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Pat Symonds Q&A: P2 a tough ask for Williams - but not impossible!

26 Feb 2016

They might not have scored as many podiums as they had the previous year, but in 2015 Williams consolidated their position as the third best team on the grid behind Mercedes and Ferrari. The question now is, can they kick on and challenge the big two in 2016? That, according to Williams’ chief technical officer Pat Symonds, is certainly the aim, though as he explains in this exclusive interview, it will be far from easy…

Q: Pat, the first test of the new Formula One season is history. Do you already have a gut feeling of how Williams will do in 2016?

Pat Symonds: Ah, well, when you start testing and things are going wrong you definitely know; if they are going well you can never be quite sure and I think we are in that kind of situation. We certainly don’t have any problems, but particularly now that testing is compressed to eight days there is a lot of routine work to do and you are never quite sure how people go about that. I was very much surprised on day one that people already started to run the ultrasoft tyres, as this is something that you normally wouldn’t see. So all I can say at this stage is that everything is going well for Williams and I think we will be out there and fighting.

Q: After the first test last year things looked really promising for Williams heading into 2015. How much ended up going to plan? And where were the shortcomings that you want to eliminate in 2016?

PS: Well, our ambition going into 2015 was to obtain our position in the top three. I think most people forgot where Williams were in 2013 - where we came from. Actually in 2015 we took a brave decision very early on in the season to limit the development that we were doing on the car and move onto the 2016 car - and despite that we achieved what we wanted: finishing third in the championship. Coming back to your question of whether everything went according to plan in 2015, racing people want to win - that what it’s all about - so we didn’t achieve that. The reality is that to finish third in such an intense championship with the budget that we have is something we really should be proud of. So yes, we did achieve our objectives - and now let’s see where we get this year.

Q: A harsh person might argue that Williams almost finished P3 by default. The usual front-runners like Red Bull Racing and McLaren had severe engine troubles and it would have been a big surprise for Force India to do better than P5…

PS: Ha, that’s not very fair to say, is it? It is a fact in sport that the outcome of any competition is not just the function of your ability - it is also the function of the ability of you competitors. In 2014 McLaren had the same power unit as we did and we quite clearly beat them. So it is not just the Honda problems or the Renault problems that got us there [to P3], as I think you implied. A season is long, as we all know, and it is our job to be competitive throughout the whole season. Red Bull were competitive at the end of 2015, but they started slow - and this competitive environment isn’t forgiving! So there is no way I would ever think that we didn’t deserve to finish in P3. We have clearly been the third power on the grid.  

Q: Is P3 also Williams’ destiny for this season? The scenario looks pretty much the same…

PS: Why not say P2? (laughs) I would say our realistic goal is always to fight for the podium and if you fight for the podium it means you are fighting in the top three - and that is realistic. But I also have to say it is still quite ambitious. I think we would be proud if we maintained third. The fact is to finish third in the championship is a good thing in any given year.  

Q: Will Williams be able to attack Ferrari? Mercedes are probably a bit far off…

PS: Ferrari is a target. Ferrari is iconic and therefore every team dreams of beating them. They did a great job last year and they can be a tough challenge this year!

Q: It might come down to engines. How close do you think your engine is to that used by Mercedes?

PS: We get absolutely the same engine. It was only on one occasion - at Monza last year - where they ran a different engine that was better than the customer engines, but we knew about it beforehand. The rest of the season was completely equal. And this goes also for the whole 2016 season: no difference between works team and customer teams.  

Q: Power unit manufacturers who also run teams - isn’t that a bit uncomfortable?

PS: No. Remember I’ve been on the other side with Renault when we supplied Red Bull with engines. Back then the customers were allowed to develop the engine - and that was only for them and we, the works team, didn’t get to know about it.  

Q: Right now there are ongoing discussions about the engines and how they are supplied to the teams for 2017…

PS: Yes, it is a process that was given time until the end of April.  

Q: One year ago you said that Valtteri Bottas has the world champion gene. You also said that there is still a title within Felipe Massa. Did both live up to your expectations in 2015?

PS: They both lived up to my expectations. I would still stand by that statement now one year on. Valtteri learned a lot and Felipe is still quick. I really don’t think much has changed. And Williams has continuity this year - same drivers, same engineers - and that counts for a lot. So it should work for us.  

Q: Will there be continuity for 2017 too, with all the big rule changes?

PS: Yes, with such big changes coming our way the continuity of engineers and drivers is even more important.

Q: So we will see the same drivers at Williams in 2017?

PS: Who knows? But I would be very happy.

Q: What did you impress upon your drivers for this season?

PS: I don’t think we need to. We work as a team and therefore we’re always learning from each other and coaching. But with the drivers there is not really anything you can say - not 'look, do this or do that'. As a team - which includes the drivers - we’ve still got a little bit of work to do in terms of getting the best out of the tyres, and in that respect the drivers contribute a lot. But you cannot tell them if you brake a bit later in that sector you’ll go quicker! (laughs)