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Why Williams F1 team believes it's no longer a "one-trick pony"

With eight races to go, can the Williams Formula 1 team hang onto its seventh place in the world championship by showing strong form across a variety of venues?

Alex Albon, Williams FW45

If as team principal James Vowles suggests the FW45 is no longer a "one-trick pony" and can be a points challenger at tracks that are not dominated by long straights, then it's certainly a strong possibility.

Williams currently has 21 points, ahead of Haas on 11, Alfa Romeo on 10, and AlphaTauri on three.

A random wet race or an event of high attrition could change things around, but at the moment the Grove team is in a strong position, even with Alex Albon doing all the heavy lifting, and Logan Sargeant failing to score so far.

Significantly, the team has made good use of the high-speed tracks that were always supposed to favour the car, with Albon earning solid sevenths in Montreal and Monza, plus an eighth at Silverstone, and 10th in the season opener in Bahrain.

However, it was Albon's eighth place at Zandvoort that signalled that the car could potentially be a threat for points at any venue.

He was quick from the start of the weekend, taking fifth, third and sixth places in the three practice sessions, and then fourth in qualifying.

If anything, the race was a disappointment for the team.

A wrong call was made to stay out on slicks in the initial rain, which Albon negated to some degree with a long opening stint. He was poised for sixth when he was called in a lap late for inters when it rained again at the end. Nevertheless, eighth place was a decent outcome.

Alex Albon, Williams FW45

Alex Albon, Williams FW45

Photo by: Erik Junius

"As always with these things, you tend to get greedy," says Vowles. "If you said to me before we started do you want an eighth? Yeah, absolutely, I'll take that, thanks very much.

"But in reality on merit, and in fact, we were pulling away from the Alpine at the time, we were sixth in the race. And without rain coming in, and also in our control, the last stop, we could have done a better decision on it, sixth was then available to us.

"And as a result, you walk away disappointed. But taking a step back what I'm looking for and what we're looking as a team is positive improvement, positive direction, and we have that."

Vowles is adamant that Zandvoort was a sign that the car could be competitive at different types of tracks.

"We have tracks now that show we are not just a one-trick pony, a number of tracks we're moving forward at," he said.

"Now that won't be the case at all races this year. I know that. But it's enough that we've pulled ourselves now into seventh in the championship where there's no debate that we're seventh. Now we're going to build on that, and move forward."

The key thing for Williams is that the team has been able to deliver at the tracks that were supposed to be favourable, such as Monza. In other words, it has been taking its chances and converting them.

"The fight for seventh for the championship is a matter of points," says Vowles. "And we're not foolish, it will take just one race to completely undo the hard work that's been built up."

Head of performance Dave Robson remains cautious about the car's prospects across a wide range of venues, while conceding that the Dutch weekend was unexpectedly strong.

"I still think we'll see some natural up and down, partly as we go up and down, and partly because everyone else tends to go up and down a bit as well!," he says.

"I think Zandvoort was a little bit surprising. But there were some hints from the year before where we were really poor on Friday and Saturday. And then when the wind changed for Sunday, last year, we were actually alright.

"And then we had the preferred wind conditions all through last weekend. So I think that the track doesn't naturally suit the car. But I think the conditions on the day or over the weekend did. I think we'll still see a bit more of that, up and down."

The challenge for Williams heading into 2024 and the FW46 is to keep adding downforce without losing the straightline efficiency that has been its trump card in recent years.

"I think it is still possible," says Robson. "We'll have to see obviously, that's the kind of decision that we've got to make day in and day out in the wind tunnel, when you get something that delivers more downforce or delivers the downforce in a way you hope will be more useful to the drivers, but it adds drag. It's difficult to know.

"Not least because we know from five or six years ago when you add the drag, and then you regret it, it's bloody difficult to get it back off again when it sort of becomes baked into the car. So I think it is possible.

Alexander Albon, Williams FW45

Alexander Albon, Williams FW45

Photo by: Erik Junius

"It is a good sign that we're still okay [at Monza]. I still think there's slightly special circumstances about Zandvoort, and I'm sure if we took this car right now to Barcelona, we would still find it tricky."

The final eight races of 2023 feature three sprint events, two street tracks, Friday tyre testing in Japan and Mexico, and obviously the potential for rain in places like Suzuka, Austin and Interlagos.

There will be a lot going on, and a team like Williams has the chance to score well if it gets everything right on a given weekend.

"It creates some opportunity," says Robson. "But at the same time, it takes away some opportunity to do some half-decent testing. But yeah, you could argue it also just adds a little bit of extra noise into the system for everyone, and therefore creates opportunity."

Next weekend's Singapore GP should be an interesting test for Williams. The removal of four tight corners and the creation of a longer straight won't hurt, as will the lack of wind, but nevertheless it's a high downforce track.

"On paper, Singapore probably shouldn't be great," says Robson. "But some of the track changes may help, it's generally quite calm and sheltered there, which may also help.

"So I do think we should be in a sensible mix at all the remaining circuits, and we've just got to execute everything really well and get something out of it."

And one thing is clear: the team will have to do that without adding any new parts to the FW45, as the focus is on the future.

Alexander Albon, Williams FW45

Alexander Albon, Williams FW45

Photo by: Erik Junius

"The car we have, that's it," says Vowles. "Unlike Haas, who I think are a fierce adversary, a fierce fight, we don't have anything more coming for the remainder of the year.

"So we have to try and pick up the points that are going to be available to us when they're going to be available to us.

"The focus – and not just now, but actually from a while back – has been on '24, and actually part of the focus is on '25 and on '26 as well.

"At the moment, we're in a fierce battle for this 10th, ninth, eighth, seventh. I want the team, for them, and for me as well to be in a fierce battle for positions above there.

"And you can't do that by continuously developing what you have at the moment. You do that by thinking forward into the future, and that will have a cost associated with it, potentially even going backwards for a year, but to go forwards again in the future."

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