The announcement two weeks ago that James Vowels, the Mercedes chief strategists since the team was bought from Ross Brawn, was leaving to head up Williams Racing caught a number of F1 observers by surprise. Vowels has been with the Brackley based outfit since it was BAR in the early 2000’s and was part of the furniture. James had been instrumental in 9 constructors’ and drivers’ titles and his experience is second to none.
There had been times when the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and Vowels became strained particularly if a chosen strategy failed costing Lewis Hamilton a win or a podium.
Mercedes F1 threw their strategist “under the bus”
Vowels was famously “thrown under the bus” as Christian Horner described it when at the 2018 Austrian GP Vowels made the call not to pit Hamilton under the Virtual Safety Car. Others behind Lewis pitted and gained an advantage when eventually Hamilton made his first stop.
In a bizarre stream of team radio Vowels, who does not usually communicate directly with the drivers, came over the airwaves apologising to Lewis for “throwing away” a win then telling
Hamilton the team “believed in him” to recover the situation as best he can.
Vowels takes engineers with him, from Mercedes
Following the announcement of Vowels departure Toto Wolff stressed it was by mutual consent and the team gave James its blessing in his new venture as a team principal. Yet speaking to sport1.de Helmut Marko suggests otherwise.
Marko was asked whether he believed the Williams Racing F1 team would no become a Mercedes B-team setup: “No, I have completely different information,” revealed the Red Bull advisor
“Vowles went of his own accord and – so it is said – even takes good engineers with him. My sources tell me that’s why the mood at Mercedes is so tense.”
Helmut Marko goes on to posit that Vowels exit has had an immediate negative effect on the Brackley team though he believes they will come out strong for the 2023 season.
Mercedes biggest threat to Red Bull
“We’ll see,” he continued. “However, I still believe that Mercedes will be our biggest challenger when it comes to defending our title.”
Toto Wolff revealed in a festive season Mercedes video that the new W124 will adopt a similar philosophy to its predecessor of which Lewis Hamilton famously remarked, “at least I’ll never have to drive that again.”
Mercedes appear confident their different approach to ‘gourd effect’ F1 car design will pay off in 2023 now the firefighting to prevent the car from bouncing has stopped.
However, with the cars being forced under new regulations for 2023 to ride higher than before, this appeared to disadvantage Mercedes in 2022 where bumpy tracks meant they had to run their car further from the asphalt.
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