Formula 1

Williams must ‘break systems’ to move beyond six-year high

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Two points finishes in the last three grands prix have lifted Williams to a six-year high in the Formula 1 constructors’ championship.

Alex Albon’s eighth place in the British Grand Prix took Williams’s 2023 points tally to 11, moving it joint-seventh in the standings with Haas and ahead on countback.

F1 2023 R10 Wcc

That this is the highest Williams has been since finishing fifth in 2017 speaks to the fallow period that the team has suffered through of late. But success is relative, especially for a team that has been through some tough times.

Albon has now scored points three times this season, in a car Williams expected would be the slowest back in Bahrain testing. And this is not happening by chance.

Finishing seventh in Canada three races ago was a mark of Williams’s opportunism and execution. Finishing eighth at the team’s home race came at the end of a weekend it was very competitive. As team principal James Vowles points out: “I’d argue Aston Martin was holding us up on that last stint.”

To be in the mix against cars that have been fighting for regular podiums represents an unexpected performance peak for Williams. And while it is still a long way short of its ultimate ambition in its Dorilton-owned era, Vowles knows the significance of what this form means for the team.

“I use body language to describe things,” Vowles said.

“So, I’d ask you to go back and have a look at the team and see. Are their shoulders up? Are their heads high? Are you seeing just visibly, it’s transforming the team in the right direction?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

“I’d argue, yes. And it’s more important that these points are not being achieved by luck.

“It’s a fair reflection of the fact that we’ve moved forward. And we’re starting to chip away at it.

“It’s important for the team. The team has had quite a few years of a pretty hard time, to be honest. And any team like that, you need to have a positive momentum moving forward in order to generate the workflow to go further again.

“I’m not interested in being seventh in the championship, I’m interested in being far higher than that. And that’s achieved by building on this at the moment.”

Building on that means acknowledging that Williams is pushing up against a ceiling with the way it works presently, and understanding what is needed to break through it.

Vowles has spoken extensively about how far behind Williams is in so many areas since he joined from the long-dominant Mercedes team over the winter. It is not just outdated facilities but outdated philosophies and working practices.

“The hardest thing to do is to change and adapt and break existing systems in order to move forward,” said Vowles.

“And irrespective of the fact we’re seventh, we still have to rebuild a number of systems that are not where they need to be.

“Because otherwise we’ll be fighting in this region, but not necessarily at the front which is where we want to be.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Race Day Spielberg, Austria

In basic terms, Vowles wants to see Williams adopt better communication and more modern infrastructure and methodologies.

Right now, he says, Williams relies on “a lot of human interaction”. The process of developing a front wing, for example, requires a lot of step-by-step processes and almost a ‘design by email chain’ system.

“We can’t do that,” Vowles said. “We’ve got to put in place proper systems and architecture, which means whatever is in place at the moment, you’ve got to break it.

“And when we do that, it will cause problems without a doubt. Because it’s how this organisation works.

“But we will be better in the future by doing so.”

Williams has made progress in the Dorilton era. Better financial health means not just planning week-to-week or month-to-month and Vowles is trying to move the organisation towards working on 12-, 24- and 36-month timelines.

He describes it as a complete mindset shift, and believes the car development is already benefiting from that. So, while Williams is in a winnable fight for its best result in many years, Vowles has a bigger objective.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Race Day Spielberg, Austria

And he stands by his early-season declaration that if push comes to shove he will sacrifice this season if it means setting the team up for better long-term success. To that end, the 2023 car is unlikely to evolve much beyond the upgraded version that appeared in Canada and has worked so effectively in the weekends since.

“There’s an element of sacrifice that we have to be doing,” Vowles said.

“As much as I’d love to say that we’ll continue to chip away, we will do so through good engineering – but not necessarily through adaptation of the car much more above where we are at the moment.

“I’m more focused on making sure that we make a good step next year.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, England

“Now, the good step’s an interesting one, because even in those terms, we may not step significantly forward in performance.

“But what I’ll see is structured systems in place rather than our methodologies, and for most of that it means I’m going have to break a few things. To break it may mean you go backwards in the short-term, for long-term gains.

“As carried away as I get every weekend when we turn up, and as incredible as the feelings are, that’s not what I’m interested in for the team.

“What I’m interested in is giving them something where in 12 months and 24 months, time they look back and go ‘this is a good result’, and they get disappointed when they don’t score a point.”

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