Alex Albon’s future looms over Williams launch, Stake F1 begins a new era

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Welcome back to Prime Tire, where we’re wondering why we’re in your inbox on Tuesday. Oh no. Could that mean …

Yep, we’re back to a twice–a–week schedule – Prime Tire on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Formula One news machine once again demands you hear from me every three days. I’m so sorry. Thanks for subscribing. I’m Patrick, and Luke Smith will be along shortly. Let’s go.

A new(sy) launch for Williams and Stake

Williams and Stake F1 unveiled their 2024 liveries on Monday. We have much to discuss, but I know you’re here for the photos. So here are some pictures of the 2024 cars and their 2023 predecessors. Ooh, and ahh, away!

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Mashup via F1’s Instagram.

Now, onto my words! My takes! My newsletter! Muahah!

We’ll start with Williams’s launch, which you can watch here. The Athletic’s Madeline Coleman was on hand for the event in New York City, which gave us a whole lot to talk about, including …

… A whole new car. Team principal James Vowles called the 2023 car full of “difficult car behavior.” Williams made the most of it, climbing to P7 in the championship – but there was a big gap to P6. To try and close it this year, the team is expected to bring a brand–new, bottom–up design to Bahrain in a few weeks. The goal, reiterated time and again by Williams on Monday, was to have “a car that is performant at all tracks.” Not just the straight–line, high–speed circuits Williams thrived at before.

The team was light on specifics, but Vowles did confirm “significant changes” in “probably three to four areas” of the car design, dubbed the FW46. The Williams drivers say it has a different personality based on simulator work.

“Definitely, in the simulator, you can see that these areas have improved,” Albon said. “But at the same time, that comes with quite a different driving style. I think, really, until you hit the track, you can’t really start to try to understand it and pick it apart.”

… A whole new Logan Sargeant. “I feel like a new man,” the 23–year–old said on Tuesday. He was remarkably upfront about his conditioning struggles last season. “I let myself get very drained throughout the season, and I let that affect me, you know, off the track, which ultimately brings it onto the track. I wasn’t physically in the place I need to be. And I’ve done everything I can to get on top of that.”

According to Vowles, the team “changed quite a bit” with Sargeant this offseason – a new trainer, new training program (he’s five kilos heavier), and work to make him a “much more confident person.” The confidence should come with the car, too, which Sargeant calls “more driveable, more predictable” than last season. In theory, all this work on the car, the driver and the person should result in fewer mistakes in year two.

… A whole new question looming over Alex Albon. With Hamilton’s shocking announcement last week, the driver market talk is already humming – and Albon’s name is included in many lists to fill the Mercedes vacancy in 2026. (Including ours.) Vowles did his best to head off that speculation on Monday by revealing Albon is under contract at Williams through 2025.

Does that mean Albon will stay at Williams until the end of his contract? Given the chance to say “yes” on Monday, Albon instead replied:

“Umm — let’s see. Time will tell. But my focus is on 2024. Let’s keep it like that. The real focus is on making sure that we make progress for 2025. That’s really where I’m at. I realistically want to be with the team — if the team are where I want them to be, it will be a long–term contract. We’re going to go all the way or nothing. That’s my idea of it, I guess.”

Meanwhile, over at Stake’s launch, The Athletic’s F1 managing editor had a good question  …

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I’m assuming He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is also He-Who-Must-Be-Difficult-To-Get-A-Hold-Of.

Strange Stake F1 livery launch event on Monday. You can watch it here – it conjured video game convention vibes inside a medieval London building. Drake narrated the launch video. When drivers Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu unveiled the black–and–neon–green car, nobody clapped. (Or if they did, it wasn’t easy to hear on the livestream.)

It was … an odd atmosphere. But, hey, it’s also way more fun than Alfa Romeo was last year. “There’s a fresh start and a fresh opportunity,” Bottas said, adding that Stake “definitely do things a bit differently than probably this team has been used to in the past.”

The question is whether any of this newness extends to the on–track performance. The Athletic’s Luke Smith was on hand yesterday to ask. He discovered that Sauber Alfa Romeo Stake revised the suspension layout and hewed the sidepod design closer to Red Bull’s.

