by Russell Atkins

Sir Frank Williams has praised his drivers after a Canadian Grand Prix that saw one them enjoy the "best performance of his Formula 1 career" and the other claim a podium finish on the tenth anniversary of his debut in the top flight.

Alex Wurz finished the race around the challenging Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in third position, having started all the way back in 19th and despite an early collision with Scott Speed that damaged the rear wing of the Austrian's FW29. The result marked the Grove-based squad's first rostrum appearance since Nick Heidfeld at the N?rburgring just over two years ago, and though it was undoubtedly aided by numerous accidents and four safety car periods, it was nevertheless a welcome lift for the multiple world championship-winning outfit on the back of a desultory 2006 that saw them register just eleven points - two fewer than their current tally after only six races of the current campaign.

Team-mate Nico Rosberg, meanwhile, ran a strong fifth from the outset, comfortably ahead of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and looking set for the best finish of his early grand prix career. That was until his efforts were undone by an unavoidable stop-go penalty - when, like Fernando Alonso, low fuel forced him to come into the pit-lane under the safety car while it was still closed - and a late-race spin that left him just outside the points as the chequered flag fell. Sixth-fastest race lap, less than a second shy of the ultimate pace, was small consolation.

"Alex was in the right place at the right time and never made a mistake," veteran team principal Williams told journalists at the end of the race. "The races often are chaotic in Canada. One year I remember there was a pace car out for 25 laps.

"If part of your car is missing it can damage your confidence, but Alex made the most of his opportunities. We were just hoping he would finish; everyone was very happy when he did cross the line. It will help his confidence a great deal I'm sure.

"Nico was flying and possibly on for a podium, or certainly fourth or fifth place at the least. I think that was the best performance of his Formula 1 career so far in terms of being competitive."

Admitting to being far happier with both the progress and reliability of the FW29 than he was with last year's unloved FW28, Williams was hopeful of another strong performance in the US Grand Prix this coming weekend, though he stressed another podium would be a tall order.

"It might be different at Indy," he acknowledged. "The two McLarens are faster than us, as are the BMWs and Ferraris, so we would need a bit of luck."

Technical director Sam Michael was equally effusive about Williams' showing in Montreal, stressing it was just reward for all the hard work that had been put in by everyone there over the past months.

"It was a fantastic day for both Alex and the team," the Australian affirmed. "He ran a one-stop strategy and was carrying a lot of fuel for much of the race, as well as coping with the super-soft tyre for 40 laps and the loss of downforce due to damage to his rear wing sustained when Speed ran into him. He did a really good job, kept his head down and never gave up despite all the problems.

"Nico was very unlucky. His pace was really good, he had everyone around him covered and he would have been on for a podium, but he missed the safety car pit window by 13 seconds. We had no option but to bring him in and take the penalty, otherwise he would have run out of fuel. He suffered because of the new safety car regulations, but we secured six points which is great for the team following a great effort from everyone at the factories in Grove and Cologne."

 

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