Williams looks to be heading into the F1 2011 World Championship campaign in fairly solid fashion, but quite what that means in performance terms relative to its immediate rivals is difficult to accurately gauge, particularly in this new tyre-dominated era.
The Cosworth-powered FW33 has certainly shown strong form on occasion during winter testing, with evergreen veteran Rubens Barrichello topping the timesheets at Jerez – but how much of that was down to out-and-out pace, how much was down to tyres, fuel load and KERS and how much was down to wanting to hit the headlines ahead of Williams' floatation on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange shortly afterwards is open to interpretation, and will only truthfully be answered once the season is underway.
Heading into an incredible 19th consecutive campaign of top flight competition, the Brazilian himself says the team still has a bit of work to do to be where it needs to be, but in 'Rubinho', the Grove-based outfit undeniably has one of the very finest drivers on the grid to motivate everybody and push development forward.
The fact that Williams did not fall from the pace as the season progressed in 2010 – as it has tended to do in recent years – is largely thanks to Barrichello's presence and input, and even at the comparatively grand old age of 38, Rubens remains capable of winning races should the machinery allow. Sadly, the FW33 probably won't, but it should nonetheless permit for plenty of points-scoring opportunities, and the most experienced competitor in the history of the sport will represent an invaluable yardstick and a fountain of knowledge for young rookie team-mate Pastor Maldonado.
In many respects, it is a shame that the well-heeled but crash-happy Venezuelan's bank balance spoke louder than the clear talent evinced by predecessor Nico Hülkenberg last season, but Maldonado is indisputably quick. Whether he can stay away from the tyre barriers often enough to convert that pace into points remains to be seen. If he can, expect Williams to pip Sauber to P6 in the final constructors' rankings; if not, P7.
Crash.net World Championship Predictions