Why is a ‘champion-level’ F1 driver committing to a point-less team?


Why would a driver linked to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes over the past year commit to a non-points Formula 1 team that has been incredibly disappointing in the first few months of 2024?

This is a valid question that some will certainly ask in light of Williams Albon's renewal. Just a few weeks ago, Williams team boss James Vowles described Albon's best performance as driving at world championship level, but admitted the 2024 car was well below what the team's main driver needed to even score points.

Albon's first few years with Williams after a year out after being benched at Red Bull were brilliant, and changed his reputation on the track.

His stock soared when he single-handedly led Williams to seventh in the championship last year – a peak that caused nosebleeds given his recent malaise – and his emergence as a potential challenger to Formula 1's top three teams has been fully justified.

So why recommit on a multi-year basis to a team tied for last in the Championship after a harsh winter, a start to the season filled with collapses, and a backlog of promotions to work through?

For starters, Albon feels a sense of loyalty to the team that brought him back to the grid after his 2021 break.

He is truly supportive of the project led by Fowles, which is now supported by the arrival of chief technical officer Pat Fry.

There is strong investment from the board – with Albon informed of many talks at the top level – and a real sense that short-term pain will give way to long-term progress at this collapsing giant.

Albon likes the idea of ​​being there to benefit from all that work when it pays off. What he couldn't do was wait indefinitely, but neither could Williams, as Albon wanted to commit to a new long-term deal soon and was prepared to release him for 2025 if he intended to leave for 2026 anyway.

The way the driver market works is also key.

Why was Williams the better choice?

Alex Albon, Williams, F1

Williams is considered a realistic possibility in the medium term to achieve better things in Formula One than the potential alternatives available to Albon.

Despite all the speculation linking Albon with joining a top team, and the belief that he deserves this opportunity, these options have disappeared.

Ferrari has signed Lewis Hamilton to partner Charles Leclerc from 2025, Sergio Perez makes a good case for being retained by Red Bull (who are also monitoring outgoing Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz), and Mercedes effectively has a three-driver shortlist for next season. : Max Verstappen, Kimi Antonelli and Sainz.

Red Bull has shown some interest in Albon, including wanting to have a first option option for him for the 2026 season when his previous contract with Williams expires. But this was not a wise move for Albon, as it could have cut him off from other options, including staying with Williams, for a place that is not guaranteed at all.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, and Alex Albon, Williams, Formula 1

And Mercedes are so convinced of Antonelli's potential that anyone (except possibly Verstappen!) would be a mere pit stop, as Albon seeks and deserves more than that status. So the initial talks there went nowhere.

All of that, combined with Fernando Alonso's renewal at Aston Martin, where Lance Stroll has a permanently guaranteed seat, means there is no place at any of the teams that make a big, immediate step forward. Then it's down to judging the teams in the second half of the grid and their potential – all of which offer something, but perhaps none more convincing than Williams.

For example, Albon could have left himself open to being part of an Audi works team project, but Audi is dead set on making Sainz partner Nico Hulkenberg and there are other names in the mix too. Additionally, whether Audi is a team or not, Sauber is less convincing than Williams at the moment.

It's possible that Alpine was interested in Albon and vice versa given the state of their staff but there are a lot of question marks over that organization. This is not a better option than Williams in the long term.

Haas is a lateral move at best with a much lower ceiling unless something changes in the way team owner Gene Haas runs things.

Alex Albon, Williams, and Nico Hulkenberg, Haas, Formula 1

While at Williams Albon has long-term security, almost certainly a better-paid contract than his first, a team with good investments, strong leadership and a supply deal with Mercedes – which can be reasonably trusted not to drop the ball with the team. Engine rules 2026

In terms of options, he may have been looking at a sideways move at best in the short to medium term, without stability and potential in the long term. This renewal does not prevent him from taking a big step in the future.

So, it's a practical short-term decision by him, a massive win for Williams to have a driver of his caliber on board, and a huge endorsement of what Vowles is trying to build.

What is the hope for 2024?

Williams F1 chart

The Williams FW46 is a better car than last year's car, but ironically it has yet to score a point – something the team hopes to start changing with the first of a series of upgrades at Imola this weekend.

While the Williams team reached Q3 nine times last year and scored points on nine occasions to secure seventh place in the championship, this year's car has peaked with five Q2 starts out of a possible 11, two of which finished just one place outside the points. On the per lap pace, it is at a similar level to last year, around 1.5% on average, and it all seems to represent a lack of progress.

However, it is a necessary result to make the car a stronger all-round performer with greater development potential, effectively taking a step back to move forward.

Not only was the 2023 car at its peak in terms of swinging between being a threat in Q3 and out of it in Q1 50% of the time, it was also incredibly quick on the straights thanks to its downforce deficit. By producing a 'better' car – as in more consistent across a wide range of tracks rather than 'overpowered' on certain tracks and strong on the straights – it made goals more difficult to score.

Williams F1 chart

“That's a fair assessment,” Albon said when told by The Race that the Williams is a more versatile car than the 2023 car but lacks the apexes that would make it easier to score points.

“Corner to corner, for the most part, it's better. There are certainly areas where it's a little more unstable than last year, but that's the philosophy we've followed.

“There is performance on the table. When and if we can open it up, I think we can score points regularly.

“We're balancing a bit on the lack of upgrades – we've been behind since the shakedown and haven't put out a decent update at all this year yet, so we're falling behind.”

Albon's point about the lack of upgrades is key. Aside from the odd track-specific bit, the only new components were a minor tweak to the rear brake ducts in Australia, a new front wing endplate in Japan, a halo tweak in China, and a tweak to the front wing in Miami. .

Williams F1 comparison

This lack of development is not due to an inability to make gains, but rather to setbacks caused by a series of significant delays that first became apparent last year when the 2024 car was built thanks to the pressure to modernize the processes used and a series of accidents that exacerbated this. This continued until the final race in Miami, where Logan Sargent was involved in an accident after colliding with Kevin Magnussen, and Albon also suffered what the team described as “massive” ground damage when he crossed the corner.

The car is therefore running with less advanced equipment than it ideally should be, meaning it lacks the crucial tenths of a second that could tip Williams' favor from a car that spends most of its time between 12th and 16th and a car that can. Score points.

Improvement in the development race is key to helping a team that started the season in seventh or eighth place before falling to ninth or 10th in recent weekends climb back up the standings.

As the field thickens, small wins can have a transformative effect and put Williams back in contention for points. Albon will look forward to that in the short term, although his new contract is dependent on much greater achievements in the coming years.



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