Calan Williams is ready to take any chances he can to climb his way up into the points during Sunday's Feature Race, having already proved he’s capable of holding his own when fighting it out with the Formula 2 Championship frontrunners.
An underwhelming Qualifying session had him languishing P18 on the grid for the Sprint Race. However, the Australian driver pulled out one of the best starts of his rookie F2 campaign so far, rocketing up the order to sit comfortably in P12 by the time the Safety Car made an appearance at the end of the opening lap.
Whilst several drivers floundered towards the latter stages of the race due to heavy tyre degradation, he ensured that his medium compound Pirelli tyres didn’t fall off such a dramatic performance cliff despite several fearless battles during middle of the Sprint. Although his promising pace didn’t translate into points, the Trident driver believes he extracted the maximum out of the day’s running given that he’d started on the back foot.
“The start was really good, I made-up quite a few places just on Lap 1 already, which when you start so far back unfortunately is very important,” he summarised afterwards. “That put us in a great place for the whole race. From there, I think the biggest struggle for everyone was the graining. The front left tyre was really struggling with the conditions and trying to manage the race with such high amounts of graining was a real challenge. It also made the fighting quite difficult because if you were always unsure how much grip you could have from the front axle.
“I knew my plan was. What I would have preferred to do was stay out and try and hold track position because in the end, that's what won the race last year. Maybe it wasn't in theory the best strategy, but I think because of the medium tyre we have now, it's been quite strong this year. It didn't drop off as much as in the past, and so I knew I had to expect the graining and it was something I was going to struggle with the whole race.
“Regardless of how you tried to manage it, it’s just one thing that was always going to be there. They say there's two things certain in life - taxes and death, and I think for this race, the third thing that was certain was front-left graining. It was just learning to manage that and doing what you could to work around the problem.
“Overall, from my side, I don’t think I could have gained much more from that race. Maybe I could have finished P10 if a few things were different, but with what I had and where I started, I honestly think that was close to the best result I could have come up with today.”
One of his fiercest battles was with Championship contender Théo Pourchaire, as he got his elbows out and went on the defensive. On lap 18, the ART Grand Prix driver recreated a move he’d successfully executed several times already on Saturday, attempting to post himself up the inside of Turn 1. However, Williams slammed the door in his face, going wheel-to-wheel into Turn 2, snatching the inside line and forcing the Frenchman to go the long way around and eventually back out of the overtake.
While Pourchaire did make his way through in the end, it took until lap 23 before he could make his pass stick. Buzzing with excitement about sizing up to the likes of Pourchaire, Williams was thrilled that doing his homework before the weekend paid off with an opportunity to showcase his growing confidence and ever-improving racing skills.
“That was great! That was really good fun. It's something that I've been trying to work on this season is my race craft and so having such a good battle like that and managing to fight hard with a Championship contender, someone who actually had some really good pace in that race – he came from nowhere behind me and was really fast. So, to have had that battle and kept him behind for as long as I did, I'm really happy with it and I think it shows some really good signs of improvement from my side in that aspect.
“I studied all the past races; I knew exactly what I would need to do to defend. Basically, looking at in in history through F3, F2 and F1 when people have made the move, what have they done? And when people haven't made the move, how have the other drivers defended? I think learning from that as much as possible really helped me today because I felt like going into the battle, I already knew exactly what I needed to do to defend.
"It's one of those things where I watch someone overtake and it's not just telling me that ‘okay, now I can learn from that and that’s a really good method of overtaking’, but I also look at where the defending driver failed and what could have been better. I try and look at it from both aspects and I think that preparation for this weekend gave me a lot of confidence in that battle.”
With the weather conditions creating a huge question mark looming over the drivers’ preparation for the Feature Race, Williams admits he doesn’t care about moving up places unless it’s into the top 10 and the points-paying points, adding that he’s prepared to gamble on whatever strategy will give him at least a fighting chance of doing so – as long as he can recreate his blistering getaway.
“Honestly similar to today, just get a really good start. The start was fine, so I'm sure I can just do the same thing again tomorrow and then go from there. We have the big opportunity with the strategy which we can use to play into our hands. We'll have a look at from my starting position what the best strategy will be going into tomorrow. How much risk we take versus reward because we still have eight places to gain to get to the points, which is obviously the goal.
“I need to discuss with the team what strategy is going to give us the best, not necessarily the best expected finishing position, but what's going to give us the best chance for getting the points because as far as I'm concerned, finishing 11th is the same as finishing 20th – there's no point. If we have to take some risk that gives us a better chance than we'll definitely be taking that, and I just have to drive the best I can.”