Williams' head of vehicle performance Rob Smedley insists that there was never an attempt to deny Valtteri Bottas a pass on team-mate Felipe Massa as the pair scrapped over the lead of the British Grand Prix.
The Grove team found itself in the hitherto unusual position of leading a grand prix, on merit, with of its cars after Massa and Bottas vaulted past the two Mercedes drivers from the second row of the Silverstone grid. Once in front, the FW37s appeared to have similar pace to the Silver Arrows, with Lewis Hamilton seemingly unable to get close enough to think about a pass in the first 20 laps.
The world champion, however, hung around ominously and, with Williams' inferior tyre wear combining with the superior Mercedes package, Bottas became increasingly keen to pass Massa for the lead. The first call from pit-wall clearly ordered there to be no racing between Finn and Brazilian, even as Bottas ask for permission to attack.
It was only after a couple of laps of consideration, under ongoing requests from the Finn, that Williams relented, telling Bottas that he could make a move provided it was 'clean' and he could pull away afterwards. The driver's response, however, was a frustrated 'too late' as he felt his tyres beginning to lose performance.
The next incident of note came during the pit-stop window, with Hamilton taking the opportunity to stop first, perhaps knowing that the Williams had to run longer in order to make the hard Pirellis last over the second half of the race. The Briton's timing – as it would later in the afternoon – was perfect, and he emerged at the head of the field once Williams had serviced both its drivers.
The arrival of rain over Silverstone was the final straw for the fan favourite, as the slippery conditions not only allowed Nico Rosberg to complete a Mercedes 1-2, but also saw Sebastian Vettel take advantage of the FW37's dislike of the treacherous track surface to take third in the same pit window as Hamilton.
Wet weather aside, could it have been different if Bottas had been allowed to take charge, leaving Massa to keep Mercedes at bay while he made good his escape? The Finn lamented the missed opportunity – 'There were possibly things we could have done today in the race,” he noted, “We were fighting, even for the win' – but Smedley insists that the team's approach was right, even if it resulted in neither driver making the podium.
“We were happy to let them race as long as they weren't holding each other up,” the Briton explained, “As long as they weren't holding each other up, as long as they weren't fighting hard and battling, which was what was happening in those first laps and then we were going back into the clutches of Mercedes and we didn't want to do that.
“After a couple of laps, when it all calmed down, I said 'if you can make a clean pass, then it's absolutely fine, you're racing again'.”
Williams was more concerned about the timing of its pit-stops, aware that it could not make the harder Pirelli last as long as perhaps Mercedes could. Despite knowing that Hamilton could try to undercut both cars ahead of him by stopping first, Smedley and the pit-wall kept stretching the stint.
“We didn't want to go too early, we wanted to make sure that we could make the one stop happen,” he confirmed, “That was absolutely our main priority because we knew that was the fastest strategy. It's always that cat-and-mouse game of not having to stop too early so you run out of tyres at the end, and that was the decision we were making.
“We were watching what Mercedes were going to do, knowing that they had a quicker car, [and] it was just the balance of not waiting too long, but not stopping too early so we'd run out of tyres before the end of the race.”
In the end, Hamilton stopped a lap before either Williams driver and emerged in front of both when they returned to the track, effectively ending Grove's hopes of a rare victory. Having both cars rejoin between the Mercedes pair, however, the podium – even a double one - remained a possibility until the rain arrived, upon which a charging Rosberg accounted for both white machines, and Vettel capitalised on a perfectly-timed switch to intermediates.
“We were waiting until the right time to stop,” Smedley admitted, “I think Lewis stopped earlier than us, and he made a really great decision there. We were just trying to watch our sectors and, in fact, the middle sector – on the lap where he stopped – was getting much quicker. The rain was just hitting at the pit exit area and on the pit straight.
“When it did hit, Sebastian had probably 15 seconds more or something to make that decision, when it clearly was going to be wet. Our cars were then just past the pit entrance and, once you past the pit entry, you just have to do another lap like that. That was really disappointing. It's always a case of trying to get it spot on and, unfortunately, with the positions where our cars were on the track, we were just a lap too late...”