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The key decisions Williams must make over its F1 future

A humble 10th-place finish for Alex Albon in Bahrain meant a great deal to the Williams Formula 1 team as it enters the next chapter in its history.

Alex Albon, Williams FW45

With Jost Capito gone after his short tenure in charge, new recruit James Vowles now has the reins of the team, and the Sakhir result represented a pretty good start for the new boss.

Vowles would be the last man to claim any responsibility for the strong performance in the season opener, simply because he hadn't had time to make his mark, having started at Grove just a few days before the Bahrain test kicked off.

However, his arrival has already helped bring to the camp an air of optimism that was evident over the race weekend as it became clear that the FW45 was in better shape than testing had suggested.

In the coming weeks, Vowles will have to study every aspect of the organisation and gain a full understanding of its strengths and weaknesses.

Only then will he be in a position to begin to make the sort of big calls that will shape the future of a team whose last tilt at the championship was 20 years ago.

"Because of testing and because of racing, the amount of days physically in the factory just hasn't been at the level required," Vowles admits. "But I've had a chance now to walk around the facility and meet, albeit briefly, for a few seconds, individuals of the team.

"So I have a very, very macro awareness of what's there, and what's not there. But the detail behind what needs to be done across really the next six months isn't formed in my mind."

He does have a provisional snapshot assessment: "What I can say is this: any organisation irrespective of whether it's an F1 team or otherwise cannot be a high-performing outfit, if you a) take money away from it, and b) basically have such disruption across a number of years that you end up in a poor situation.

"And that's where Williams is. It's not for lack of good people. It's just simply lack of stability over a period of time."

It's often been said in the F1 paddock that there's a core group of folk at Williams who are somewhat resistant to change, and the revolving door of technical personnel in recent years perhaps hints at that – those in charge have seemingly struggled to make their presence felt.

James Vowles, Williams team principal

James Vowles, Williams team principal

Photo by: Williams

Vowles downplays that suggestion.

"I think the belief on that is changed as a result of everyone's seeing the results that have been achieved over the last few years," he says.

"I'm not sure it's so much in the way you've described anymore as much as there's just people that haven't had, necessarily their eyes open to what excellence is.

"And it has changed, and it's very difficult when you remain within this tight-knit world where you are. You sometimes don't have a vision of what it looks like. And I think that's more what we're having here."

Vowles is a great communicator, as anyone who has seen him explaining technical or strategy topics in Mercedes PR videos knows.

Managing a group of hundreds of people is a very different proposition, but those communication skills are an important tool.

"First of all, the relationships are paramount," says Vowles. "It's all too easy to be caught up here at the track all the time, and ignore the fact that it's very straightforward – the way you get a competitive car, there's nothing you can do here at the track, everything is going to be done in Grove, and that relationship is my priority.

"The way I've been building it is walking around meeting everyone, very open meet and greet town halls, but effectively, the way I can present myself to them is very open and honest speech through email, and through physical communication.

"And that will continue. And I'll provide everyone as much of my time as I can, because their inherent knowledge is what will drive us forward to success."

Vowles has already made it clear that one of his priorities is filling the currently vacant posts of technical director and head of aerodynamics.

However, eventually he will have a much longer to-do list to work through.

"The team has over the last 15 years been through a tremendous amount of difficulty, financially and otherwise, and it's survived through all of that," he says. "But it is just survival compared to other organisations that have had finance. And that's the luxury I had prior to joining.

"And as a result of that, you have these stark differences between where we are today, and where we need to be in the future.

"And the order of magnitude, the cost cap is a limiting factor on all these things simply because it puts us in a position where there's a limited amount of Capex. It won't be enough to spend our way to success as I would probably define it.

"So the pathway is, to a certain extent, a number of years required to get some of the core facilities to the level required to complete at the front."

Logan Sargeant, Williams Racing FW45

Logan Sargeant, Williams Racing FW45

Photo by: Williams

Shortly after joining, Vowles made it clear that big changes won't be rushed just to help this year's programme – it's all about the longer term.

Who will fill the technical director role remains one of the more intriguing questions.

Vowles is open-minded, but logic suggests that he will look for candidates like himself – those who have reached a certain level in an organisation but have bigger ambitions that can only be fulfilled by moving to another team, in much the same way that Fallows was able to step out of Adrian Newey's shadow when he left Red Bull.

"We will find the right people, and put the right people in place. Again, in terms of core structures for the car as well, we're not going to rush next year chassis.

"We will make sure we do this in the way that I'm more used to – take our time about it. But make sure we take chunks of performance as we do that."

He concedes that whoever comes will inevitably, like him, be dropping down the competitive order. And he has to encourage them to buy into the prospect of future progress: "Clearly, what's on offer in Mercedes relative to Williams is the chance of success, same in Red Bull, and that at the moment is not something I can offer and that will create drive to go in that direction.

"What I have to do is create an environment where our individuals our staff, our employees, believe in the same vision I believe in and that results in them staying as part of the organisation because they want to be a part of something successful."

Personnel aside, longer term there are key strategic moves to be made, and one involves the engine choice for 2026 and beyond.

Williams has strong ties to Mercedes but it remains an independent organisation, and there could be more attractive options. Honda has declared its interest in participating in the new formula but doesn't have a team, and Williams is obviously on what is a very short list of potentially available partners.

"Clearly we're happy with the deal that's been in place for many years," says Vowles. "Mercedes have produced fundamentally the best on average power unit over the last 15 years.

"Where we are with Mercedes and other OEMs is we're reviewing, because we have to and we need to ensure we review the marketplace. And we'll make a decision shortly but where we are in terms of the relationship so far with Mercedes, they're doing an incredible job."

The team also uses Mercedes-supplied gearboxes, but if it does want to hook up with Honda it will have to return to making its own and build up the know-how internally again. That's what Sauber is currently doing ahead of its 2026 partnership with Audi, having used Ferrari gearboxes for many years.

James Vowles, Williams team principal

James Vowles, Williams team principal

Photo by: Williams

For Williams, the same applies to any elements that it currently buys from Mercedes.

"This is probably the key question," says Vowles. "Every time you take some benefits, for example there are some other transferable components you could take from other OEMs, you'll gain, you'll make a step up, because simply they're doing a level of quality you're perhaps not at yet.

"But you'll start to lose the knowledge internally as to how to do things to those levels. It's a balance. It'll give you a short-term step, but it'll probably hurt you longer term.

"To win championships you look who's won it – typically it's an OEM, and you need to be manufacturer-backed to do it, you need to have everyone behind you. And that's the difficult pathway that we have to fight along the way.

"At some point you have to be in charge of your own destiny, and you're simply not when you have a reliance on someone else providing you parts.

"As good as the components are, you don't know what your aero direction will be until very late, and it's normally dominated by the decision of the manufacturer. However, we have bigger fish to fry at the moment."

Clearly, such decisions are a year or two away. In the meantime Vowles has to start putting the key pieces in place that will help the team move up the grid. So what is the dream target?

"To break into the top three is incredibly difficult," he says. "They have resources beyond your dreams. They have experience beyond your dreams, they have the best people on the grid.

"All of those were additional costs that will be borne by teams that perhaps are fourth backwards. And I think certainly a realistic step for this organization is first and foremost, to make sure that every year we are just edging forward. That there has to be dream number one.

"Dream number two is we have to set a sensible period of time in the future, and it is years, where we start to actually break into sixth, fifth, fourth.

"From then onwards, the sport really will probably have to have some level of political change to allow probably teams to break into the top three. And that's the future."

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