Formula 1

Williams’ instant 2023 deja vu hurt it a lot more

by Jack Cozens, Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

The disappointment was unmissable in Alex Albon’s words as he spoke midway through Formula 1’s Australian Grand Prix, doing so on account of his early exit after losing control of his FW45 inside the first 10 laps of the race.

Albon and Williams, initially perplexed by the external contributing factor in his crash, landed on a spike in tyre temperature – a result of taking Turn 5 faster than he had done the previous lap and in turn using more of the exit kerb – as being the variable that caught him out while taking the Turn 6 right-hander that starts a long, flat-out run “slower than I did on the last lap”.

“I think it spiked the tyre temps a little bit on the left-hand side on that exit kerb and then I went into Turn 6 with a hotter rear-left tyre and that’s it,” explained Albon, speaking to The Race. “They’re the margins we’re driving with.”

A marginal change of environmental factors in play though there might have been, this was an Albon error – he conceded as much – and one that made it a particularly painful exit in the face of what until that point had been an excellent weekend on his side of the garage.

A first Q3 appearance of the season on Saturday had netted eighth on the grid, and was Williams’s best single-lap performance relative to the front of the Formula 1 field in getting on for two years. Things were going even better in the race, too – Albon having passed Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin and benefitted from Charles Leclerc’s retirement to run an early sixth.

But the end result for Williams? Nul points.

And such a strong showing was scant consolation for Albon who, considering the events that played out towards the end of the race, might have been on for Williams’s best dry-weather result since the end of the 2017 F1 season.

“Feeling worse!” he said, asked how his exit felt in the context of his pace in Melbourne. “I’m sure in a week or two there’s a silver lining in it. But…”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Race Day Melbourne, Australia

If there is a more immediate silver lining for Williams, it’s that Albon’s misjudgement didn’t have as grave consequences as it might have done; the order under the final in-race red flag had all of the team’s immediate rivals – Haas, AlphaTauri, McLaren and Alfa Romeo – on course to score healthy points, ranging from six to 14.

But even though the final gains weren’t anywhere near as pronounced when the previous grid order was restored, a no-score was costly for Williams, which is now back at the bottom of the pile with a solitary point – having arguably had the potential to be on the board in all three races at the start of the 2023 F1 season.

“It was a remarkable race but ultimately it was a missed opportunity for us,” said Williams head of vehicle performance Dave Robson.

“Alex built on his excellent qualifying display to make more positions at the start and was looking good for a comfortable top-10 finish.

“Unfortunately, touching the kerb at high speed in Turn 5 led to a small snap and a spike in tyre temperature, which led him to lose the car at the next corner.”

If Robson’s words look familiar, that’s because they are. This was a remarkable case of “missed opportunity” deja vu just a fortnight after he admitted Williams “must make some improvements to succeed in a very tight midfield”.

Williams won’t have lost sight of that so there’s no need to hammer it as a result. But it does rather reinforce the point, especially on a day where the second car of Logan Sargeant wasn’t anywhere close to picking up the pieces.

And it also means Albon’s right, small error or not, to be hard on himself after giving up one of those opportunities to succeed.

“It’s my fault and I’m angry with myself,” said Albon. “It’s really disappointing of course, especially feeling sorry for the team. It feels like I let them down.

“We had a good car. We could have been one of those teams scoring points.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Australian Grand Prix Race Day Melbourne, Australia

Being “heartened”, as Robson put it, was a gallant attempt to find the bright side and keep spirits up in the face of missing out on such a result. But the frustration is real; not feeling that just wouldn’t cut it in F1.

“We leave Melbourne frustrated that we couldn’t take advantage of our good pace and turn it into points,” said Robson.

“However, the whole team can be heartened that the car worked very well this weekend and we will be able to put ourselves into similar positions in future races, starting in Baku in a few weeks’ time.”

If points do prove to be on offer in the Azerbaijan GP, Williams must make good on that if it’s to avoid squandering the potential a team operating beyond its expected limits has in what is an incredibly tight F1 midfield.

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