In January, Williams surprised everyone by announcing that long-time Mercedes chief strategist James Vowles would be taking over the reins of the Formula 1 team from the resigning Jost Capito. Vowles has never held the post of team manager of a racing team before, but comes to Grove with many years of experience from a top F1 team.
Some may wonder whether the appointment of Vowles will strengthen the bond between Williams and Mercedes. The racing team has been buying its engines from the Silver Arrows since 2014, but the team is stressing that the link is not quite as close as that between Haas and Ferrari, the American’s being as close to being a ‘B-team’ as it gets. Many think this will be the case with Williams and Mercedes, but the team from Grove wants to clear up this big rumour as nonsense.
Haas works closely with Ferrari and gets all kinds of parts from the Scuderia. But it’s unlikely to get that far at Williams, as performance director Dave Robson reveals:
“They provide us with a certain amount of hardware, which is extremely good. But we are an independent team and we have to do the rest ourselves,” he says.
We won’t be another Haas
While he doesn’t want to look beyond 2026 yet, when a completely new set of regulations will enter Formula One, “I don’t think we want to follow a Haas model,” Robson says.
First of all, Vowles has to start his work at Williams as well. He doesn’t start his job at Grove until 20 February, so there hasn’t been a huge amount of contact between the two sides yet.
“I don’t know James very well,” Robson admits. They’ve seen each other a few times over the years, “but since his announcement I’ve just said hello, that’s all.” Therefore, it remains to be seen what Vowles is up to when he takes up his post.
Vowles’ reputation precedes him
But at least a good reputation precedes the former Mercedes strategist:
“I think what he brings to the table is a wealth of experience that he gained at Mercedes and his predecessors,” says Robson. “He knows what it takes to get to the top and stay at the top. I think he’s ambitious and very smart.”
At Williams, however, Vowles will have to bake smaller rolls than at Mercedes. The racing team finished the 2022 Formula One season in last place and wants to get back to the front. He is to continue the path initiated by predecessor Jost Capito: Under him, Williams had climbed to eighth place in 2021 before the renewed crash.
“We all know that this will not be a one-year journey,” says sporting director Sven Smeets. “I think James is very eager to get started and he will be very committed to taking Williams forward. So in the long run, it’s a very good feeling.”
Playing catchup not easy
Nevertheless, the team also knows that the road ahead will be very difficult and that even a Mercedes man cannot simply conjure up success.
“I don’t think you can get around the fact that investment has been a problem,” Robson says, addressing the difficult finances in recent years.
While Formula One’s new financial regulations were a step in the right direction, “you can’t undo the sheer amount of money that the big teams have been spending for a decade,” he says.
While even the top teams can no longer pump massive amounts of money into the team each season, the facilities and know-how previously built can be used. “It’s going to take a while to get things sorted out,” says Robson.
With Vowles, Williams is therefore currently looking for stability. “We are now ready for the next phase of restructuring, for some degree of stability and a longer-term plan,” Robson says. “That will help us a lot.”