Williams had the luxury of experiencing a high at both the start and the end of the 2023 Formula 1 campaign. But while it was undoubtedly an improved season, there were bumps along the way.
The year signalled a new start for Williams as it brought in James Vowles from Mercedes' strategy set-up to carry out Team Principal duties.
Vowles was hailed for his management abilities throughout the year as he aided the Grove-based squad to its highest Constructors’ Championship result since 2017.
Subjected to the bottom of the championship standings more often than not in recent years, Williams opened its account with a run to 10th in Bahrain with Alex Albon.
It set up the expectation that Williams would be able to contend for points at a number of rounds, particularly at venues that contained long straights as the car was slippery in a straight line, a trait carried over from its predecessor.
Exemplary performances from Albon throughout the season aided Williams to P7 in the standings. When the car was expected to be fast, Albon delivered. At the high-speed tracks in Canada and Italy, the Thai-British driver bagged a duo of seventh-place results.
The team’s biggest surprise of the year perhaps came at the Dutch Grand Prix, an event the outfit was expecting to struggle at due to the tight and twisting nature of the circuit - however the development effort was such that Albon secured eighth place at a track that was expected to expose Williams’ weaknesses.
More point-scoring results in the second half of the season saw it climb to seventh in the standings and see off a threat from AlphaTauri, allowing it to celebrate a successful campaign - something it has missed in recent years.
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Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant
The head-to-head battle at Williams swung heavily in Albon’s favour who has established himself as a leader of the team since joining in 2022.
Paired with rookie Logan Sargeant this year, Albon out-qualified his team-mate at every single round and was the only driver in the field to do so.
Sargeant was given leeway at the start of the campaign as he came to grips with F1 machinery and operations having made the step up from Formula 2.
The American driver was praised in the early stages of the campaign for keeping his nose relatively clean and having a respectable gap to Albon on the timesheets.
But things began to unravel for Sargeant as the year progressed.
While Albon got more comfortable with the car and started bagging points, Sargeant was making mistakes and endured a particularly costly period from Belgium to Japan (spanning five weekends) in which he found himself colliding with either a rival or the barrier.
While most of the on-track incidents came Sargeant’s way this year, Albon didn't have a clean slate as he made a self-inflicted error during the Australian Grand Prix while on course for strong points.
Relief came Sargeant’s way at his home round in the United States when disqualifications further up the order granted him his first F1 point in 10th, adding to Williams’ tally that up to that point had been bolstered solely by Albon.
A quiet end to the season followed for Sargeant and despite his demons this year, he has been retained alongside Albon for next year’s campaign.
Williams steadily looking forward
There’s little doubt that the 2023 campaign was a triumphant one for Williams and its primary focus for next year should be, at the very least, retaining its position in the championship order.
Williams is a team that has been success-starved for so long but this past campaign is an example of what can be achieved with the right tools in place.
As it continues to upgrade its facilities and invest in the structure of the organisation, 2023 may have just laid the foundations for its long-awaited comeback.
“I think it’s better than what I was hoping for but you have to remember we were fighting McLaren in Bahrain and they’re fighting for podiums and wins,” said Vowles.
“The reality behind it is that there are teams this year, McLaren’s one of them, AlphaTauri is another one of them, that are putting huge performance on the car and starting to fight with the giants.
“Our aspirations are very clearly to keep moving forward in the way that we have. Now, Williams has gone from not scoring points to, since the summer break, we’ve been scoring at near enough most events – or have the ability to score, so that's a very different circumstance to where we were 12 months ago.
“But, as I said, our aspiration is to keep moving up the grid, beyond where we are now. And that’s going to take a lot more effort from where we are.”
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