Vowles: Unbelievable that Williams can compete with facilities ’20 years out of date’

2023 Monaco Grand Prix

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Williams team principal James Vowles is planning major changes but says he is impressed by what they achieved given how far out of date parts of their operation are compared to their rivals.

Vowles helped take Mercedes to eight constructors’ championship titles before joining Williams, who finished last in the championship for the fourth time in five seasons last year. Speaking exclusively to RaceFans, Vowles said he was relieved by the positive reception he’s had at his new team.

“First and foremost, everyone’s been very welcoming from day one,” he said. “The fear that you have in these sorts of environments is always whether or not the team will open their arms up to you or whether or not they would be fearful of the change or, worse still, reject you as the change. And I would say it’s very much in the camp of the team is ready for evolution, ready for transformation. It knows that we can’t carry on as we are.”

He took over from Jost Capito, who spent two years as team principal having replaced Simon Roberts, who was put in charge after Dorilton Capital bought the team in 2020 from its founding Williams family. Williams has had “multiple directional changes” in that time, said Vowles, and needs a total overhaul to become a competitive operation.

He says the staff are “open minded” about the scale of change that is required. “Everything that we have gone through so far in terms of what we want to achieve, not this year, but over the next years, means complete ground-up, dig everything up, break it, structural changes,” he said.

Since arriving at Grove three months ago, Vowles has begun restructuring the management side of the operation, details of which are due to be announced soon.

“Over the last two or three weeks we’ve started to put in place a good set of management team elements. There’s more to come. There’s more signings that will be public over the next few months and you’ll start to see from that what the structure I have in my mind will look like.

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“That’s what’s missing at the moment. It doesn’t quite have the structure required to run it and operate it on a day-to-day basis and also develop it and move it forward. And that will appear.”

Vowles has the technical structure for the team “very clear in my mind” now “and there’ll be action taken very shortly about that.”

However the team’s design and production facilities also needs major change, said Vowles. Arriving from Mercedes, he admitted he was amazed at how effectively Williams operates given how out of date areas of its operation are.

“It’s an organisation that is incredible in what it achieved,” he said. “It has a car here, 17,000 components that it put together without any digitised system at all. I didn’t even believe that was possible in modern day Formula 1.”

This is an area of the team where significant change is needed, he said. “It’s not just technical that needs to change. It’s not just design, it’s not just wind tunnel, it’s just not aerodynamics. It is everything.

“Some of the production elements are 20 years out of date in terms of methods and philosophies. ‘A little bit all over’ is probably the right way of saying it.

“The one that drives everything is ultimately performance, and that’s why the focus has to go into that one. But every time you push something, you’ll find another limitation, another logjam, and that’s what you have to go and clear up. And at the moment you don’t find that till you stress the organisation, which is what we’re doing in various ways.”

Don’t miss our in-depth exclusive interview with James Vowles coming soon on RaceFans.

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2023 Monaco Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...
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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8 comments on “Vowles: Unbelievable that Williams can compete with facilities ’20 years out of date’”

  1. Electroball76
    26th May 2023, 12:59

    First order of business : replace the old Klix vending machine with a proper coffee maker!

    1. Jonathan Parkin
      26th May 2023, 13:07

      God you remember them! I used them at high school.

  2. Forza@Monza
    26th May 2023, 13:09

    Ouch.
    Well, that explains a lot about Williams form since 2019, doesn’t it? Especially the constant lack of components…

  3. “It has a car here, 17,000 components that it put together without any digitised system at all.”

    Impressive and horrifying in equal measure!

  4. isthatglock21
    26th May 2023, 21:50

    Sad that Williams family bled it dry for too long. Never invested beyond 90s. Sold off chunks to investors (Toto Wolff) & instead of reinvesting used it t pay off their multi million £ mortgages. Claire WIlliams role was just a cash cow & highest paid team principal (£3m+ per accounts) despite being at the very back of the grid. Claire’s husband also got £250k+ a year for leading the driver academy despite no qualifications. Then cashed out when selling. Their steering wheel alone says everything.

    1. They didn’t have the money to invest. Don’t forget that the era that lead them to go dry in was the era when Toyota was literally spending more than the entire GDP of Afghanistan.

      1. isthatglock21
        27th May 2023, 23:55

        Most businsesses sell stakes to fund future growth as part of investment plans e.g. McLaren, Aston. Even then paying yourself millions which other teams didn’t do isn’t an insignificant sum of investment when you add it over 10 years. Read through their accounts & look at director remuneration & dividends paid out over the years. Even had partnerships with Merc with cheap af engines & wider branding deal. I’m talking all post the Toyota era & toyota famously did zilch with their investment & withdrew asap, even manor/marussia proved you could race with less than Williams so it wasn’t all about big boys…of which Williams was one cause they got extra revenue under old concord agreement just for being an old team irrespective of where they finished
        .

  5. Chris Chapman
    27th May 2023, 14:30

    Just reading Mark Webber’s autobiography – he slates the management as it was when he was there – compared to other teams he drove for – it led to a very dispirited workforce. Looks like little has changed.

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