Williams F1 2023 car launch: Are the Wantage team heading in a new direction under former Mercedes man James Vowles?
There has been a lot of anticipation around Williams' latest car launch. The former F1 giant is now a shadow of its own self and features more often than not at the back of the grid. However, with a new team principal poached from Mercedes and a Gulf partnership to boast of, there is some optimism around the team.
The question though, that was on the minds of everyone at the time of launch was what could be expected from the Grove, Wantage-based squad. Can the team find a new direction and start working itself to a better position under James Vowles? Let's take a look.
Can Williams succeed under James Vowles?
The new driver lineup
One of the biggest handicaps for any team in F1 is being forced to use a pay driver. The situation is a clear marker of a team that would not be able to make the most of the package it develops. For a long time, Williams suffered from that. Nicholas Latifi was one of the two drivers and it was a foregone conclusion that the driver was more or less a write-off.
For the 2023 F1 season, Williams has gone bold. Nicholas Latifi is out of the picture and has been replaced by Logan Sargeant, who has been notorious in the junior category for his ability to be supreme over a single lap (Fun fact: He dominated a certain Oscar Piastri in the same car in F3 in qualifying). Logan is going to be an upgrade over Latifi and should complement Albon in the other cockpit.
Williams arguably could have scored a lot more points last season if there was a better driver in the other car. Well, this time around, they have one and that is certainly a positive.
The new wave of sponsorships
Having Gulf as a partner is a very important development for Williams, a team that has been in the doldrums for some time now. Not only that, the team has picked up a few new sponsors that were not a part of the livery last season.
Williams, as the commercial head indicated himself, is the 5th most popular team on the grid. With the team showing signs of life last season and fielding a better driver lineup, the sponsors are starting to trust the brand and that is going to be crucial if someone like James Vowles has to make an impact with the team.
The team is just too far behind
The hard reality of the Grove-based squad currently is that the team is just too far behind. There are always ambitious talks associated with teams up and down the grid. For a team like Williams, even though James Vowles is a part of the system and has experience working with Mercedes, the reality is, it's too far behind right now.
This is the reality of a lot of teams at the back of the grid that when it comes to technology, they're just not operating in the same stratosphere as the top teams. On a very primitive level, to understand how far behind Williams is, all one needs to do is take a look at the steering wheel attached to the car.
Williams is the only team that has not moved to the digital display steering wheel on the entire grid. Now, that could be down to a more strategic approach from the team, but it could also be down to the team not having the resources. The fact that the other nine teams have moved to it but this team hasn't should be a good indicator that it has more to do with the lack of resources than anything else.
Still no title sponsor
Further elaborating on the team being too far behind is the lack of sponsorship that the team attracts. There is a nice influx this season and that is a piece of good news for the team, but at the same time, the fact that there is no title sponsor should be an indicator enough that the team has still not gained the trust and become attractive enough to invite investments.
The ultimate target
For a team like Williams, the most important thing at the moment has to be the understanding that the team needs an influx of resources to be competitive again. Whether bringing in James Vowles is a ploy to increase the Mercedes association is a puzzle that will unravel in the future, but for now, the ultimate and arguably more realistic target for a team like Williams will be to establish itself in the midfield.
Once the team has reached that level and become a stable midfield contender, it can re-evaluate how it wants to take that next step. For now, though, it is all about foundation building, and Williams has to learn to crawl before it can walk. Is James Vowles the right man for the job? Well, he was part of the rebuilding phase that Mercedes went through when they joined F1, if there is someone that knows how to help a team rise through the ashes, it's him.