Williams reviewing Mercedes deal as they aim to take charge of ‘own destiny’

Michelle Foster
The race number of Alex Albon on the Williams FW45. February 2023.

The #23 of Alex Albon emblazoned on the launch version of the Williams FW45. February 2023.

Williams are evaluating their Mercedes deal with an eye to changing engine suppliers come 2026, with new team boss James Vowles admitting they cannot rely on others if they want to fight for World titles.

Although Williams have taken great lengths to make it clear they are not a Mercedes B-team, they have created closer ties to the former World Champions in recent years.

While they initially only ran the Mercedes power unit, that deal beginning in 2014, last season it was extended to include Mercedes’ gearbox and hydraulics.

The deal was signed under previous chief Jost Capito with new team boss Vowles putting it on his list of things to consider with an eye to potentially making a change come 2026.

“Clearly, we’re happy with the relationship that’s been in place for many years,” he said as per Autosport. “Mercedes have produced really, fundamentally, the best on-average power unit across certainly the last 15 years.

“Where we are at the moment, certainly with Mercedes and other OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] is we’re reviewing as we have to.

“We need to ensure we review the marketplace and make decisions on that shortly, about where we are in terms of relationships.

“It has to be this year, where all teams will move forward. I think you’ll struggle to see teams migrate away from their current pattern much beyond this year.”

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Williams potentially have six options for 2026 as Honda have put their name on the entry list, although they have yet to confirm if they’ll definitely be on the grid, while Audi and Ford, the latter linking up with Red Bull, will also be suppliers.

They’ll be joining Ferrari, Mercedes and Renault.

“At some point you have to be in charge of your own destiny,” Vowles said, “and you’re simply not when you rely on someone else providing you parts.

“As good as the components are, you don’t know what your aero direction will be until very late. It’s normally dominated by the decision of the manufacturer’s circumstance.”

But having extended their deal to include other Mercedes parts, not just the engine, the former Mercedes man acknowledges that if they do swap engine partners, they’ll most likely have to bring those parts back in-house.

“This is probably the key question,” continued Vowles. “Every time you take some benefits, for example there are some other transferable components you could take from other OEMs, you’ll gain, you’ll make a step up, because simply they’re doing a level of quality you’re perhaps not at yet.

“But you’ll start to lose the knowledge internally as to how to do things to those levels. It’s a balance. It’ll give you a short-term step, but it’ll probably hurt you longer term.

“To win championships you look who’s won it – typically it’s an OEM, and you need to be manufacturer-backed to do it, you need to have everyone behind you. And that’s the difficult pathway that we have to fight along the way.”

A fight he admits will take time as first the team needs to begin moving forward year on year after which they can target the front of the midfield.

But to take on the top three, there he says Williams may need a little help from Formula 1.

“To break into the top three is incredibly difficult,” he said. “They have resources beyond your dreams. They have experience beyond your dreams, they have the best people on the grid.

“All of those were additional costs that will be borne by teams that perhaps are fourth backwards. And I think certainly a realistic step for this organisation is first and foremost, to make sure that every year we are just edging forward. That there has to be dream number one.

“Dream number two is we have to set a sensible period of time in the future, and it is years, where we start to actually break into sixth, fifth, fourth.

“From then onwards, the sport really will probably have to have some level of political change to allow probably teams to break into the top three. And that’s the future.”