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Q&A: Rob Smedley defends Williams strategy following the British GP

Head of vehicle performance says team were maximising points and explains quick starts

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We explain the British GP from the perspective of Williams

After Williams went from running one-two to finishing off the podium, Rob Smedley faced the written media to try to defend the team's strategy.

What was the decision making process at the start of the race when you told the drivers to stop fighting?

"The key thing there was we didn't want to get held up fighting each other too hard and that was the message that we gave because if they were fighting each other too hard then we weren't pulling away from Mercedes. We saw that we could have a reasonable pace against them, we knew that they were saving up their tyres until the end of the stint and we had to make sure we still had good tyres. Once it became clear that everything had calmed down a little bit then they were free to race as long as it was a clean pass and they weren't going to be backing each other up into the Mercedes then that was absolutely fine. We gave that message maybe two laps later and they carried on like that until the stops."

Did you think about using one driver to back up the Mercedes to let the other get away?

More from British Gp 2015

"No, because we don’t want to favour one driver over the other. It is a team effort and the main thing is we wanted to get as many points as possible for the team. The team comes before anybody, it is Frank’s team - that is clear - and that was our number one objective, to get the points for the team."

Other teams like Ferrari would have done that though…

"This isn't Ferrari or any other team for that matter. This is Williams and we have our rules of engagement and the rules of engagement were that we were happy to let them race as long as they weren't holding each other up.”

Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas got ahead of the Mercedes cars in the opening laps
Image: Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas leapt ahead of the Mercedes cars in the opening laps

Was Valtteri arguing back on the radio and saying he wasn't going to sit behind?

"No, not really, you don’t get all the team radio, the radio message was bit more clear cut than that, it was pretty much as long as they weren't holding each other up, battling and fighting hard – which is what was happening in the first laps – and we were then falling back into the clutches of Mercedes. After a couple of laps when it had all calmed down we said ‘if you can make a clean pass then you are racing again’."

What was your thinking with the timing of your first stop?

"We were coming up to it and didn't want to go too early to make sure we nailed the one-stop, we wanted to make sure that we could make the one-stop happen, that was absolutely our main priority because we knew that was the fastest strategy and it is always that cat and mouse game of not having stopped too early that you run out of tyres at the end. That was the decision we were making, we were watching what Mercedes were doing, knowing that they had a quicker car, you saw their in-laps and they were quite stunning and their pit-stops were very, very good as well."

Did you consider bringing one of your drivers in early to cover the undercut?

"Yeah we considered that, of course we wanted to cover against the undercut and it was coming up to that lap, it was going to be either that lap or a couple of laps later, but again the undercut was all important and we were trying to protect against that, but it has to be the balance of not stopping too early and running out of tyres at the end of the race."

Williams pit stop strategy came under scrutiny
Image: Williams pit stop strategy came under scrutiny

When it started to rain why did you leave the drivers out so long? Were you hoping that you wouldn't need inters?

"We were waiting for the right time to stop and I think Lewis stopped one lap earlier than us and he made a great decision there. We were just trying to watch our sector and in fact that middle of the lap when he stopped was getting much quicker. The rain was just hitting at the pit exit area and when it did hit Sebastian Vettel probably had another 15 seconds to make that decision when it was clearly going to be wet and our cars were just past the pit entry and once you've passed the pit entry you have to do another lap like that."

Was rain on your strategy?

"We knew there would be a chance towards the end of the race so we were always on the lookout and then was the race went on it became clear that the rain was going to hit at some point and then it is a case of trying to get it right. When the rain first came we saw cars pit and go onto the inters and that was way too early and they had to pit again because they had run out of tyres when it really did start raining. Unfortunately with the positions our cars were in on track we were just a lap late."

Bottas was asking early on to come in and was told to stay out – who ultimately made the decision on when to pit?

"When it is a dry track going to wet, the drivers must guide us - and they did guide us - but unfortunately it was just too late, because once they realised that the track was too wet to stay out they were already past the pit entry. But when we were talking about it at the start when it was just spitting with rain we were looking at the track and saying ‘it is dry at the minute’, but their feedback was that they could see rain. Looking at the lap times and the condition of the track at that point, it was clear we needed to stay out."

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Williams Head of Performance Engineering Rob Smedley explains the team's orders for their drivers to hold station ahead of the Mercedes pair at the start

Valtteri was adamant he wanted to come for the wet tyres - was there no temptation to gamble with him and bring him in early and leave Massa out, even a lap before Hamilton did ultimately pit?

"No, not really. I think when Valtteri was saying that, and he was quite right with his feedback, but we saw one of the Ferraris come in at that point and he then had to stop again. Raikkonen came in at the point and fitted the wet tyres and it was just too dry and then when did the rain did come he had to stop again because he had destroyed his inter tyres on the dry track. So there was no question of having a gamble."

Do you think your drivers made a particularly good start or did the Mercedes make a bad one?

"It was a combination of the two."

Did you change anything on the launch?

"No it is the same as ever. We just got our starts spot on and you saw other people, the cars on the first and third rows, not making particularly good starts so ours looked quite stunning."

Williams got ahead at the start of the race
Image: Williams got ahead at the start of the race

Do you see this performance as something you can take into future races or do you see the weekend as an opportunity lost?

"I think that the weekend on a whole for us has been really, really positive. We come here, we thought the car would be good here, all the upgrades and everything we have done with the car worked really, really well. It is the first weekend I think since the start of the season that we have been clearly faster than what is our closest competitor, Ferrari, we were faster in qualifying and had a similar pace advantage in the dry. So I think the thing we will take from that is that it has been a really positive weekend. The final result hasn't worked out for various reasons, but what is clear is that in the dry we were the second quickest car here and clearly the second quickest car."

You were running one-two at one point but finished fourth and fifth - are you happy with that or is there a sense of disappointment with that?

"Of course there is a sense of disappointment. We come here because we want to win, that is why we all get out of bed in the morning. There is a fair amount of pragmatism to that desire and of course we wanted to get both of cars on our podium when we got ourselves into a really favourable position. We know there is nothing magic in it, Mercedes are stuck behind you and they have a quicker car and it was going to be awfully difficult to have both of our cars in front of theirs so we do have a fair amount of pragmatism. We do want to come here and race and win and get both cars on the podium, it hasn't happened and of course we are all disappointed."

Will the proposals to limit driver aids, particularly at the start, have any impact on the starts we saw today?

“I wouldn't have thought it will have a big effect.”

So is the rule change a waste of time?

"Err... I don’t think it will have a big effect."

Could it cause safety concerns?

"It could. The biggest thing it could do is mean people get it horribly wrong, I don't think to the actual performance of the start it is going to make a big difference at all, everybody's performance may be downgraded slightly as we don’t have the perfect clutch settings, but on average it isn't going to make a big difference."

Don’t miss the F1 Midweek Report for all the analysis of the British GP. Former FIA president Max Mosley and F1 correspondent for The Times Kevin Eason join Natalie Pinkham in the studio. Catch it at 8:30pm on Wednesday July 8 on Sky Sports F1.

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