Stay informed on all the biggest stories in Formula One. Sign up here to receive the Prime Tire newsletter in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
NEW YORK CITY — A child named William knelt down just a few feet away from the front wheel of Williams’s FW46.
He held a white sign that said, “My name is William too,” in dark blue marker not far off of Williams’s Heritage Navy Blue. On the bottom half of the poster was big ‘W’ in a lighter blue, with Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant’s names and flags nestled inside. William had waited outside PUMA’s flagship store on Fifth Avenue for the Formula One team’s season launch since the early morning hours. From just outside the front doors, he could catch a glimpse of the team preparing inside.
When it came time for Sargeant and Albon to unveil the car, team members brought William inside as other fans, old and new, stood outside to witness the latest chapter of the storied team’s history.
The arrow motif honoring founder Frank Williams. The red-and-white pinstripe inspired by the 1985 FW10 (Nigel Mansell and Keke Rosberg) and the 1997 FW19 (in which Jacques Villeneuve won a championship). A color transition as Heritage Navy Blue merges into New Era Williams. In a day and age where team names are riddled with title sponsors, Williams is preserving its heritage in a modern way.
It’s the first car fully developed under team principal James Vowles, and with retaining Albon and Sargeant, the Grove-based team is looking to improve off of what Vowles described as “an OK year” in 2023.
“I want (the livery) to signify we know we haven’t achieved success,” Vowles told The Athletic. “Our success is based on our heritage at the moment. But we are transitioning to a new era in Williams, and this is what it looks like.”
A renewed American
“I have arrived,” Sargeant said, eliciting a few laughs from the members of the media sitting around him. The American driver seemed relaxed as he smoothly answered question after question inside Rockefeller Center — and offered a healthy dose of honesty.
His training regimen became one of the main discussion points around the Williams launch. By the end of his rookie season, Sargeant was tired and “wasn’t in great shape, to be honest.” He needed a break. He trained frequently during the offseason and spent time with friends and family in Florida (no fishing, though – too windy). Sargeant said, “It’s just been nice to, I guess, kind of find myself again.”
Why Logan Sargeant nearly had to quit racing — and why Williams pulled him back in
The 23-year-old is five kilograms (roughly 11 pounds) heavier heading into the new season and wants to find consistency on track “at the level I know I can perform at.” That, to him, will mark a successful year, and it’s something Sargeant lacked in 2023.
It’s no secret that he struggled during his rookie season, enduring a long series of mistakes that piled up while Albon found his groove. He became frustrated during the middle portion of the year, and Vowles rallied around him. “It’s easy when the world’s against you, which it was for him in that period of time, to fall back and, I guess, give up,” Vowles said to The Athletic. “And he didn’t. He pushed hard to integrate and said, ‘This is what I want. This is my dream. This is where I need to be.’”
Sargeant worked closely with the team, and it started paying off even with the car not being as quick as earlier in the season. While many may label the U.S. Grand Prix as a watershed for Sargeant after he secured his first and only point of the year, Vowles felt Japan was where the American began to turn things around. Reminder: Sargeant crashed during qualifying that weekend, and Vowles said then to Sky Sports F1 that Sargeant’s car had “an old aerodynamic package in a number of ways” solely “because parts are becoming more and more difficult to come by.” Up until that point, he was within a millisecond of Albon.
“The turning point was that he built up through FP1, FP2 and FP3. He didn’t overdrive the car,” Vowles said while acknowledging the qualifying mistake. “What you saw from then onwards was an individual that now realizes that you have the abilities you have. You have to let them grow in time with yourself and not push beyond them.”
Qatar is the one race where Vowles had to stop Sargeant — literally. The American driver had been sick in the buildup for that race weekend and began feeling unwell during the scorching race. Vowles said, “He didn’t want to stop. And by the way, these elite athletes won’t. They don’t know what their limits are. I stopped him because I care about him as a human being, and I want him to be my driver for a long, long period of time. So one race worth of hurting yourself is not worthwhile.”
On the other side of the garage, rumors are swirling around Albon, a driver sidelined by Red Bull after 2020 and given a second chance by Williams in 2022. He rebuilt his career and became more confident over the two seasons with the British team, most recently scoring 27 of Williams’ 28 points in 2023. Now, he’s emerged as a top target ahead of what should be a noisy silly season.
