Vowles: Williams 2026 engine decision will be made this year

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New Williams boss James Vowles says that the team will make a decision this year about who it will be their engine partners from 2026 and beyond.

Currently Williams users customer Mercedes power units under a deal that began in 2014. But it's by no means certain that this will continue into the next era of engine regulations.

Vowles himself is another former Mercedes asset at Grove, having been their chief strategist working trackside alongside Toto Wolff. But he's pledged that Williams is not going to be a 'junior Mercedes team' under his watch.

Whether that could translate into a different engine partnership in future remains to be seen, with Vowles promising that the call will be made at some point this season to give them time to manage any transition.

“Clearly, we’re happy with the relationship that’s been in place for many years,” Vowles told the media this week, while admitting they were currently weighing up their options when it came to original equipment manufacturers [OEMs].

“Mercedes have produced really, fundamentally, the best on-average power unit across certainly the last 15 years," he said,. while acknowledging that there was only so far you could grow as a customer squad..

“At some point you have to be in charge of your own destiny, and you’re simply not when you rely on someone else providing you parts," he said, going on to provide an example of what it meant in practice.

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

Possible alternative engine suppliers could include Honda (if the Japanese manufacturer decides to stay in F1 after all after its belated success with Red Bull), Renault or newcomers Audi and Ford.

"Where we are at the moment, certainly with Mercedes and other OEMs is we’re reviewing as we have to," Vowles said.

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW45 on the grid. 05.03.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Race Day.

"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.

“To win championships, you look at who’s won it. Typically it’s OEM and you need to be manufacturer-backed," he explained. "That’s the difficult pathway that we have to fight our way along.

“However, we have bigger fish to fry at the moment,” he admitted.

Winning championships seems a long way away for Williams, which has spent the last few years bumping along near the bottom of the constructors championship standings.

The last of Williams' 16 world championships came in 1997, and it hasn't been a significant factor in the title fight since 2003. It has not won a race since 2012 when Pastor Maldonado took victory at Barcelona.

Alexander Albon (THA) Williams Racing FW45. 25.02.2023. Formula 1 Testing, Sakhir, Bahrain, Day Three.

The Williams family sold their controlling interest in the race team to New York-based investment firm Dorilton Capital in August 2020 in a deal valuing the business at $179.5 million.

But despite originally headhunting Jost Capito to be team principal, Williams has so far failed to thrive. The owners are hoping that bringing in Vowles to head things up will be the tipping point it needs to get back to the top.

"For now we have a realistic target on our shoulders," said Vowles, who was keen to play down the expectations for this season.

"We know that step one, with what we have right now, we have the ability to move forward from where we are. And that’s goal number one, that’s reviewing the future.”

Despite the fact that the team is currently without a technical director following the departure of François-Xavier Demaison over the winter, the team had its best start to the season in six years last week in Bahrain.

Alex Albon captured a point for the squad by finishing in tenth place, while rookie recruit Logan Sargeant impressed as the best of the three new drivers on the grid this season and finished in 12th.

That puts them ahead of the point-less AlphaTauri, Haas and McLaren squads, albeit with 22 races yet to go in 2023.

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