Williams has found a new team boss. James Vowles is leaving his post as Mercedes strategy chief to replace the hapless Jost Capito at the helm of the iconic squad. Can Vowles put the glorious Grove racing team back on the road to success?
The team boss carousel in Formula 1 keeps turning. A month after Jost Capito's departure was announced, Williams has found a new team boss. The traditional racing team chose James Vowles, who is considered to be one of the most capable engineers in the paddock. The 43-year-old is a well-known name to Formula 1 fans. For years, Vowles was the mastermind behind the most successful Mercedes strategies.
The tactics guru will take on a new challenge from February 20th – shortly before the start of the test drives in Bahrain. After more than 20 years at the factory in Brackley, UK, he is drawn to Grove. "I can't wait to start my new job at Williams," Vowles said. "It's an honor to lead a team with such a glorious racing history. I look forward to the challenge."
Williams is one of the icons of Formula 1 - one of the biggest names ever. "I can still well remember watching Williams through a safety fence at Silverstone during tests in the early 1990s," recalls the new race director. After a few weeks of negotiations, the Williams leadership around owners Dorilton Capital and Vowles agreed that they were a good match. Then the new Williams team boss, Toto Wolff, revealed his plans.
Vowles leaves Mercedes
Mercedes loses an important team member with Vowles. But Wolff didn't put any obstacles in his way. "You can't stop someone who can soar. If a bird wants to fly, you have to let it go." That's why Mercedes Vowles is not subject to a work ban, as is often the case in Formula 1. "James was a highly valued member of our team. He played an important role in our successes," praised the Mercedes team boss as he left. "I know how conscientious he is, how capable and talented he is. It has been a great pleasure for me to accompany him in his development. I have no doubt that he has everything to become a fantastic team leader."
It was already foreseeable last season that Vowles would change professionally. But no one knew then that he wasn't slipping into a different role within Mercedes, but was changing teams straight away. "I've been carrying the idea of leading a team around with me for years." With Capito's retirement, the opportunity opened up for Williams.
Vowles stopped showing up at the command post midway through the season, instead following the races in the Mercedes garage.A successor as strategy director has already been set up internally. Wolff believes that the Mercedes tactics department is well staffed with nine people to absorb the departure. "Our strength at Mercedes is to spread the load across several shoulders. We are a dynamic organization that regulates the succession in good time." He continued: "James has continued to build the skillset of our strategy team in Brackley and we have a fantastic group of talented strategists who will continue to do an excellent job for years to come."
Vowles facing a big task
Vowles has been in Formula 1 for 21 years. He was always at home in Brackley. His career began at BAR, which became Honda, then BrawnGP and later Mercedes. Vowles celebrated nine constructors' titles and over 120 race wins in his career. With the move to Williams, he is taking the next step up the career ladder, which would not have been possible at Mercedes. "I should have stepped aside for that. I'm not ready for that yet because I feel that I can still give the team a lot in my position," says Wolff.
43-year-old Vowles should dust off Williams and make them a better team. In 2022, the racing team ended the season in last place. It is said that the team is still stuck in the past. There would be internal trench warfare. Williams' glory days are long behind them. The last victory was in 2012. The last world title in 1997. Vowles has a big task. "Williams puts their trust in me. I will repay that. This team has huge potential. In a few weeks our journey together will begin," he says.
"Williams has experienced many setbacks in recent years. The many setbacks certainly shape an organization. Especially in the time before Dorilton took over, the team lacked the financial means. Dorilton is ready to invest. We will certainly strengthen the technical department The most important element to succeed is the people and the culture. You can't pull it out on your own. We have to cheer, encourage and respect each other. It's only as a unit that Williams can move forward," believes Vowles.
Working with Williams
He will have to prove himself in his new role. The conditions are excellent. It's not a leap in the deep end for Vowles. "He has already relieved me of many tasks at Mercedes that a team boss has to do. Driver contracts, working with reserve drivers, political tasks," explains Wolff. Vowles knows the sport inside out. He is well connected in the scene. "Of course it's a leap, but not a big one. I was well prepared for it at Mercedes. Of course I have to find my way in a new environment. It's the same for everyone when they change companies."
Vowles don't be someone with a big ego.He is rational in his actions - describes Wolff. The owners of the Dorilton Capital team are delighted with the coup. "We believe the appointment of James underscores our commitment to ensure we have energetic, experienced and strong leadership as we enter the next phase of Williams Racing's transformation," said Chairman Matthew Savage.
It could be that the cooperation between Mercedes and Williams will be further deepened by the change. "Having a sparring partner there helps us and them. But it's also a good step that Formula 1 benefits from," says Wolff. Williams sources engines and transmissions from the Silver Arrows. "We're definitely not a B-Team. Williams won't be a mini-Mercedes either," the upcoming team boss says. "I will stand on my own two feet."