James Vowles has presided over an encouraging start to 2023 for Williams, with Alex Albon securing a hard-fought P10 finish in Bahrain.
The FW45 proved more than capable of fighting with the midfield, immediately surpassing the Grove-based team’s expectations in the first round.
Although the former Mercedes engineer had virtually no impact on Williams’ 2023 development – given he was appointed in February – this start will be encouraging nonetheless.
Financial issues and a general lack of competitiveness have characterised the team in recent seasons. So if Vowles can help the team become established in the midfield, that will unquestionably be a strong start to his tenure.
With that said, it is too early to assess precisely where the FW45 lies in the pecking order – and this season only represents a small part of Williams’ road to recovery.
Vowles has already stressed that decisions must be taken to prioritise long-term growth over immediate improvement.
Aston Martin’s rapid ascension, the untapped potential of engine-producing Alpine, and the pending arrival of Audi are all indicators of the fast-growing ambition throughout the field.
Vowles has identified this, understanding that Williams must be strategic and resourceful to keep up with the growing level of investment surrounding them.
Customer teams are conscious that becoming independent from engine suppliers is invaluable, and Vowles is not oblivious to this.
Alfa Romeo, for example, has already taken steps in this direction – manufacturing several components independently rather than purchasing them from Ferrari.
Although Vowles outlined the consistency provided by Mercedes power, the Williams team principal did not shy away from the limitations of relying on another team:
“Clearly, we’re happy with the relationship that’s been in place for many years.
“Mercedes have produced, fundamentally, the best average power unit across the last 15 years,” he explained to the media.
“To win Championships, you look at who’s won it; typically, it’s original equipment manufacturers, and you need to be manufacturer-backed.”
“And that’s the difficult pathway that we have to fight on the way. I think, for now, we have a realistic target on our shoulders…
“At some point, you have to be in charge of your own destiny, and you’re simply not when you rely on someone else providing you parts.
“A simple example of it: as good as the components are, you don’t know what your aerodynamic decision will be until very late – and it’s normally dominated by the decision of the manufacturer’s circumstance.
“However, we have bigger fish to try at the moment.”
These quotes combine a realist admission of Williams’ current situation with an awareness of where the team ultimately wants to position itself.
Several obstacles still lie ahead for the British squad, but it seems safe to assume that their most significant struggles – both financially and sportingly – are behind them.
James Vowles’ comments suggest Williams will likely continue their partnership with Mercedes in 2026, but the influx of different engine suppliers into F1 will certainly provide customer teams with several alternatives.
With Aston Martin shocking the established order in Bahrain, Williams – and other midfield teams – have received even further incentive to show ambition.
Stability and continuity seem to be the priority for the short term at Grove, but these are – hopefully – only the means for significantly bolder ends.