WILLIAMS BACK ON FORM: Williams' deputy team principal Claire Williams believes the team is back to its championship-winning form after a great 2014 season. Image: AP
LONDON, England - Williams is back among Formula 1's top three teams but deputy principal Claire Williams, daughter of founder Frank, did not hesitate when asked if she sensed a return of the Williams of old.
Williams said: "No, it feels like a new Williams. It's not that I don't love the old Williams... but I think for a number of years we've been kind of static, kind of held down, the brand not really knowing where it was, the team not really knowing where it was going."
Williams achieved third overall in 2014, its best performance since 2003.
STRUGGLING FOR PACE
In 2013 Williams scored only five points and finished ninth overall in the team standings after being dominant on the track and winning nine Constructors' and seven Drivers' championships from1980 to 1997.
The team also scored only five points in 2011 and has not finished higher than sixth overall in the previous six years.
So far was the fall from grace that some had begun wondering whether Williams might be headed the same way as now-defunct ex-champion team Tyrrell.
The 2014 season
has highlighted the importance of the switch from Renault to dominant Mercedes engines but the marked improvement in performance comes down to much more than just bolting a different ‘power unit’ into the back of the car.
The arrival of technical head Pat Symonds, who won championships with Benetton and Renault, as chief technical officer in July 2013 was a key moment; others were the signing in 2014 of engineers Jakob Andreasen and Rob Smedley from, respectively, Force India and Ferrari.
'A NEW START'
The arrival of title sponsor Martini refreshed the team’s image.
Williams said: "I think that's played a real part mentally and culturally for a lot of people at Williams and that this is a new, bright, fresh future for the team. It's about a new generation and taking it to re-create the glory days, but in a different way.
"That's really exciting for me. I don't think we've heard one conversation about ‘a fluke for Williams’. It's a new path, a new start."
Williams signed-off the 2014 season at the Abu Dhabi GP with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas second and third to Mercedes' race winner and champion Lewis Hamilton. Massa led the race during Hamilton’s pit-stops and looked threatening throughout.
It would not have come as a huge surprise, in a season that saw Massa on pole in Austria and the team taking nine podium places, if the former Ferrari driver had gone on to win. That has to be his ambition for 2015.
Williams admitted: "It's the next step that's going to be the hardest piece of work. In 2015 it's got to be making that step up and closing the gap to Mercedes... winning races and taking the fight to it.
"It's down to us to challenge them and take victories from them. That's really what we want to do. And to do it not flukily but because the team has the competitive advantage."
'REALLY PICKING UP'
Williams, whose wheelchair-bound father has been in hospital in England for a month for treatment to a pressure sore, said the success on the track was attracting sponsors’ interest.
She said: "It really is picking up. People want to be a part of it. We've lots of really positive conversations… success breeds success, doesn't it?"
"It's not just a team that had great success in the 1990’s but a team with a future."
Some of those brands, she said, were more youth-orientated than before and that, too, was a testament to how Williams had re-positioned itself.