Williams keeping close eye on Aston Martin’s ‘clever moves’ towards the top

Michelle Foster
Williams boss James Vowles speaking with Lawrence Stroll. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Williams boss James Vowles speaking with Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Ahead of Mercedes on the log, Williams team principal James Vowles says Aston Martin’s rise this season proves independence is not the key to success in Formula 1.

Aston Martin, like Williams, are one of Mercedes’ customer teams and buy not only the engine and the gearbox from the Brackley squad but also the rear suspension.

It’s a philosophy that has worked for Aston Martin this season with the team the closest challenger to the runaway championship leaders, Red Bull. The Silverstone team is even ahead of Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship, up by nine points.

In yesteryear a customer getting the better of their engine supplier was almost unheard of, prompting the FIA to change the regulations in 2018 to state that engine manufacturers must supply all teams, customers and works, with the same spec engine.

But while that’s levelled the playing field when it comes the power unit, buying other parts from teams comes with some risks as it means the car has to be designed around the gearbox instead of the gearbox being designed to suit the car.

It begs the question whether Williams would ever go back to creating their own gearboxes. Vowles says no, after all Aston Martin have shown teams can succeed with customer parts.

“In our sport, the gearbox has become very reliable. It does its job. So I’m not really worried about that level of independence,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.

“Aston Martin is proving that’s not the point.

“Mercedes provides high quality. You still need to be in control of where you’re going with your aero package, and in which direction you march. Mercedes provides us with a very good power unit.

“We have to invest our time in other areas: aerodynamics, driving dynamics and so on. We can do that.”

Pointed out to him that the ‘gearbox also influences the aerodynamics’, the former Mercedes strategist replied: “That’s right. However, two of the top teams drive with the same gearbox. It’s probably okay, and not a limiting factor.”

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The new Williams team boss is inspired by Aston Martin’s leap forward.

“100 percent,” he said. “This shows what is possible with the right structure. I think they made some clever moves to absorb knowledge from different directions.

“This team was a good team that is now being built to get into the top three. It gives me courage that we can do the same.”

For now, though, Williams are fighting in the back half of the grid with the team having scored a single point that has left them down in 10th place in the standings.

Asked if every point scored would be a ‘win’ such is the fight for P6, Vowles said while he “sees it that way too”, the team boss would “rather throw this year away to have a good foundation for next year.

“And I would also rather sacrifice 2024 to have even better bases for 2025. If you just throw yourself into the now, stay there. I don’t want to be seventh, eighth or ninth with this team. I want to go further up. Achieving this requires radical and significant decisions. We do that.”

But how many years can Williams, perennial P10s, write off?

Bottom of the standings in four of the last five seasons, and again P10 in the early part of this year’s championship, it remains to be seen how long Dorilton Capital, who bought the team in 2020, will continue to invest if they don’t see gains.

And Vowles saying he would be ready to write off the next two seasons doesn’t bode well for that.

Although Dorilton have said they were well aware of the problems within Williams when they bought the team, they had hoped the situation would improve and brought in Jost Capito to lead the charge.

The team’s P8 in the 2021 season proved to be a false dawn with Williams back down in P10 the next season. That was supposed to be the year Williams capitalised on the all-new technical regulations and took a step forward but it was not to be.

Capito left at the end of the season with Vowles stepping in to lead the way. So far, despite the team saying the new car is an improvement, the on-track results haven’t backed that up.

If there’s only more of that to come in the next two years, Dorilton Capital’s patience, and finances, could soon run out.