BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Williams driver Pastor Maldonado unveiled the team's new car on Tuesday, saying he believed the FW35 could close the gap on its Formula One rivals.
Maldonado and new teammate Valtteri Bottas presented the revamped car at the same Catalunya Circuit where Maldonado won the Spanish Grand Prix last year, the team's only victory in 2012. The Venezuelan also drove it during the preseason test being held here this week.
"Last year we won a race and were competitive, but this season we must be even more competitive which I believe is possible," Maldonado said. "Consistency will be our aim to close the gap to the teams in front."
The British team said the car has a new gearbox and rear suspension, as well as changes to its nose and body, and more aerodynamic upgrades were in store after the season-opening Australian Grand Prix next month.
Maldonado completed 86 laps, second only to Fernando Alonso's 110 in his Ferrari, and clocked the fifth fastest lap at one minute, 23.733 seconds. "It was a good day," said Maldonado. "I still need to get used to the car, but after two laps I was trying to find its limit."
The car's christening was not without its setbacks. Williams spokeswoman Sophie Eden confirmed media reports that the FIA told Williams it had doubts about the legality of its new exhaust design. She said the team had asked for further information and would continue forward with its test program.
Maldonado, for his part, said he was not concerned and that the team "would be looking to fight in Melbourne." After hitting a low point in 2011 with only five points to show for the entire season, Williams rebounded nicely last year with Maldonado's win in Spain from pole position as he held off Alonso for the team's 114th title and its first since 2004.
Celebrations for the long-awaited return to the top of the podium, however, were immediately cut short when a fire broke out in the team's garage that injured 16 people and sent one to the hospital with severe burns. From that point on Williams wouldn't have a car finish better than fifth place and ended the constructors' championship eighth in a 12-team field.
Founder and team principal Frank Williams said he was hopeful his latest car could "challenge" with the upper-echelon of teams, most likely to again be occupied by Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren. "We will have to wait until Australia to truly see what we have, but we believe it is step forward from last year's car which was also a very competitive vehicle," he said. "Williams has been at the top many times over the last 30 years. It's the nature of the sport to have ups and downs, but when we are down we always fight our way back. I'm hoping that with the current team we have in place, (...) we will be in a position to challenge the very best."
The team's ninth and last constructors' title came in 1997. While Maldonado will need to match his speed from last year with steadier driving so as to remain in the points, Williams' success as a team will also depend on Bottas having a good first season.
Bottas replaced Bruno Senna after spending last season as a reserve driver for Williams. The 23-year-old Finn, who started driving karts when he was six, drove in 15 practice sessions before being promoted to race driver.
"I'm really excited," said Bottas. "The moment the start lights go out in Melbourne is a moment I have been building toward my whole career." Williams will have seven more days of practice in two separate tests in Barcelona to prepare for the Australian GP on March 17. It was the last team of the 11 in competition to present its car for this year.