Ahead of the 2024 F1 season, Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant are confident that a radical “change of approach” in the development direction of the newly designed FW46 will bring major gains throughout the season, based on what they’ve seen in the past few months during the work in the simulator.
It is no secret that the Grove squad stopped developing their 2023 car very early on last season to start focusing their efforts on the 2024 machine, and the results from that might be coming to fruition according to their drivers.
Speaking to selected media after the team’s season launch last week in New York, Alex Albon was very clear that the 2024 machine feels “very different” in terms of handling compared to the FW45 from 2023 in the simulator, hinting that the main limitations — especially in low and high-speed corners — of the previous iteration were fixed in the new car — but admitted that it will come at a cost of a different driving style as well:
“Very different, more than anything, different feeling. So different driving style applied,” he explained. “Let’s see, I don’t want to speak too soon, but the [2023 car] always had some consistent limitations with the car, especially when we went to tracks like Monaco or Barcelona. They were highlighted. Low speed was always a big issue for us, braking was always a big issue for us, but also high speed was always a big issue for us, long corners were very difficult for us.
“Definitely in the simulator you can see that these areas have improved, but at the same time that comes with quite a different driving style.
“I think [it’s] really until you hit the track you can really start to try to understand it and pick it apart.”
The Thai driver revealed that some of the main weaknesses of the 2023 machine were also present for at least four seasons, deriving from a time when he wasn’t even in the team yet. And whilst he hopes the radical change of approach will even out some of those issues, he’s not taking it for granted just yet:
“Yes, I would say so. As in what our limitations were last year, yes,” Albon said when asked if his feedback was taken into account for the development of the new car. “But it’s not just my feedback, it’s every teammate, even 2021, 2020, when I wasn’t even driving the car, it was the same issues.
“So there’s always been an inherent issue with the Williams cars in the last four or five years. And I think this year, especially, we’ve sacrificed a little bit of development time on the FW45 car to focus on the FW46, [we’ve] shortened the of the amount of upgrades we had on the car to make sure that we try to attack this car a little bit more aggressively and really start to change the DNA of the car, that’s the plan. Let’s see if it happens.”
The 27-year-old hopes the new car will fix some of the previous limitations whilst still maintaining the strong traits it had last year, including its superior straight line speed compared to their direct rivals.
“I also I’m really interested to see how we fare in tracks that we weren’t good at last year. So if you think about, you know, Monza was a good track, Canada, Silverstone, high speed tracks, we know we were going to be good at them and I don’t see why this year [would] be any different. But with the change of approach with our car, we need to be consistent to be that kind of top six, top five team, which we weren’t.
“And I’m very interested to see how we fare in the tracks where we struggle like Monaco, Barcelona, these kind of places.”
On the other side of the garage, his team-mate Logan Sargeant also faced very similar struggles last year, as he could only score a singular point that season, at the United States GP after the disqualifications of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.
When asked how much influence him and his team-mate had on this change of direction in car development, the American explained it was a collective team decision to move towards a new design approach – and the effects from that can already be felt in the simulator:
“I think ultimately we have very much changed the approach of the car. It’s gonna be very different to last year. I wouldn’t say that was necessarily influenced by me or Alex. It was just the direction the team wanted to move in.
“Everything so far feels good on the simulator. Of course, we’ll see how that translates in real life, but at the moment it’s feeling good.
“It’s feeling more drivable, more predictable, more in line with what you would expect from a balance shift from low to high speed. We’ve already put in multiple days on the simulator at the start of this year. We’re just scratching the surface of what the car’s capable of, the setup directions that we want to go.”
Sargeant made it clear how important it was that both drivers want and expect the same from their cars, making it easier and clearer for the team to push in one development direction without hindering one driver or another.
But much like Albon, he admitted that they will have to adapt to the new driving demands that the FW46 will challenge them with in order to extract the maximum performance from it, a process which will be very different to its predecessor:
“I think what’s great is that generally me and Alex are pushing in the same direction. So it’s, it’s not like one of us is asking for, for something completely different to each other.
“But for sure with the difference in the car this year, we’re going to have to unlearn some of the things that we learned how to drive the car last year, because it’s such a, such a big shift in what we’re going to be driving.
“It’s going to be about getting on top of that as quick as we can. If we do that, that equals a lot of time, which is good for us.”
Heading towards his sophomore F1 season, Sargeant believes the FW46 will provide the team with a more “well-rounded” platform to perform well at a more varied range of circuits, not just in high-speed, low-drag configurations like the FW45:
“If I’m being honest, everything is different. The way the car is being set up of course changes the aero as well. It all comes hand in hand.
“This is the direction that James [Vowles, Williams’ team principal] wanted to move in the direction that we believe is going to be quicker and provide more consistent results. I think just to touch on that, it means we believe we’ll have a more well, well-rounded car over the course of a season.
“Whereas last year as you know, we were peaky, we would have good races and then very bad ones at times. So hopefully this will, this will give us more of a well-rounded car over the course of a season, but I don’t want to put too much detail into it.”