Williams could have got both cars to the finish of the Singapore Grand Prix in the points had it not been for the intervention of the safety car, according to the team's head of performance engineering Rob Smedley.
Despite claiming that he was extremely happy with the outcome of what he suggested was the best race the team had managed operationally since his arrival at the start of the year, Smedley believes that, even with the steering issue that contributed to excess tyre wear for Valtteri Bottas, they could have sandwiched the second of the Ferraris as the chequered flag, limiting the inroads the Scuderia would make into its points lead.
“Valtteri drove 27 laps or whatever with a steering wheel that appears just to have a huge amount of friction in there,” he reported, confirming the Finn's initial assessment of the problem.
“He just couldn't get a good feeling from the car and wasn't getting any feedback through the steering wheel so [he struggled] to manage the tiny little oversteer moments and wheelspin as Felipe [Massa] was able to do. We had a clear example from Felipe, who actually had one more lap on his tyres, that without [Bottas' problem] we would probably have been able to get both cars to the end in, with [Jean-Eric] Vergne coming through, fifth and seventh positions - and, in front of one of the Ferraris which, in terms of our championship fight, would have been very good.”
Although the first half of the race passed off without incident, the clash between Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil just past the mid-point required the safety car to clear an excessive amount of debris from the track, and this was the point, in Smedley's opinion, that Williams' race changed.
“When the safety car first came out, we said 'we'll never get to the end from here',” he revealed, “It was clear why the option runners had to stop because the option was high 'deg' [but] we didn't think at that point that, if we were going to race the tyres to the end of the race, they would have lasted.
“So we thought 'okay, we're in a reasonable position' and, with how long we expected the safety car to be out, we thought we were going to have to split the race in two. However, when the safety car stayed out so long, it had a double effect. One, it shortened the race as we would reach the two-hour limit and, two, it meant we had done lots of laps under the safety car on the tyres. As it's thermal degradation here, there was effectively zero degradation for those laps.
“That's going to be 38 laps - which is effectively 31 – [to the end] and we thought we could get to 21, so we were asking for ten more laps out of the tyres. It wasn't actually a big ask, but we asked the drivers to slow their pace to manage the tyres, knowing that, if we had traction at the end of the race, no matter where the front tyres were and no matter where we were under braking, no-one was ever going to get past us with our power and straight-line speed.
“With Felipe, that all worked out very well but, with Valtteri, and the mitigating circumstances of the steering and the [lack of] feedback, he just wasn't able to manage it. He did a bloody good job to be honest to manage it for that long, but you get ten laps in after the safety car and its a no-brainer - you have to stay out.”
Although Bottas tumbled from sixth to eleventh, and out of the points, on the final lap, Smedley insisted that the team had performed a great race.
“I think, with what's happened through the weekend and the footwork we were able to execute today on the pitwall, we put [Massa] ahead of a faster car in terms of Kimi [Raikkonen],” he said, “I don't think you can really ask for more than that really.
“Fernando [Alonso] was a bit too far away and the Red Bulls as well - and we don't even have to mention Lewis [Hamilton]! We were where we expected to be in terms of pace and I have to say that, overall, I'm very happy and encouraged that the gaps to Red Bull and Ferrari were certainly less than I expected them to be at the start of the weekend.
“On balance, the team operated very well. We went into the race expecting to be stopping early because we wanted to jump people, and that's exactly what we did - both cars managed to get past the McLarens and Kimi, and that was really, really good work by then pit wall. Ultimately, barring what happened to Valtteri right at the end, I'm really happy.”