Is this the year Williams break free from the back of the grid?

2023 F1 team preview

Posted on

| Written by

What kind of a Formula 1 team is Williams Racing?

For the last two-and-a-half years, Williams Grand Prix Engineering, formerly owned by its founder family, has been in a state of transition. Its new owners, American investment firm Dorilton, have invested considerable time, effort and funds to rebuild neo-Williams in their own image.

Through swanky promotional films with Hollywood actors or hosting public exhibitions during grand prix weekends to bring the team to the fans, Williams has sought to write a new narrative for itself while still proudly embracing its illustrious heritage.

But while the team appears to have clarity over how it wishes to present itself, it has struggled to find its footing on the race track in that same time.

Rooted to the rear of the grid, sucked into the black hole that tends to hold down any team that falls to the back of the field, Williams would have been disappointed with their 2022 season. With major rules changes offering lower teams their best opportunity to leap up the order, Williams found themselves at the bottom for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Although, in truth, the result was more reflective of the level of competition near the rear of the field than it was of Williams’ own competence as a team.

Nicholas Latifi, Williams, Interlagos, 2022
Williams have been stuck at the back in recent years
So to help turn around the team’s fortunes, who better to try and emulate than the team who has been most dominant over the last decade: Mercedes.

After just two seasons, team principal Jost Capito has been relieved of his position, alongside the team’s technical director Francois Xavier-Demaison. Taking Capito’s place in leading Williams is James Vowles, a key figure of Mercedes’ strategy team whose history at the Brackley factory dates back long before the German manufacturer first claimed it as their home.

Vowles may not have held such a senior role in Formula 1 before, but he has the ringing endorsement of his former team principal Toto Wolff, who could not have been more glowing in his assessment of Vowles’ potential to bring a culture of success back to Williams again.

“James has been around for a long time, he’s seen it all – the intelligent things and the less intelligent things,” Wolff said when Vowles’ move was first announced. “I have no doubt that Williams choosing James is a fantastic move for them.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Mercedes may have tasted success far more than Williams or, indeed, any of the other nine teams have in the V6 turbo era, but Vowles says it’s his experience of fighting for little reward in Formula 1 that makes him the right man to transform Williams over the coming years.

Former Mercedes strategist Vowles is now leading the team
“What I’m doing different is I’m fortunate enough to have known failure on levels that many of you unfortunately have publicly seen,” Vowles told the media. “Even prior to Mercedes, there were times where we were languishing in a very poor position – we didn’t score a point for 12 races.

“The real gain that you get out of this is that you have to instil a culture into this that allows everyone to realise that you have to be empowered, you have to grow, you have to move forward as units together and it has to be one collaborative motion. And I strongly suspect that we’re just in the situation where that collaboration isn’t quite the level it could be or should be, just simply because it’s been a few years of pain that has cemented it.”

Fortunately for Vowles, Williams is not a team caught in a death spiral where he must desperately grasp the controls in a bid to right the ship. Instead, Williams’ foundations remain solid, from Dorilton’s investment in their Grove factory’s facilities, a solid relationship with power unit suppliers Mercedes, a major new sponsor expected to be announced alongside the launch of the FW45 tomorrow and a young, exciting line up of drivers to put in their new car.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

After the departure of George Russell left a large hole to fill, the team quickly found themselves a new leader in the form of Alexander Albon. Fresh from a year out of racing in Formula 1, Albon acclimated quickly to life at the back of the grid, producing some of the most outstanding drives of the season to snipe unexpected points whenever they were in his grasp. While Albon was guilty of some messy afternoons in 2022, Williams’ status as the slowest team on the grid meant his errors were far less costly for the team than they would have been elsewhere. He’s proven how good he can be, now Albon’s mission for year two is simply to be more consistent in how he delivers on track.

American rookie Sargeant will attract plenty of attention
He will also take on an important new role for 2023, namely in mentoring his brand-new rookie team mate. Promoted from an impressive first year in Formula 2, Logan Sargeant joins the grid as an intriguing prospect.

A graduate of Williams’ own junior driver programme which has grown significantly since the team’s change of ownership, Sargeant arrives into Formula 1 far from the finished article but having shown enough potential for Williams to deem him worthy of their second seat. That Sargeant hails from the United States at a time when North American interest in the sport is at an all-time high is also no small boost for Williams’ marketing efforts.

Having benefited from more Friday practice runs than any other rookie driver in 2022, Sargeant has a solid base on which to head into his first pre-season test in Formula 1. While he admits he knows he will have to quickly adapt to racing in F1, he is confident that he has more than enough speed to prove he belongs in the sport.

“I’m very confident and comfortable with my one-lap pace,” Sargeant said. “I think that’s been probably my strongest hand since I was young.

“I think what I’ll need to improve on is just, one, getting physically up to standard to go through a whole race run with without having any issues and just work on a race pace and management. I think that’s going to be the biggest thing.”

With three US races on the calendar for the first time in over 30 years, Williams will naturally draw far more attention this season than it has in years. But Williams know it has every reason to back itself heading into 2023. While far from the finished article, Williams finally seems to have the pieces in place to go on the attack after years of just trying to do what they can with what they’ve got.

All they need to do is produce a car to allow them to make the most of the potential they have.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2023 F1 season

Browse all 2023 F1 season articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

19 comments on “Is this the year Williams break free from the back of the grid?”

