Formula 1’s Summer break, when teams close their factories and their employees enjoy a hard earned break, is an ideal time to reflect on the first half of the 2023 season for Williams Racing and take stock of what’s gone well, and what’s proved to be more of a challenge for the Grove outfit.
Firstly – results. Alex Albon has brought his Williams FW45 home in the top ten on three occasions, with a season best result of 7th place, placing him 11th in the drivers’ championship with eleven points. Albon’s team-mate, rookie Logan Sargeant has fared slightly less well, and is yet to score a point, after finishing 12th in his F1 debut in Bahrain.
Albon’s eleven points have been enough to place Williams in 7th place (out of ten) in the constructors’ championship ahead of Haas, Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri, after twelve races.
Jump back 12 months, and Albon and his then team-mate Nicholas Latifi had just three points on the board at the same point in the season.
So if we’re looking at direction of travel, that’s a big (objective) tick in the box there.
Secondly, performances. Williams Racing, this year, has established itself as a real midfield contender, virtually race-in race-out, at least in the hands of Albon. The days of the two Williams cars being bolted to the back of the field in every session seem a distant memory, with Albon regularly making it through to Q3 along with the nine other fastest cars, and a season’s best qualifying of 8th place coming at Silverstone – the third of three consecutive appearances in Q3.
Some bold strategy decisions have led to Williams drivers taking an alternative approach to sessions, that, have on occasion paid off handsomely. In Canada, for example, Alex Albon pitted just once – on lap 12 – when all those around him chose to stop twice – and was able to make his hard tyres last no less than 58 laps to the flag, making brilliant use of his FW45’s straight-line speed to hold off cars on fresher rubber behind him, in shades of Gilles Villeneuve at Jarama in 1981. An outstanding 7th place was his reward. Which brings us to…
The car. The Williams FW45 has proven to be very slippery, which means that in a straight line it’s very competitive. Visually, it lacks the aerodynamic sophistication of the top cars, which leaves it vulnerable in twisty parts of the track. The result of this is that at places with long straights – like Canada – Williams tend to fare better than at tighter circuits where there are more slow speed corners, such as Monaco. It is, however, undeniably a step forward from its predecessor the FW44.
Personnel. Lead driver Alex Albon is having a great season, and seems to be getting the most out of the season, with some stellar drives. So much so, in fact, that I’d be very surprised if other teams seeking a driver don’t have the Thai/British driver on their list. He has slotted into the gap left by the departing George Russell very nicely indeed.
Logan Sargeant, Williams’ number two driver, with zero points on the board, has had a patchy season, rarely looking anywhere near capable of matching his team-mate. However, we must give him the benefit of the doubt, this being his debut season in Formula 1, and once he builds up familiarity with his setting, he could hit a run of form. My gut tells me, though, that this is his one and only stint in F1, and once he’s replaced at Williams it’s likely he’ll have to look to another series to continue his driving career.
James Vowles – Williams’ Team Principal – now looks like an excellent appointment. He’s clearly learned a great deal at multiple champions Mercedes, and, though this is his first season in the top job, has brought a direction, drive, and an assuredness to the team. If progress under Vowles continues, the challenge might be holding on to his services.
With Pat Fry being appointed CTO, with three decades of competing and winning in F1, the senior team seem to be going from strength to strength, which bodes well for the future – providing we see a period of stability, which has been sorely lacking in recent years.
In conclusion, if we think about this as year 0 of the James Vowles era, then Williams Racing has probably exceeded all expectations. There’s still a long way to go to challenge for top points and podiums, but Aston Martin and McLaren of late have shown that it’s at least possible for a customer team to get in amongst the top teams which should give the likes of Williams heart for the challenge that lies ahead. If the progress continues at this rate then there should be more enjoyable times to come!