Sky Sports F1
pundit Damon Hill has cast doubt on Williams' ability to repeat it sensational Spanish Grand Prix victory in 2013.
Speaking as his former employer geared up for the flight to Melbourne and the opening round of the new season, Hill suggested that, despite strengthening its driver line-up with the addition of Valtteri Bottas, the Grove team would find it tougher to see off Ferrari, Red Bull and the other expected frontrunners in the way Pastor Maldonado did in Barcelona last May.
On that weekend, the Venezuelan inherited pole position following Lewis Hamilton's penalty for stopping out on track after his qualifying lap, but had the pace to resist both Fernando Alonso – on home soil – and Kimi Raikkonen to the end of the race. The victory was the first for Williams since Juan Montoya triumphed at the end of 2004, although the achievement was subsequently overshadowed by the pit fire which grabbed the immediate headlines.
Maldonado then went on a nine-race streak without adding to his points tally and, with Bruno Senna struggling to get the best out of the FW34 in qualifying, Williams was unable to better an eventual eighth place in the constructors' table.
Despite some encouraging testing performances from both drivers this winter, when asked whether he felt there could be a repeat of Maldonado's success this season, Hill felt that it was unlikely.
“I'm not sure exactly how Williams are shaping up for this season,” he told Crash.net
during the Sky Sports F1
HD media day in London this week, “They've got Valtteri Bottas, who's highly regarded and has got a good CV, and Pastor Maldonado, who's won a grand prix, so they are strong, but I just think the front-running teams, the regular front-running teams, have consolidated their positions.
“Williams will be hard-pushed to displace teams like Lotus, for example, so I think we have to see their championship in terms of fighting for the 'pretender' position, to be the top pretender in the championship outside of Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren, and, maybe, Mercedes.
“I just think it will be more difficult for them to win this year than it was last year - not because they've lost competitiveness, but because the others haven't either.”
The 1996 world champion believes that the title race will again come down to a battle between the sport's big three contenders, citing McLaren as the main threat to 2012 frontrunners Red Bull and Ferrari, despite the loss of Lewis Hamilton to Mercedes.