Williams won’t hesitate to “sacrifice” some of the development of its 2023 Formula 1 car to ensure it achieves its goals of becoming a “step more competitive” in 2024 and 2025.
Every F1 team factors in the development of the following year’s car when allocating its budget for the year and since the introduction of the cost cap it’s become an ever more important balance for every team to strike.
And it’s even particularly more perilous for a team such as Williams that’s desperate to move from the foot of F1’s table, where it’s finished in four of the last five seasons.
The team headed into 2023 believing it would once again be slowest – albeit with a reduced deficit to the pack ahead – but that ‘slowest team’ status has become subjective rather than a fact, as it was last year.
Alex Albon delivered a point on the FW45’s race debut in Bahrain and was running in sixth place in Melbourne before his crash at Turn 6.
The team is the eighth fastest according to the supertimes from the first three races, ahead of Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri and only marginally behind McLaren.
“We’re three races in and what’s clear is that of the first three races, we have been in a position to fight for points at all of them,” Williams team boss James Vowles reflected.
“In Bahrain it translated into a point, in the case of Melbourne we walked away with absolutely nothing. Even in Saudi there were moments where clearly we could do a very competitive time and be in and amongst the mix.
“It needs perfecting but the car is there and it gives me hope as we go forward for the remainder of the season that we’ll have a car that there will be there or thereabouts.”
Vowles has his long-term ambitions for the team at the forefront of his planning for a Williams revival, so he’s not afraid to make short-term sacrifices for the sake of that goal.
“We’re doing our utmost to develop [our 2023 car] but by also keeping an eye on the future,” Vowles continued.
“We cannot lose the target that we want to be a step more competitive next year and the year after.
“The only way you can accomplish that is to sacrifice [some of] what you have this year in the cost cap.”
Williams has fallen to last in the constructors’ championship after all of its immediate rivals scored in Melbourne while it walked away with nothing. But given the performance level it’s teased so far in 2023 it’s clear it’s nowhere near as resigned to finishing in last as it might have been in seasons like last year or 2019.
The long-term vision is still at the forefront however with Vowles emphasising that it’s “incredibly clear” within the team that the long-term vision is the priority.
“If you have a choice between making a decision that improves us next week, or one that can improve us significantly more in six months, 12 months or 24 months’ time, you go with the latter of those two decisions,” Vowles explained.
That doesn’t mean Williams won’t add performance to its 2023 car however, even with its long-term focus.
The team can find gains through the optimisation of its current package rather than solely relying on developing and debuting expensive new parts.
“You still have a windtunnel that has to go through the process it normally would do to evaluate performance and that I’m sure results in performance that we can add to the car this year,” Vowles said.
“Furthermore, there are some elements that aren’t quite optimised. And again, those don’t necessarily have a large cost on next year’s performance package but it allows the learning to move forward. That’s where we invest our time and our money.
“However, what I mean by that is we certainly are not going to shortcut it to fill technical roles. For example, with people we can give them six months rather than 12 or 24 months, we will find the right people and put the right people in place.
“Again, in terms of core structures for the car as well. We’re not going to rush next year’s chassis, we’ll make sure we do this in a way that I’m more used to and take our time about it.
“But make sure we take chunks of performance as we do that.”
Williams remains without a technical director since the departure of former incumbent Francois-Xavier ‘FX’ Demaison was announced last December.
Vowles has already outlined that F1 experience is a priority for the individual who will replace Demaison – who had limited F1 experience prior to joining Williams.
But as Vowles’ comments above suggest, the team won’t rush to find a full-time replacement with David Worner serving as the interim technical director in the meantime.