Williams was tipped as a dark horse for a top five performance in the Bahrain Grand Prix after setting eye-opening times in the last pre-season test. But both Rubens Barrichello and Nico Hulkenberg failed to make it through to Q3 in yesterday's qualifying session, taking 11th and 13th on the grid.
Technical director Sam Michael remains optimistic though, as he believes Williams can have a strategic advantage in the race - and that there is much more performance to come from its car. He spoke exclusively to AUTOSPORT after qualifying.
Q. Are you disappointed with today or was it pretty much as expected?
Sam Michael: We're disappointed because we thought we'd been up there. But given how much work we've had in the last month with getting the engine installed and getting through all of the problems, it's not bad.
We're in the middle. We thought we could do better but given all of the new things that we've changed, but it's not too bad. There are a lot of things on the car that are far from optimised at the moment so that's encouraging.
Q. What's the development schedule - will there be a big upgrade for Barcelona?
SM: We'll bring upgrades for Melbourne, Malaysia and Shanghai - every race. We've got a reasonably strong upgrade programme. But more importantly there are three or four areas that are not optimised on the car because of the lack of time that we've had. We will make progress on that pretty quickly.
Q. Have the high temperatures shown any new problems?
SM: That's one of the things that we put a tonne of effort into to make sure that we were cooling and we were massively over-cooled. We've had to back off on the cooling because if you over-cool you lose performance.
Q. What do you expect for the race? How big an advantage is it to be able to choose your starting tyres because you're outside the top 10?
SM: It's a pretty big advantage on the start on the first few laps, especially with getting it up to temperature. We're on the clean side of the grid with both cars, our starts are normally pretty good anyway and I'd be pretty disappointed if we didn't gain a position with both cars.
Q. Is the starting compound decision an easy one?
SM: It's not a straightforward one. We've got the benefit of seeing what everyone ran on.
Q. The degradation difference between the two compounds doesn't seem to be massive?
SM: It's not massive, but it's definitely there. But it will definitely get less tomorrow by the time the track rubbers in.
Q. Are you happy with the performance of your drivers in qualifying?
SM: Good really. Rubens did a good job, which is what we expected of him and Nico did a good job for his first time. He was quite fast up until qualifying and he still did a good job in qualifying but he still has more to come. They are a good combination.
Q. In qualifying we had the big four teams and then the midfield battle led by Renault and Force India that Williams is in. Is the target to win that battle in the race?
SM: Absolutely. Our target for tomorrow is just to get points with both cars. There's definitely good opportunities because I will be amazed if there aren't DNFs tomorrow. I don't think that there are safety cars because it's an easy track to clear, but I think there will be a lot of breakdowns.
Q. Is there potential to use a different strategy to get in among the big four teams?
SM: We won't get to the front because the Red Bulls and the Ferraris are too strong for us at the moment. We are not far off Mercedes and McLaren in pace, so if we do something different on strategy we might be there. It's all a learning game strategy, because it's not straightforward like it used to be.
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