Williams and Stake F1 kick off launch season with differing goals ahead

Sam Cooper
Alessandro Alunni Bravi and James Vowles.

Alessandro Alunni Bravi and James Vowles will head up their respective teams in 2024.

Williams and Stake will today become the first teams to unveil their car ahead of the 2024 season.

While both Haas and McLaren have already shown off their liveries, Williams and the newly-branded Stake F1 will kick start launch season proper today as both lift the covers off their 2024 runner.

And the two have different objectives going into the season with Williams hoping to continue their upward momentum while Stake want their new era to begin far better than the last one ended.

Williams have chance to take another step forward as James Vowles’ project continues

The mood around the Grove camp feels a lot different than it did this time last year. This time last season, Vowles had not been long in the job after a surprise departure from Jost Capito off the back of a P10 finish in the 2022 championship.

Alex Albon’s performances had been a rare bright spot but with long-time driver Nicholas Latifi exiting out of the door, it seemed like the genuine start of a new era for the sport’s third-oldest team, only no one knew which way it would go.

Rookie Logan Saregan was one of three new arrivals to the grid but the main interest was on Vowles, a man stepping out of the Mercedes eco-system and applying his trade in the top job for the first time in his career.

A year into that venture and the 44-year-old will have been happy with the progress they have made. Williams were not back to winning ways in 2023 but they were definitely more competitive than we have seen in a long time.

The speed of the FW45, in particular on the straights, was a powerful weapon in Williams’ arsenal and Albon’s finish of P13 in the Drivers’ standings was testament as to how far they had come.

But if 2023 was a good step, Williams will want their momentum to continue as they lift the covers off their 2024 runner.

The FW45 was a quick car but flawed as well. An inability to be truly pacey other than on high-speed circuits made WIlliams vulnerable over the course of a 23-race campaign and meant anything more than the P7 they achieved was going to be a tough task.

Williams ended the year almost 100 points adrift from P6 Alpine and that is clearly the next goal they have in mind. Stepping away from Williams, the current F1 grid could be broken up into four brackets. Red Bull out in front. Mercedes, McLaren, Ferrari and Aston Martin chasing. Alpine in their own no man’s land and Williams, Haas, AlphaTauri and Alfa Romeo fighting for places at the back.

Of those backmarkers, it is Williams alongside Red Bull’s second team who on paper have the most promise heading into the new campaign.

So what would success be? Cutting a gap of 100 points seems an almighty task but Vowles has always maintained that this is a long-term project, not one that will produce immediate results.

Success then could be seen as closing that difference in part but more importantly, making sure they do not slip back further. Visa Cash App RB are one of many entering a new era and have brought in a number of senior staff to ensure they move back up the grid.

Williams are then expected to be in a fight with VCARB for that P7 spot and even if that does not feel like progress, it certainly is not a step back.

From the drivers’ aspect, Albon could sign a new deal tomorrow if he wanted to given his performances and with Lewis Hamilton’s shock move to Ferrari, it would appear that is the most likely scenario.

For Sargeant meanwhile, he is facing a fight for his future having failed to set the world alight in his rookie year.

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Stake F1 – An Audi holding pattern or a much-needed injection of life?

Alfa Romeo in 2023 could be described as what is perhaps one of the worst insults for an F1 team – boring.

The Swiss-based constructor, who were using the Alfa sponsorship for the final time, did not grab many headlines. The team finished P9, not interesting enough to finish dead last, while Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu came a forgetful P15 and P18 respectively. By all accounts, there was little to remember about Alfa’s year.

For a team that has one of 10 elusive spots on the grid, the idea of not being interesting can be a killer. It costs hundreds of millions to run an F1 team and if you are not attracting the sponsorship dollars needed to keep afloat then that is a problem.

Enter Stake. The Australian cryptocurrency has increased their sponsorship of the team for 2024, naming it the catchy Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber and wheeling out rapper Drake to promote it.

The partnership started in 2023 with Stake reportedly paying close to AU$140 million (£72 million) to get their name on the car but the figure will most likely have risen for exclusive naming rights.

But even with the investment, the question still remains – is Sauber just waiting for Audi to arrive?

The German constructor are taking one of the longest run-ups to an F1 arrival in the sport’s history having first confirmed a takeover deal in 2022 but there are still two seasons of competition left before the famous four rings are on the grid.

Sauber have been making moves in the background. Andreas Seidl was poached away from McLaren to become CEO while Alessandro Alunni Bravi was given the vague title of team representative in 2023.

But it is high time they started making progress on the track. Aside from their 2022 6th, inspired by Bottas’ good start to the year, Sauber finished either eighth or ninth every year during the Alfa Romeo partnership.

Is that the best they can hope for? Aston Martin showed that there is potential to move up the grid but are Stake or Sauber or whoever is footing the bill willing to put up the level of investment needed to make that possible?

Stake will be unveiled in a glitzy launch show in London this evening but it is only when the cars take to the track in Bahrain that we will see if the crypto brand is another new name on the tin or a genuine change of operation.

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