For Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes fans, James Vowels is a name they know well. If his critics are to be believed Vowels has had his ups and downs calling Mercedes strategy over the years and at times it has brought him into conflict with the team’s star driver Lewis Hamilton. Whilst Michael Massi suffered the majority of the flack at the 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi, ultimately it was Vowels failure to call Lewis Hamilton in for fresh rubber under the safety car which cost him the race and an 8th world championship.
One of Vowels low points came when he was forced to apologise in front of millions of viewers over team radio for a poor strategy call at the 2018 Austrian GP.
Mercedes F1 strategist humiliated in Austria
The Mercedes decision following the deployment of a virtual safety car was not to bring Hamilton while his rivals took advantage of the opportunity to change rubber and lose less time on track. This was to cost Hamilton the lead when he eventually pitted for new tyres on lap 25.
Hamilton persistently bemoaned the call over the team radio complaining it would cost him the race win. Surprisingly, Vowels was then heard to apologise to Lewis saying, “I have thrown away the win today. I’m sorry,” said the Mercedes engineer.
Hamilton eventually retired with fuel pressure issues with less than 10 laps remaining.
Horner criticises Mercedes for throwing Vowels “under the bus”
Christian Horner described it as “bizarre” that James Vowels had been forced to apologise over team radio.
“I have never worked with Lewis and I don’t know what makes him tick and what doesn’t, but it a fairly bizarre thing to need to do for somebody to throw themselves under the bus to motivate a driver to go faster from fourth back into the lead,” said the Red Bull boss.
Toto Wolff eventually came out I support of the team’s race strategist following the chequered flag.
“For me, James is one of the best ever, and it needs guts to come out and in order to save the best possible result go out there and say in front of millions of people and say, ‘That was my mistake, now you can still do this, with the car you have’,” Wolff said.
Hamilton fans call out Vowels bias
From that time on the hard core Lewis fans would call out Vowels as anti Hamilton whenever knife edge race strategy decisions would go against the British driver.
Today James Vowels breaks the news he is ending his 20 year tenure in Brackley as he leaves to fill the role of team principal at Williams Racing.
Vowels began his career when the team was called British American Racing, which morphed into Honda then Brawn and was finally bought by Mercedes.
In a twitter video statement from Williams, Vowels states he believes the Williams team has “tremendous potential” to climb back to the top of F1. Whether true of not Williams certainly has the biggest hill to climb after the the failure of Jost Capito to better position the Grove based F1 team.
Vowels commits to returning Williams F1 to the top
“The team is an icon of our sport, one I greatly respect, and I am very much looking forward to the challenge. Mercedes have been hugely supportive on my journey, and we part on excellent terms after over 20 years of working in Brackley,” adds Vowels.
“I am grateful for everything Toto [Wolff] and the team have provided, and it has been such a special experience to journey together through failure and success. Williams Racing have placed their faith and trust in me, and I will do the same in return.
“Williams has tremendous potential, and our journey together starts in a matter of weeks.”
Whether James Vowels can turnaround the fortunes of the failing iconic British motor racing brand or not is yet to be seen. He will also have to deal with the strange decision for this season to recruit rookie Logan Sergant to race alongside Alex Albon.
"I'm incredibly proud and excited to join Williams"
— Williams Racing (@WilliamsRacing) January 13, 2023