Lance Stroll was the first of the Williams drivers to hit trouble, spinning off at the end of the Wellington Straight and beaching his FW41 in the gravel, necessitating a red flag. The session had barely got going again when Sergey Sirotkin repeated the trick at Stowe in the sister car, and though he was able to get going again, both drivers were eliminated in the opening stage for the sixth time this season.
Having investigated what happened, Williams were quick to rule out driver error, saying both spins were caused by a new aerodynamic ‘phenomenon’.
“We have a phenomenon which we have not seen all year, or indeed ever before, whereby the DRS activation intermittently causes a complete loss of aerodynamic floor loading which does not recover at the entry to the subsequent corner,” explained Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe.
“In the case of both spins, the cars entered the corner with no load in the floor which had obvious consequences. We came to this event with a number of new bodywork items which we evaluated during FP1 and FP2.
“This new DRS-related phenomenon was seen only once in FP1 on one of the cars but was incorrectly diagnosed to be related to a particular configuration which we chose not to carry forward into FP2 and for qualifying and the race. We must now understand exactly what change in the cars caused this phenomenon which is entirely related to the use of DRS.”
Stroll, who was left without a time in the session, said he had no idea what was about to befall him.
“I did the exact same thing I had been doing all weekend into corner six and the car just snapped, really aggressively,” he explained.
“We have been fighting stability problems all season as the car is very unpredictable and we have to look into it in more detail. It was just odd, as it was so aggressive and I was quite shocked at how it happened so suddenly. Then, I was buried in the gravel and there was nothing that I could do.”
Even without the issues, Sirotkin admitted it was unlikely they’d have qualified much further up than they did.
“This weekend, even with an ideal lap, we would still be six tenths off making it into Q2," he said. "That is the probably the most disappointing thing for us.”
Heading into their home race, Williams remain bottom of the constructors’ standings with just four points. Sadly for Sir Frank’s team, it seems unlikely they’ll be able to add to that tally this weekend.