Vowles explains how experience of ‘failure’ will help him turn Williams around

2023 F1 season

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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.

Logan Sargeant, Williams, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, 2022
Williams brought up the rear again in 2022
“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.

Vowles spent 20 years at the Brackley squad
“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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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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10 comments on “Vowles explains how experience of ‘failure’ will help him turn Williams around”

  1. Hmmm not sure about this appointment, Vowles literally has no experience in leading Motorsport teams at all. Williams has got a mountain to climb.

    1. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend
      Neither has Andrea Stella, to my knowledge, so we’ll see with both how well they fare as TPs.

      1. @pmccarthy_is_a_legend, @jerejj
        Neither Horner, Toto, Brawn, Briatore… whose teams has been winning every F1 championship since 2005 with the exception of 2007-2008 seasons. I’m not diminishing the experience when it comes to the TP role though the skillset must come first. If you have the right skillset to lead people and manage a racing team then experience can be gained with time.

        The opposite is not true as shown by Binotto who after 3 years in the job with all the resources Ferrari have still couldn’t manage relationship between the drivers, race situations, politics… and was saying that they are a young team that cannot fight for championships.

        1. @tifoso1989 +1. Agreed. Leadership experience is overrated too many times. There are so many bad leaders with many years of leadership experience. (not just in motorsport, in any industry)

    2. A lot of F1 team principals have a lot of experience, and a lot of F1 teams are very unsuccessful. F1 is (needlessly, but still) complicated, and the team principal has to juggle budgets, facilities, politics, hiring, organisation, etc. in an effort to get everyone to work to the best of their abilities in the best possible circumstances. And even then, if the people working at a particular team aren’t as skilled as others, it’s going to be an uphill battle for said team to be competitive.

      As with any competition, someone will win and someone else will be last. In many ways, it’s only a matter of small differences and factors outside the control of anyone at the team can influence the performance of a team, like specific regulations benefiting the particular skill set of one team over another. And in the proud F1 tradition of throwing money at it until it works, teams like Williams will not be able to brute-force development in the way Red Bull or Mercedes can.

  2. Happy to see this, sounds like a good move for all involved. I hope it turns out well for all parties.
    I expect to see a down-to-the-wire thrilling scrap for the title between Haas, Williams and Mercedes this year! Or actually, not. :)

  3. Best of luck to him, he can’t do no worse plus he does understand what’s required to win. As long as he has time to implement change this will be good for all concerned.

  4. Unless James can copy & paste Toto Wolfs management style and bring his own ideas into play I think he’ll be just fine, I still think Williams need a major overhaul in their design departments but I know and understand this argument doesn’t always addresses the problems they have there. Williams do need this years car to be ready when Winter testing starts pretty soon.

  5. Maybe not the first headline I’d like to make when introducing myself to a new group of people but best of luck to him :)

  6. Should he not be successful in turning Williams’ fortunes around, will he text or email himself a ” “James, this is James…” message?

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