by his failure to make any progress up the order from 18th on the grid come race day at the Hungaroring.

Nico Hulkenberg:

Hulkenberg’s seventh place in Melbourne was an great result given Force India’s pre-Barcelona pace, but his performances over the Austrian Grand Prix weekend mark both his high and low points of 2016 so far.

His pace in the wet-to-dry Q3 session demonstrated his talent in changeable conditions and he was deservedly rewarded with a front-row grid spot after Rosberg served his grid-penalty. Force India’s bad tyre wear in the race meant he slipped down the order after a poor start, which quickly dashed any pre-race hopes of a maiden F1 podium for the German driver, and he later retired with a brake problem.

Nico Hulkenberg

Looking ahead

Williams’ recent updates to the FW38 did not work as expected and it tested three different front wing designs at the in-season test following the British Grand Prix, as well as trailing the double-decker rear wing it first test in pre-season.

The team is known to have shifted much of its focus to its 2017 challenger in the hope of improving its position with the new aerodynamic regulations F1 will adopt next year.

Force India has also turned its attention to next season but its recent results suggest its battle with Williams for fourth in constructors’ champions will be close over the second half of 2016.

Felipe Massa Nico Hulkenberg

What have you made of Williams and Force India so far in 2016? Who do you think will come out on top in their scrap over fourth place in the constructors’ championship? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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