Williams was the second most improved team in Formula One’s Bahrain season-opener but new boss James Vowles has warned it will take years for the former champion to return to the midfield, let alone challenging the top three.
Alex Albon finished 10th for the final point at Sakhir last Sunday, although Williams’ performance gain was largely hidden by Aston Martin’s much bigger step in getting Fernando Alonso onto the podium.
A comparison of last year’s best times in Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying and the 2023 Saturday session showed Aston Martin was a shade over 2.4 seconds quicker.
Albon’s best lap showed a 1.2 second gain for Williams, winner of more constructors’ championships than any team bar Ferrari but without a title since 1997 and 10th overall last year with just eight points.
No other team improved by more than a second on its 2022 single lap showing.
“We were strong, we were fighting and our race pace was better than expected,” Albon said after the race. “We’re maybe not quite midfield pace, but we’re close and to get a point in the first race is pretty amazing.”
US rookie Logan Sargeant qualified 16th and finished 12th, the highest-placed newcomer.
Vowles, who was previously head of strategy at Mercedes and started work at Williams’ Grove factory on February 20, had sat down with reporters earlier to give an initial assessment of where the team was at.
“About what I expected, with maybe some soupçon of being slightly worse,” he said of what he had found since replacing the departed Jost Capito as principal and the size of the challenge.
“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. But it is just survival compared to other organisations that have had finance. As a result of that you have these stark differences between where we are today and where we need to be in the future.”
The team was sold by the founding Williams family to US-based private investment firm Dorilton Capital in 2020.
Vowles said that with a cost cap Williams would not be able to spend its way to success and it would take years to get some of the core facilities up to the level needed to compete at the front.
The team was also feeling the strain of a lack of key technical personnel, and staff leaving for other teams was always a problem.
“Breaking into the top three is incredibly difficult. They have resources beyond your dreams, they have experience beyond your dreams, they have the best people on the grid,” he added.
“I think certainly a realistic step for this organisation is first and foremost make sure that every year we are just edging forward and not stationary. That has to be dream number one. Dream number two is we have to set a sensible period of time in the future, and it’s years, where we start to actually break into sixth, fifth, fourth.”