Williams stole some positive headlines during pre-season testing from some teams more recently accustomed to them. As the likes of Red Bull struggled to string a succession of laps together, Felipe Massa set the fastest lap of both Bahrain tests. However, although tongues were wagging about the FW36 everyone seems to have given Mercedes the edge. Fair enough one might say, Mercedes won races last season and where were Williams – battling at the back of the field for points, just beating Marussia and Caterham.
Yet, Williams in my opinion deserve all the shouting, gossiping and tipping for success possible. It is their incredible growth that has come out of such a close knit environment in Grove that has put Massa at the top of the field heading to Melbourne this week. The restructuring began in earnest under Claire Williams when she was announced as Deputy Team Principle this time last year. What has been apparent since then is her strong belief and ambition that Williams can make it to the front of the grid again and become a race winning team.
In 2012 we saw the beginning of some promise with Pastor Maldonado's race victory but that quickly became the year's highlight as they finished the Constructors' Championship down in 8th. Yet, it is often said you need to take a step back to take a big leap forward and 2013 continued where 2012 left off, as they scrapped for points. 2013 was one of the worst seasons since their inception as a car manufacturer in Formula 1 in 1977 as they scored just five points and only finished ahead of the back-markers.
However, their renaissance has come at a perfect time as Formula 1 goes through its biggest change in decades. Teams are struggling to come to grips with these new technical rules and over the last year new faces have appeared in Grove and around the Williams motorhome as they look to return to their glory days.
Back in July last year it was announced that Pat Symonds was joining the team as Technical Director, bringing his championship winning expertise to the British team, while it has also been announced that Rob Smedley will make the move from Ferrari to Williams where he will now have the role of Head of Vehicle Performance, a much more senior role that he had at Maranello. Smedley also joins Jakob Anderson who was announced in January as Head of Engineering Operations. The team is now looking increasingly re-invigorated and highly motivated. Equally, in May 2013 they perhaps took their most significant step to ensure they had a competitive car this season when they signed a deal to have their power-train supplied by Mercedes.
Hopefully this will prove to be a lasting relationship as the team has jumped from engine manufacturer to engine manufacturer in recent years, probably contributing to its lack of competitiveness.
Furthermore, from the outside the atmosphere looks more harmonious. Pastor Maldonado's feelings about the team were infamously and acrimoniously unveiled to the world in Austin last year when he accused it of sabotaging his car. But now, having signed Massa and continued with last year's promising rookie Valtteri Bottas, the team looks to have balance. The vastly experienced Massa alongside the ever developing potential of the Finn will provide the team with the ability to grow. Massa's work ethic and feedback will help the car, and Bottas, to develop further over the season, and expect the Finn to further prove his promise this season and do better than his Brazilian team-mate on a number of occasions.
With testing over and the season about to begin Williams look ready. In the three tests they completed 4,893.432 kms, second to just Mercedes with 4,972.644 kms. They topped the time sheets on two of the twelve days and their long run pace looked consistent, though their fuel efficiency remains a mystery. Impressively they only caused one red flag, on the very last day, over the whole of testing, a very impressive feat considering the amount of stoppages on track.
The noises coming out of the team seem quietly confident and they say they are where they wanted to be. They have been endorsed for success throughout the paddock. Former Williams driver, Jenson Button, said: "It has been a messy winter for a lot of people in terms of mileage on circuit. The two that you would pick out that look strong and consistent are Mercedes and Williams."
It is a long way away but could Williams be battling for a championship, or even two? For a team with such a successful history they haven't won a championship since 1997 when they scooped the two, with Jacques Villeneuve just edging out Michael Schumacher, but this year has certainly started promisingly.
With Williams' new title sponsor deal with Martini, as well as the other sponsors coming in, the team looks economically secure and ready to be battling at the front of the grid. Could the Martini colours be on the podium this weekend?