Vowles: For Williams to break into F1 top three incredibly difficult


Williams were the second most improved team at the 2023 Formula 1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix but new boss James Vowles has warned it will take years for the former champions to return to the midfield, let alone challenge the top three – but her has a plan.

Alex Albon finished 10th for the final point at Sakhir last Sunday, although Williams’ performance gain was largely hidden by Aston Martin’s much bigger step in getting Fernando Alonso onto the podium.

A comparison of last year’s best times in Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying and the 2023 Saturday session showed Aston Martin were a shade over 2.4 seconds quicker.

Albon’s best lap showed a 1.2 second gain for Williams, winners of more constructors’ championships than any team bar Ferrari but without a title since 1997 and 10th overall last year with just eight points.

No other team improved by more than a second on their 2022 single-lap showing.

“We were strong, we were fighting and our race pace was better than expected,” Albon said after the race. “We’re maybe not quite midfield pace, but we’re close and to get a point in the first race is pretty amazing.”

American rookie Logan Sargeant qualified 16th and finished 12th, the highest-placed newcomer.

Vowles, who was previously head of strategy at Mercedes and started work at Williams’ Grove factory on in February, had sat down with reporters in Bahrain to give an initial assessment of where the team was at from a newcomer’s perspective.

“About what I expected, with maybe some soupçon of being slightly worse,” he said of what he had found since replacing the departed Jost Capito as principal and the size of the challenge.

Once an F1 powerhouse, Williams is today a sliver of the great winning machine it once was

Nigel Mansell, Riccardo Patrese williams f1 team vowles report

Vowles added: “The team has over the last 15 years been through a tremendous amount of difficulty, financially and otherwise and it’s survived through all of that. But it is just survival compared to other organisations that have had finance.

“As a result of that you have these stark differences between where we are today and where we need to be in the future,” ventured Vowles.

The team were sold by the founding Williams family to U.S.-based private investment firm Dorilton Capital in 2020.

Vowles said that with a cost cap Williams would not be able to spend their way to success and it would take years to get some of the core facilities up to the level needed to compete at the front.

The team were also feeling the strain of a lack of key technical personnel, and staff leaving for other teams was always a problem he revealed: “To break into the top three is incredibly difficult. They have resources beyond your dreams, they have experience beyond your dreams, they have the best people on the grid.

“I think certainly a realistic step for this organisation is first and foremost make sure that every year we are just edging forward and not stationary. That has to be dream number one.

“Dream number two is we have to set a sensible period of time in the future, and it’s years, where we start to actually break into sixth, fifth, fourth,” concluded Vowles

Williams last won a Grand Prix when Pastor Maldonado famously triumphed for them at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, beating Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen. Prior to that day, the team Sir Frank built had not won since the 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix when Juan Pablo Montoya did the business for them.

The last of Williams’ seven F1 drivers’ titles was won by Jacques Villeneuve in 1997, also winning their ninth and last F1 constructors title that season with the Canadian and Heinz Harold Frentzen bringing in the points.   (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)