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Frustration and underperformance for Williams do a pretty good job of summing up their 45th season in F1. But the best bit about hitting rock bottom, is that the only way is up.
Despite being the second most successful constructor in F1 history, beating out the likes of McLaren and Mercedes, Williams have fallen off the wagon in recent years, more often than not propping up the field since 2018.
Even under new management, Williams once again failed to get a handle on the newest set of F1 regulations in 2022, finishing dead last in the constructors’ standings with just 8 points – 15 fewer than in 2021.
With the loss of George Russell to Mercedes, Williams weren’t expected to make massive leaps up the grid in 2022, with a semi-refreshed driver lineup of Nicholas Latifi and ex-Red Bull driver Alex Albon in tow. But that didn’t stop them having a few notable moments.
Albon brought in the majority of the points haul for his new team, finishing inside the top 10 three times and collecting four championship points. He gained a new reputation as the ‘tyre whisperer’ in Australia, lasting 56 laps on the same set of hard tyres and collecting the team’s first F1 point since September of 2021.
The Thai driver continued his good form throughout the year, with other notable performances in Miami and Belgium, which ultimately secured his place on the grid for 2023 with a multi-year agreement with Williams.
On the other hand, Latifi struggled to grasp the feel of the updated regulations, finishing 20th in the drivers’ standings with his only points finish coming in Japan. According to the Canadian, the FW44 (the Williams 2022 F1 car) “was definitely the biggest step backwards” for the team. His underperformance and inconsistency ultimately cost him his F1 seat, being replaced by Logan Sargeant for 2023.
It wasn’t all bad though, as Latifi did manage to set the fastest lap out of the entire F1 grid in Hungary – it’s just a shame that is was during FP3.
— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) July 30, 2022
The Monza miracle
So, on paper, there wasn’t a lot to cheer about for fans dressed in Williams apparel in 2022. But fortunately, they hold one major achievement over everyone else – they produced their very own Monza miracle.
After the overperforming Albon suffered from appendicitis ahead of the Italian Grand Prix, Williams were in need of a reserve driver to step up and fill the void. Enter Nyck de Vries.
Despite winning championships in F2 and Formula E, the Dutchman had struggled to find his way into a full-time F1 seat, settling for a reserve driver role at Mercedes in 2021. But opportunity came knocking in 2022, as he jumped in an unruly and frustratingly slow Williams and wrote himself into his own F1 story.
Qualifying 13th, De Vries managed his Italian GP perfectly, holding off Zhou Guanyu and showing pure race pace to collect a deserved P8 finish. Unfortunately for Williams, the Dutchman quickly came into high demand, with multiple teams trying to sign him onto a full-time F1 contract, before he signed for AlphaTauri for 2023.
What can we expect from Williams in 2023 and beyond?
Looking ahead to 2023, Williams’s future remains on unstable but potentially positive ground. By retaining Albon, the team now have a driver with the potential to win races. Russell’s inevitable move to Mercedes cost Williams part of their future and without the facilities to produce a competitive car, they have struggled to recruit any more big names.
But after losing his Red Bull drive after the 2020 F1 season, Albon has been desperate to prove himself and the pressure-free environment of Williams should allow him to thrive into the exciting and bold driver he once was.
On the other side of the garage, Sargeant will bring a new dynamic to the team, becoming the first American F1 driver on the grid since Alexander Rossi’s departure in 2015.
Sargeant had a fairly impressive season in F2, racing for Carlin alongside Liam Lawson. In 31 races, Sargeant racked up 148 points, 4 podiums, and 2 wins.
Although his promotion may have been prematurely announced by ex-Williams boss Jost Capito, Sargeant has had little issue in demonstrating his ability in an F1 car, competing in multiple practice sessions and comfortably meeting the super licence threshold.
With the pace of Williams’s 2023 car unknown, it’s not yet clear how tied down this driver lineup will be when it comes to on-track performance. Of course, with previous F1 experience, Albon was able to extract as much as he could from the FW44. But Sargeant remains a slightly unknown entity.
Speaking after a faultless FP1 session at COTA, Sargeant explained how different life was in an F1 car and admitted he was still getting used to the change.
“(It’s) A lot different than what I expected, to be honest, the way that the car reacts compared to what I’m used to in F2 is massively different.
“Super reactive in the high-speed, and so good on the brakes. But yeah, in general, it was a good run. And I learned a lot.
“I was pretty shocked by how much power it had as well at the start, so something to get used to. And it was tricky out there.”
With the loss of Capito and technical director FX Demaison, Williams is a slightly rudderless ship at the time of writing this article. However, with a young and bold driver pairing and no expectation to succeed, the only way is up for one of F1’s most legendary franchises.
Featured Image Credit: BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN – MARCH 10: Alexander Albon of Thailand driving the (23) Williams FW44 Mercedes runs wide during Day One of F1 Testing at Bahrain International Circuit on March 10, 2022 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)