Williams’ new team principal James Vowles says his experience of “failure” in Formula 1 will help him to transform the fortunes of the squad which finished last in the 2022 constructors’ championship.
Despite being one of the most historically successful teams in Formula 1 history, Williams have struggled in recent years. Last year was the fourth time in five seasons they have finished last.
Vowles’ F1 experience spans over 20 years at the Brackley factory which operated under various guises with differing levels of success – including as British American Racing, Honda and Brawn GP – before transforming into Mercedes in 2010.
Vowles will leave Mercedes as the team’s chief strategist under team principal Toto Wolff to join Williams as their new team principal before the start of the 2023 season. Asked what he believes Williams are doing wrong as a team and how he intends to turn them around, Vowles said the Dorilton-owned squad requires a “change to the culture” to move up the grid.
“It is hard to answer what’s wrong, simply because I haven’t set foot inside and my contact has been fairly limited – for purposeful reasons, I’m still in the transition point, I think it’s fair to say,” Vowles told media including RaceFans after his appointment was announced.
“What [would] definitely be wrong is when you’re hurting and when you’ve been punished, you’ve been pushed down as an organisation because you’re suffering, that doesn’t get any better year-on-year, unless you get a change to what’s going on – a change to the culture, a change to the methods and systems. And I suspect a lot of it was that if you go back a few years, we didn’t have the strength of Dorilton.
“Dorilton really want and will invest the correct amount to make this a [performing] team. And I think it’s fair to say I don’t think that was the case just a few years ago. The impact of them will take a while to probably kick in.
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“The second is that I’m one change, but clearly one individual won’t make it. What’s required is a re-strengthening of the technical team but also allowing those internally that are incredibly good to shine and prosper. And I suspect the environment they’ve had around them isn’t one would have been [conducive] to that for a period of time. What I’m doing different is I’m fortunate enough to have known failure on levels that many of you unfortunately have publicly seen. Even prior to Mercedes, there were times where we were languishing in a very poor position – we didn’t score a point for 12 races.
“The real gain that you get out of this is that you have to instil a culture into this that allows everyone to realise that you have to be empowered, you have to grow, you have to move forward as units together and it has to be one collaborative motion. And I strongly suspect that we’re just in the situation where that collaboration isn’t quite the level it could be or should be, just simply because it’s been a few years of pain that has cemented it.”
Vowles has been in discussion with Williams over taking over as team principal since the team announced in December they will replace former team principal Jost Capito and technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison.
“We all have a relationship in sports, so it wasn’t that it was a complete cold call,” Vowles explained. “Both individuals were aware.
“From my perspective, really the conversation just started picking up. Initially because it’s an incredible opportunity and I feel that I can add to it. And then really from both sides, both Williams and myself, we concluded that the fit is very, very good. After a number of meetings with the board, we actually found that our way of working, a way of thinking, a way of approaching things – culture, people, systems – was incredibly aligned and it’s at that point where really I brought Toto into the conversation to let him know my will and desire was.
“Toto’s response was the best I could have hoped for. He’s been incredibly good in terms of accommodating this change. Mercedes know that it’s obviously a loss. But in a way, it’s a gain because [for] Williams fundamentally, and for myself, this ends up being a big step.”
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