Friday favourite: The era-ending F1 Williams that made its mark

The Williams-Renault partnership produced some of the most successful Formula 1 cars of the 1990s, including five constructors’ world championships. Yet it’s perhaps the least-remembered of the family, the FW35 that was only ninth-fastest on Supertimes in 2013, that resonates with factory Mercedes GT driver Daniel Juncadella as his favourite car.

The DTM veteran singles out the most recent Williams-Renault and the final V8 Williams, that scored just five points in Valtteri Bottas and Pastor Maldonado’s hands, having sampled it over two days during the Silverstone rookie test.

“It was an absolute rocket,” the Spaniard recalls. “For me, the V8s were the ultimate experience.”

In the early phases of a career that has been closely intertwined with Mercedes for much of the past decade – his 2019 season in the short-lived R-Motorsport Aston Martin DTM programme aside – Juncadella’s appearance at F1’s 2013 Silverstone rookie test with a Renault-powered outfit wasn’t without controversy. But with Mercedes banned from participating in the rookie test, after its three-day in-season tyre test at Barcelona in a current car came to light, the 2012 European Formula 3 champion’s best shot at logging valuable F1 mileage was gone.

“I was already in DTM with Mercedes as a contracted driver, but I was still aiming to have a shot at F1 and I was testing for Mercedes F1 in the simulator,” explains Juncadella, who since that 2013 DTM rookie season has represented the marque across multiple series including GT World Challenge Europe, IMSA and the Nurburgring 24 Hours.

“I had my big sponsor from F3, Astana, that had some budget for me for that season to do GP2 – but I didn’t do GP2 in the end so we had some budget that we could use. We found some space in the Williams F1 car for the season and in return we could do the young driver test. It was my only opportunity to get some mileage in the F1 car.”

Williams had Renault engines when Mercedes protege Juncadella tested, which caused some friction Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

Although it didn’t exactly please Toto Wolff and the Mercedes hierarchy – “he was not super-happy when I did the test with Williams at that time because of the Renault engine, but it was not a big story” – Juncadella impressed the Williams engineers, outpacing regular driver Pastor Maldonado.

“The test was very good,” he says. “I really enjoyed it, I felt at home and they even wanted to give me half a day on the second day. We had some glitches on the first day and we couldn’t really go through our programme, but it was really good. I liked working with the team, the engineers were great. I had a great time and the atmosphere was amazing.”

Juncadella believes he was the team’s first pick to be its reserve driver in 2014, with Felipe Massa already signed up to partner Valtteri Bottas. But by the time his manager was informed by Claire Williams, Juncadella had already committed to Force India – having been led to believe that his sponsorship package couldn’t match that of eventual Williams pick, Felipe Nasr.

Juncadella was a Friday regular for the team now known as Aston Martin in 2014, but preferred the purity of the normally-aspirated 2013-spec machines.

“It was a shame we got the call from Williams when it was a bit late,” says Juncadella.

“That Williams was not super-competitive because that’s the year where Pirelli changed the compounds and some people struggled a lot. Then they had these huge punctures in the Silverstone race and then for the young driver test we went back to the previous compounds and Williams picked up a lot of pace. The car was actually pretty good.”

Juncadella signed as Force India’s Friday driver for 2014, but preferred the Williams he’d sampled in 2013 Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

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