The Williams team has admitted that a major step forward from its 2013 F1 car may not come until the Spanish Grand Prix next month, but remains hopeful of opening its championship account this weekend in China.
After a positive – albeit ultimately unrewarded – 2012 campaign, the Grove-based team was confident that it could make strides with this year's FW35, but found that the car was off the pace at both the Australian and Malaysian grands prix, leaving Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas pointless heading to this weekend's round in Shanghai.
While the drivers would have been champing at the bit to get back on track after the frustration of Sepang, the three-week gap between races has given the team a chance to reflect on its problems, and begin working towards a solution that will kick-start its season before expected rivals Force India, Sauber and Toro Rosso get too far in front.
Despite revealing that its revised exhaust layout has been ditched as part of the rethink, technical director Mike Coughlan admits that the calendar will not permit the team to make wholesale changes to the FW35 before the final two 'flyaways' in China and Bahrain, which run back-to-back over the next two weekends.
"After a difficult two races, we've been back at the factory going through the data to try to understand where we need to improve," he confirmed, "We feel we have a better understanding of where we are, and the whole team has been working hard to improve our competitiveness going into the next few races. Ultimately, however, we are looking at a significant upgrade for the Spanish Grand Prix.”
While the majority of teams will look to bring the first serious overhaul to their technical packages to the known quantity of the Circuit de Catalunya, Coughlan hopes that Williams can make a dent on the early season pecking order in Shanghai, which presents a different challenge to the heat and humidity of Sepang.
"The ambient conditions in China will be kinder, although the weather can be quite changeable,” he noted, “However, the cooler temperatures we expect are not only more favourable for the car, but also for both the team and driver."
Rookie Bottas recovered from running last on the opening lap to finish within a couple of seconds of the points by the end of the Malaysian round, giving the Finn confidence heading into race three.
"I was unlucky not to score my first points in the last race and, whilst we aren't quite where we feel we should be, the team has been working hard to understand the car and bring a package to this race that's a step forward in performance," he confirmed, “I have experience driving the Shanghai International Circuit as I drove in FP1 last year and it's a track that shares similar characteristics to the last grand prix in Malaysia. Getting the tyres to work will be the biggest challenge facing all of the teams, as the temperatures are often low and the smooth track surface is quite different to what we saw in the first two races.”