Valtteri Bottas is optimistic that Williams can join the list of F1 racewinners this season, even though he expects the teams around him to improve too.
The Finn confirmed that Williams was already ahead of where it was in its preparations this time last season, suggesting the FW37 is capable of taking the fight to the likes of Mercedes and Red Bull, who shared the victory spoils in 2014.
“I think, if we can start the season as we finished , as a team, how we operate, we are a team that can win races if we have a quick enough car,” Bottas noted, “I think, this year, we are more ready to maximise the potential of the car.
“We're better than last year because everything was new last year. We have more mileage this year than last year and, next week, we can get into some really good set-up work. I feel, as a whole, as a team, we are more ready for this season than we were for last year, but we do know that everyone is going to go forward.
“We've made steps forward, but so has everyone else, so we need to just keep doing what we are doing, trying to improve all the time and then see where we are in Melbourne. I think it is going to be close this year.”
With Ferrari and, latterly, Lotus setting the pace during testing, last year's front-runners have admitted to having had 'their eyes opened', and Bottas confirms that, while testing usually throws up a few unrepresentative results, Williams will need to keep a check on more than just the reigning champions.
“I think we need to be aware of everyone really at this point,” he acknowledged, “It is clear that Ferrari has improved and it is also possible that Red Bull has improved. We know that we have improved from last year, for sure, and Mercedes is going to be strong again, but I have the feeling that everything is going to be closer this year. In terms of where we are going to be, that is still a question mark, but I think we are going to be there or thereabouts.”
Bottas also believes that Williams' return to the forefront last season, where it regularly proved to be the closest competitor to a dominant Mercedes team, will help in the heat of battle this time around.
“I think, last year, we learned a lot because the competition is so much tighter at the front and every single mistake that we made, or I made, always costs more,” he reasoned, “In 2013, if we had a bad race strategy or if a driver made a mistake, it made less of an impact than last year, so it was good [to go through that] as it gave us a lot of confidence that we are a good team and we can fight at the front.”
Williams chief test engineer Rod Nelson confirmed that Ferrari and Red Bull looked likely to join the list of contenders at the front this season, although he too refused to rule out anyone from joining the party.
“I think it is reasonable to say that Mercedes have got the legs on everyone at the moment,” he surmised, “Red Bull may not be so clear but we're reasonably... - not 'satisfied', that's the wrong word - but we know where we are, we know our performance deficits and we know where we need additional work.
“[Ferrari] are better than last year, and I imagine a chunk of that has come with the engine, [but] they tend to be competitive in winter testing and maybe not when we start going racing. But that's not to say you should dismiss them as they're certainly closer than last year, that's pretty clear. You keep an eye on everyone!”