Williams finished the first part of the season with a haul of 11 points, already exceeding the total accumulated in the 22 Grands Prix of last season. James Vowles, in his first year as Team Principal at Grove, is satisfied with the direction undertaking the whole team, not only in terms of performance but also regarding mentality.
Speaking of the Belgian GP, the engineers were very confident because the very low drag of the FW45 should have gone very well with the characteristics of the historic Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
The start of the race was positive before the Williams duo began to lose pace – around lap 16, according to the team principal, when the FW45 machines were passed by cars that appeared slower in the first half of the race.
The team believes that a problem with the brake drums, rather than the incorrect set-up, led to excessive overheating of the tyres resulting in excessive wear: Albon and Sargeant were among the only ones to stop three times in Sunday’s 44 laps.
James Vowles: “The anomalous degradation tied our hands; even with three practice sessions, we couldn’t have solved the problem”
In the usual social ‘debrief’ by Vowles, the ex-Mercedes engineer first underlined how the Sprint format didn’t allow the engineers to find the ideal set-up:
“I think our set-up was ok, but not optimised for the weekend, and that definitely hindered us.”
Something that has also hit Mercedes and McLaren, perhaps in a more serious way, but which shows how difficult it is to hit the operating window of the cars with only one hour of free practice, totally wet in the case of Spa. More changed as the rain arrived, with Voslwe admitting that more stable dry conditions could have led to a different choice of load.
The main problem, however, is linked to the brake tine: the role of the tins is to control the flow of hot air coming out of the brakes and direct it towards the outside of the car.
Vowles theorised that “our baskets probably broke during a pit stop, but it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly when. What I can tell you is that I’m pretty convinced that this is part of the reason why we suddenly had very significant degradation.”
This made the Belgian GP one of two halves for the team. The start of the race, in particular the first stint and the start of the second, saw a Williams battle for the points, but the three forced stops eventually made the race difficult for both drivers.
The arrival of rain helped Albon and Sargeant limit the damage, and the FW45 ‘suddenly’ came back to life, but as temperatures rose in the final part of the race, the car of the legendary English team struggled again.
Williams: The focus now is on the future, Vowles wants to innovate in the next two or three years
At the beginning of the year, as soon as he inherited the position of Team Principal, Vowles immediately underlined how the team’s structures were insufficient – and not just in comparison to the excellence at Mercedes.
From that moment, the focus of Felbridge’s engineer has turned to initiate an infrastructure development plan to give engineers the wherewithal to produce competitive single-seaters.
All of this in the era of budget caps is tightly controlled, and not everyone has welcomed Williams’ request with open arms to be able to invest – among many other fields, whether basic or complex – in an ERP system (linked to the organisation’s internal resources).
In terms of developments, Vowles has hinted that Williams will probably lose performance as the season progresses due to updates from rivals: In Grove, the main focus concerns the future, “2024, 2025 and 2026, and we know that this will compromise the year in progress.”
This is not just related to the development of the FW46, but also about other ‘items’ – as defined by the Team Principal – “that will take 12, 24 and 36 months to be introduced, and are the ones that will contribute most to the future of Williams.”
Author: Andrea Vergani
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang