Questions were being raised at Williams as the calendar ticked over to 2023, as the Grove-based outfit commenced the year with no team boss and no technical director in place. It was a somewhat worrying situation given the organisation has been rooted towards the rear of the Formula 1 field for the last several years, having once been a consistent title contender.
But one missing puzzle piece has been fitted in time for the new campaign, with James Vowles arriving at the team from Mercedes. The Briton played a major role in the Brackley-based squad’s run of success in the turbo-hybrid era, as well as Brawn GP’s unexpected triumph in 2009.
For Mercedes, it is a big loss as its strategy chief departs to a rival – but both parties were keen to make it obvious that the transition is playing out on good terms. In a recent media call, both Vowles and Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff were present, with Wolff emitting that there are no spiteful feelings present.
“It’s fantastic news from our side. I’m really happy and in a way also proud about the next step that James is doing,” Wolff said. “He’s a valuable member and in the last two years, he has stepped up in the team from chief strategist to director of strategy and has been adding massive contribution not only to what’s happening during the races, but also in terms of the global strategy of the team and Mercedes motorsport in general. Beyond the strategy, James has been looking after driver contracts, reserve driver contracts to sim driving and many other political topics together with me.”
The extra responsibilities that Wolff outlined contain all the ingredients to suggest that Vowles was being nurtured for a potential promotion to lead an F1 team. The experience that Vowles has gathered under Wolff will no doubt prove valuable, but arriving at a squad as the face of the team and the figure to lead it to success will bring its own burdens.
For a long time, Williams was spearheaded by the family that founded it and since it ceased the day-to-day running of the squad in 2020, there has been an aura of limbo at the team, with Jost Capito (Vowles’ predecessor) always feeling like a stop-gap injection.
Williams’ previous leaders had experience in F1’s vicious limelight, but for Vowles, it’s a fresh expedition. If things go well, he will be praised. If Williams continues to stutter or falter even further, the sword will fall on his head.
However, through the knowledge he has collected during his years at Mercedes, Vowles doesn’t believe that the promotion is a leap for his career.
“[Williams is] filled with incredibly talented people who are just hurting a little bit from the last few years, but it has great potential.” Vowles said. “For me personally I’m very, very excited. I think it’s a good fit for myself.
“I’m looking forward to working with Williams to move up the grid and I’m confident that we can. I’m going on to what I know is a strong and correct direction for me and Williams at the same time. I guess the surprise for many is that it looks like a leap and a jump. But that’s been bridged by the last few years working, Mercedes have provided me a pathway towards that.”
Vowles will officially start his new role on February 20 in time for pre-season testing, and will have limited time to integrate himself with the team before the car hits the track for the first time.
Installing stability, ensuring his drivers in Alexander Albon and Logan Sargeant are satisfied and establishing a strong technical structure to lift Williams from the root of the standings are just some of the responsibilities that are staring at him.
But Vowles is projecting confidence as he bears the responsibility of leading an F1 team – perhaps the most ruthless and unforgiving job in the sport.
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