With questions surrounding Albon following the shocking news of Lewis Hamilton heading to Ferrari in 2025, Vowles revealed his driver is under contract through 2025. But Albon wasn’t as quick to shut the rumors down when asked if he would definitely be with Williams after this year.
“Let’s see. Time will tell. But my focus is on 2024. Let’s keep it like that. The real focus is on making sure that we make progress for 2025. That’s really where I’m at. I realistically want to be with the team — if the team are where I want them to be, it will be a long-term contract. We’re going to go all the way or nothing. That’s my idea of it, I guess.”
Albon acknowledges that his name is part of the conversations because of last season’s performance. Looking ahead to 2024, he’s not putting a number on the benchmarks, at least not yet. He pointed towards Williams’ 92-point gap to P6 and 252-point leap to P5 in the standings as part of why putting a number on it is difficult.
“There’s a huge mountain to climb. It’s not just a position change because, within that position change, there’s at least three or four-tenths (of a second) that you need to catch up, which is significant,” Albon said. “And it’s not a (one) year kind of situation. It will take multiple years to catch up.”
He’s set on finding consistency, too. The car was a roller coaster of sorts, reaching some highs, but on other weekends, Williams knew it wouldn’t be competitive due to its limitations. The hope is that when the sport arrives in Monaco and Barcelona, Williams won’t struggle the way it did last year.
“Williams is a team that’s changing. We’re very proud of our heritage,” Albon said, touching on how he liked the vinyl on the livery because he noticed it when he was growing up, and how the color change signifies where the team is now. “That’s exactly what we’re doing in the years from now to the future is we are changing into this new beauty. This team that now is trying to get back to its previous years, but in the same way to do that, you do have to have this shakeup.”
FW46: A more well-rounded F1 car
That shakeup includes the car.
The 2023 FW45 was known for its powerful straight-line speed but had “a difficult car behavior,” Vowles said during media roundtables. It climbed to seventh in the constructors’ standings by season’s end; however, the gap to sixth was mighty — 92 points. The team made significant changes while trying to create a car Williams hopes “is performant at all tracks.” But if the package flops, responsibility falls on one person.
“I made it clear to the organization that the weight of failure will rest on my shoulders,” Vowles said. “I don’t want anyone to be restrained by a fear of failure. I don’t want anyone to be restrained by a fear of pushing outside the boundaries of what we’re comfortable. Now’s the time and you have my support to break what you know and start again.”
You rarely hear a team principal say they’re focused on a future season when this year hasn’t even begun. And Vowles recognizes how odd his mindset is. “We’ll make progress in ‘24, ‘25, but what I’m really interested in is ‘26, ‘27 and onwards,” he told The Athletic. “I want to make sure that what we’re doing today is putting in place the fundamentals that allow us to be successful in the future.”
Sargeant said the car’s driving style is completely different this year; however, “it has become much more predictable, much more drivable.” Some aspects of the FW46 will be recognizable, but Vowles stressed to his team that “everything should be through experiment, design, test, and then put back in again. And if that ends up moving towards something that (is similar) to other cars, fine. But what we’re not going to do is copy the other cars and then try and understand the common flow dynamics.” But the FW46 does deviate from what Williams has done in the past.
Returning to basics is a major element of Williams’s rebuild. Vowles told The Athletic, “All too often in Formula One, we’d like to make things all too complicated.” Compared to some other teams on the grid, Williams is pretty open about its journey, something Vowles feels is a strength of the team. After all, F1 is not that complex.
“We go around in circles, and there’s a checkered flag at the end of it,” Vowles added.
He acknowledges that the car is complex given it does have “20,000 individually designed components.” Still, as you break it down to the ‘whys’ and what a component does, it becomes less complicated, like explaining DRS and what a differential is.
“It’s very easy to get lost in data in Formula One. The car is producing 50, 60, 70,000 channels of data, which we don’t look at all of them,” he said. “But we can try and help the world a little bit with what we’re trying to understand from all of those.
‘So when I’m in doubt, I just bring it back to what I feel as a result of the sport because everyone can connect with that.”
Just ask William.
(Lead photo of Logan Sargeant: Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images)