Williams has produced a car that is a "night and day" improvement over its 2011 challenger, according its top engineer Mark Gillan.
Pastor Maldonado threw away sixth place in the Australian Grand Prix last weekend with a crash on the final lap, having driven strongly throughout the race and put Fernando Alonso's Ferrari under late pressure. But although the end result was a disappointment for Williams, especially as it would have delivered the team more points than it scored throughout the whole of 2011, chief operations engineer Gillan believes there are still reasons to be happy.
"It was a bittersweet day, but I am generally pleased and proud of the guys for what has been done over the close season," he told AUTOSPORT. "And when you look at the FW34, compared to what we had last year, it is a night and day difference."
Gillan feels that Williams now has a good idea of where its car is stronger and weaker than the opposition, which should allow it to build on its competitiveness.
"Our pace in testing had been good, and we were being very honest in terms of fuel levels," he said. "We knew we were strong and tire wear had improved, but we were still pleasantly surprised how competitive the car was.
"It was nice to be chasing down a Ferrari and a Red Bull in the race. So, that is a really positive thing to bring forward to Malaysia. We just need to capitalize on the car's performance. Last year we didn't have that; this year we have a proper racecar and are really looking forward to the next races.
"We now have a good platform to develop. It reacts well to change and there is a strong direction in the factory, and that feeds through to the next races."