We don’t want to be fighting towards the back,” Bottas said. Neither does Audi, whose addition to the project in 2026 looms over the team and Bottas’s new look.



New name, new goals: Stake bids to stop its F1 slide

Let’s throw it over to Luke now.

Inside the paddock with Luke Smith

Welcome to F1 launch silly season.

Even the past week has made for one of the busiest offseason spells I can remember in my decade–plus working in F1. Now, though, it’s time to get our first look at the grid for 2024.

Season launch events can vary wildly in their execution, offering and location. While Madeline was in New York on Monday for Williams’ livery unveil, I was in London’s historic Guildhall, which dates back to the 15th century, for Stake’s car presentation.

While it was heavy on the cliches that promised the start of a new era for the team — which will last all of two seasons until Audi fully arrives — the Stake launch was pretty cool. It’s good to see a team celebrate its new car with a big event to build excitement for the new season.

One thing that is certain at every F1 launch is hedging expectations. “We think that we made a step forward, but we don’t know what the competition has done,” James Key, Stake’s technical director, said of the new car. “We’ll only see in Bahrain if the step we made with our new car is enough to compete at a higher level.”

You can expect every single driver and team figure to say some variation in the next couple of weeks.

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“It shows Lewis can go wherever he wants,” Alex Albon said Monday. (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

What drivers think of Hamilton’s Ferrari move

Thanks, Luke. The F1 world is still reeling from Lewis Hamilton’s shocking announcement that he’s leaving Mercedes for Ferrari in 2025. We finally found one person who knew it was coming, though.

“I know Marc (Hynes), which is [Hamilton’s] kind of management together with me,” Guanyu told RacingNews365. “I texted him before it, so I knew he was signing; it was a fact. I didn’t tell anyone, but I was really shocked by the news.”

I’m shocked by the news Zhou didn’t text me. He wore a cowboy hat in Austin. I thought that automatically made us Texan buddies. Ah well. Monday’s events gave us our first round of F1 driver reactions to Hamilton’s bombshell. The theme: Stunned and ready for a silly driver’s market.

Zhou Guanyu: “I think the people back there [at Mercedes], it’s going to be even more shocking. I think as a driver, especially Lewis, I think he is seeing himself to retire as a Ferrari driver. It’s obviously very nice to have. I don’t blame him for having this kind of feeling.”



Ferrari’s prestige lured Lewis Hamilton – and cost Carlos Sainz his seat

Valtteri Bottas: “I was surprised. I never actually thought that could happen. I think it’s good for him. It’s a big opportunity; it’s a big move. Obviously, he’s made the decision himself, so yeah, happy for him. For sure that’s kind of now escalated some movement on the market for ’25. So, at the moment, it’s quite hard to predict how it’s going to go.”

Alex Albon: “Great for the sport. Personally, I would say what a news story it was. I don’t know about you guys, but I definitely didn’t see it coming. But good for him. I think he wants that changeup. Timing of it is obviously awkward, more for it being the week before all the teams are doing their announcements. For me, it just shows you how big Lewis is. Seeing the stock of Ferrari going up as much as it did, just seeing the general perception of the news. Definitely, to me, it was kind of one of them pinch-yourself moments — No, this is a real story.”

‘There were so many rumors going over the winter you didn’t know what had any credibility or not. And the Ferrari one definitely seemed to be a rumor to me at the very beginning of the story. And then it turned out to be a real thing. So, you know, great. It reminds me of the (Lionel) Messi Miami transfer on such a huge scale and just shows you the appetite for Formula One. As you guys saw it, it laid a lot of questions in the driver market as well and opens that up.”

Logan Sargeant: “I mean, I was surprised, I was shocked. It shows Lewis can go wherever he wants. But, yeah, I was definitely surprised, I think. If that’s what he feels like will motivate him to to keep, you know, improving and ultimately try and win another world championship, you have to respect and understand the decision. But, I think for the rest of the grid, it opens doors, which is going to make the season even crazier come summer break.”

Outside the Points

*checks clock* Oh boy, we’re running out of time here. End of the day, etc. Let’s run through the rest of my favorite recent The Athletic F1 stories, quickly. We’ll aim for twenty words or fewer each.

(Lead image: Edmund So/Eurasia Sport Images, Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images )

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