The change that Vowles is making his priority at Williams F1

After years of playing his part in helping Mercedes dominate Formula 1, incoming Williams boss James Vowles faces a completely different challenge at his new team.

The change that Vowles is making his priority at Williams F1

It is not lost on him that for four of the last five years, Williams has found itself pegged to the bottom of the constructors’ championship. Plus, more recently, it has faced fresh uncertainty following the departure of team principal Jost Capito and its technical director FX Demaison.

Turning the squad’s fortunes around quickly is not going to be an easy task for Vowles, as he is comes in at a time when much of the work on the 2023 car has already been completed. His job list is going to be large too; for he will need to get a restructured technical team in place to help drive its F1 challenger forward as fast as he can.

But, while decisions over the technical department and overall reporting structure will be important for Vowles, there is one thing that he thinks take priority above everything else: a new team culture.

The team that he famously remembers watching through the catch fencing at Silverstone in the early 1990s during its most dominant era is in a very different place right now. As Vowles said: “If you asked me what are the front facing and most iconic brands of the sport, Williams is what comes to mind.

“It's filled with incredibly talented people who were just hurting a little bit from the last few years. But it has great potential.”

 

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

What Vowles thinks is critical therefore for helping shape a better future for Williams is to lift spirits at the team; getting the squad believing in its future direction. A new mentality and a shifted culture are the foundations that Vowles thinks need laying down before any other changes can hope to make the improvements necessary to move up the grid.

Speaking about where he felt Williams was lacking at the moment, Vowles said: “What will definitely be wrong is when you're hurting, and when you've been punished and you've been pushed down as an organisation because you're suffering, it 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.

“I suspect a lot of it was that if we go back a few years, we didn't have the strength that is Dorilton [team owners]. Dorilton really want to and will invest the correct amount to make this a performant team. And I don't think it was fair to say that that was the case just a few years ago. That impact will take a while to probably kick in.

“But I'm one of a change, and clearly one individual won't make it. What's required is restrengthening 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 that would have been conducive to that for a period of time.”

While Vowles is arriving from a Mercedes team that is known for dominating F1’s turbo hybrid era, that’s not to say he only knows what it is like to win.

There were definitely some tough times at Mercedes last year when the squad was battling its early season porpoising dramas.

Plus, Vowles was on board at Brackley during its difficult early days as British American Racing – which included long streaks without scoring any points in the early 2000s.

“I'm fortunate enough to have known failure on levels, that many of you unfortunately have publicly seen,” he said during a media briefing last week. “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.

“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 a unit together, and it has to be one collaborative motion.

“I strongly suspect that we're just in a situation where that collaboration isn't quite at the level it could be or should be, just simply because it's been a few years of pain that cemented it.”

Having lived through the journey at Mercedes from a team that struggled to score points to one that has, at times, been expecting to win each race it goes to, Vowles has a huge wealth of experience about the way things need to operate inside a successful organisation.

 

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

“When we’ve asked our senior leadership team, what's the most important element of the team, it will always come back to two things at Mercedes: people and culture,” he said. “It’s not the machine shop floor, not the windtunnel tools, not the driver in the loop simulator. It comes back to people and culture. And I believe exactly the same is true within Williams.

“Before setting foot in there, I'm unsure where we are at the moment, but it is the highest thing on my priority list: making sure that everyone understands that it's about working together.

“It's about empowerment. It is about treating your colleagues with the respect that you want back from them, and the growth you want back from them, so that we can work together towards an end goal.”

Perhaps the biggest endorsement of Vowles’ belief about culture being so important comes from his former boss Toto Wolff – who has long held the view about it being a key factor in the success of the German manufacturer.

Speaking about his perception of Mercedes, Wolff said: “Where we started the journey, the kind of prevailing philosophy was, this is a race car and the race car needs good aerodynamics, and a strong engine, and so on and so forth.

“But it was almost always neglected that the racing team is a group of people that have joined on a journey. And these people have hopes, dreams, objectives, and anxieties, all of that.

“I think what we have been able [to do] in Mercedes is to embed a structure where it's all around the person. We care. And we believe when we care.

“When you set up an organisation that demonstrates that every day, then you can achieve extraordinary performances. Now, that's no guarantee forever, as we've seen in 2022, but the culture and the values are the immune system of any organisation.

“James has been a part of this journey of developing our culture, about setting objectives. And so he will be able to translate that into the Williams organisation.

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“I have no doubt that James within the organisation will discover talent, will discover committed and ambitious people. And if he embeds all of that in a positive mindset, a safe environment, as a caring team principal, I think Williams can very much turn around and move forwards.

“It always starts at the top and then it needs to cascade into the organisation. I've been at Williams. I loved being there. And I have no doubt that James will too.”

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Toto Wolff, Team Principal and CEO, Mercedes AMG

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

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