  1. I find myself hard pressed to believe Williams can really break away from being at the back end of the grid.

    On the other hand, surely they can build on the things they learned with last years car, a car that was changed significantly during the year. And Albon will be able to build on last year as well to take another step, while Sargeant is learning as a rookie (and even then, I think he won’t have to do too much to be an improvement over Latifi). So overall, I can see they might be in 3 way fight for being P7 team wise. I hope they will.

    1. Mostly I agree with your post. Sargeant on the other hand junior accomplishments have not been all that impressive. Latiffi was better. So I don’t honestly see him being any better than Lattifi and maybe not even as good. Lattifi is a much better driver than he is given credit for and I see Sargeant in Wiiliams more as a marketing ploy. Just my opinion.
      Also I don’t see James Vowels as making much of a difference in the short term and unless Williams get some top technical people on board soon then it is likely they will stay at the back of the field or very near to it. I think that they have a gem in Albon but there is only so much that he can achieve with that car.

  2. The scarcity of paint on F1 cars is getting more and more annoying. Soon all the cars are gonna be black (no paint), with only small bits of colour on the nose and the center hump with sponsor logos.

    I’m surprised that Haas actually looks to have black paint on instead of exposing naked black kevlar.

    1. non sequitur-time

      1. An exception doesn’t negate the general trend you should be weary about.

    2. They’ll get more into using pigments in the carbon fabrics and resin before long, so they won’t even need to use paint.
      A ‘livery’ will consist of different body components moulded with different pigments, and even various outer surface layups in different colours (on the same component) with the usual vinyl stickers on top for detail.
      Just to save 300g or less.

  3. I think for all the other teams there are arguments to be made why they’ll have a better season this year. For Williams not so much. JV’s arrival won’t bring significantly better results for a long time to come. Also I’m not convinced about their driver line-up.

  4. I fear for Williams, I really do. At least in the short term. I’m not convinced the numbers for 2023 are strong if they dropped Capito and team so early on and replacing him with Vowles is shrewd but everyone should expect a learning curve for him. Indeed, there are many areas Williams need improvement and if someone of Capito’s experience struggled to identify them, then the team need clear guidance.

    The team haven’t boasted particularly strong driver line-ups in the recent past but this could be their worst yet. Albon had a strong start to 22 but fell away and I’ve seen nothing impressive from Sargeant ever. Their junior programme fell to pieces too.

    I’m struggling to find an upside for 2023 if I’m honest. Their direct rival should be Haas who have went for more experience which should keep them in attritional races. LS will make rookie errors but he’s not a massive improvement on Latifi.

    I think with good investment and Vowles, Williams have a future in midtable. But it won’t be anytime soon. Realistically they’re already planning for 2026 – it’s survival til then.

    1. @rbalonso I predominantly share your view & sentiments, but I want to add that driver lineup-wise, their direct rival could equally be AT.
      We’ll see, although one thing I’m confident about is Sargeant being an improvement on Latifi regardless of how massively (& the same with Piastri on Ricciardo), unlike, comparatively, Hulk on Mick.

      1. I could’ve also added Alonso on Vettel as a confident improvement, for that matter.

        1. My worry in comparison with AT is that Williams haven’t produced a better car than the AT out the box for the past 5 years. With Tost they have consistency and Tsunoda has another year under his belt. De Vries I think is a good signing – he’s a champion in 2 very different forms of single seaters and a has worked closely with many F1 teams. I don’t see him getting lost in set up or having erratic weekends.

          I think you make a good point about most of their other potential rivals improving but I’m not convinced with Sargeant yet. 120 points off the champion and 4th place is a big learning curve. I can’t think of anyone coming in from 4th since Mazepin. Zhou, Albon and Tsunoda were all 3rd although Sargeant was only a point off 3rd. In any case, it wasn’t a great grid and 5 wins in 85 starts across F2 and f3 is alarming. Latifi himself had 6 in 89 in F2/GP2 and we know just how far off he was at times last year.

          It’s never easy as a rookie to join any team but Williams with a change of management with one season of F2 behind me is not what I’d be signing up for. I think he’d benefit from another year in F2.

          1. Totally agree with you regarding Sargent. I would also add that he always did mistakes when under pressure in F2, sometimes minor, other times terminal. I’m not sure he will be able to cope with the pressure of F1, it looked they stepped him too quickly to that F1 seat. Another year on F2 would be a better move to not risk of “burning himself” at F1. Is not every driver that has the luxury of a Tsunoda.

    2. To move up on the grid you need money and Development time BUT you need people who have some talent in Aero to uses that. Now the money is now somewhat stable but they lost their talented designer to other teams when the money wasn’t there.

  5. They’ll get away from the back of the grid once all the ridiculous grid penalties kick in later in the season… I’m concerned they’ve been left with a car they can blame on the old departed bosses. Maybe it’ll be a big improvement. But I suspect they’ll be relying on stopping on the first lap, or the last one, to score their points again…

    If the new car turns out to be orange and blue, the McLaren Indycar liveries might confuse some Drivel to Survive fans.

  6. I expected last season’s final WCC standings either way around, but a randomly mixed order again.

  7. Out of three big (heritage) teams F1 has Williams is set to be on the course of Lotus. Maldonado is highly likely to stay their last ever winner. Imagine if that would have been (Bruno) Senna. A story for the books.

    1. Even though Senna didn’t have the speed in that weekend. Who was the guy that he crashed with and went out of the race and made sure he lost the final tiny hopes he had to even be on the podium. Schumacher.

      1. Senna was useless in 2012. Never qualified higher than 9th. While Maldonado had multiple top 5 starts. I would have loved to see what Barrichello or Bottas could have done with that car.

Comments are closed.