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Why behind the curve Williams is only a positive for Vowles in F1

Williams boss James Vowles has been open since joining the team about how far behind some of its infrastructure is compared to Formula 1’s leading squads.

Alex Albon, Williams FW45

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

After switching from multiple title winner Mercedes, Vowles has admitted some surprise regarding facilities that he said in certain areas were 20 years out of date. 

It was why he pushed hard, and achieved some success, in changing F1’s capital expenditure limits to free up the possibility for much-needed investment to help address Williams' shortfalls. 

While some may have been put off by how much catch-up was needed to help that charge up to the front of the grid, Vowles sees things very differently. 

Off the back of Williams' best-scoring season since 2017, which helped it grab seventh in the constructors’ championship, Vowles thinks that achieving what it did in spite of its deficits is a huge boost as the squad lays out ambitious targets for the future. 

Speaking to Autosport about the infrastructure situation, Vowles said: “I like it. And here's why I like it. This team has done incredibly well before I joined, and even when I've been here, because it's driven by passion. It's a true racing team.  

“Any time I keep looking at our facilities, structures, infrastructure, methods, and realise how far behind we are, I'm only encouraged by it.

“We're here where we are today, and I can't wait until we get a lot of it fixed because we'll be in a much better place. And in a short space of time too, because there's quite a bit, still, of low-hanging fruit left over that we can pick up.“

James Vowles, Team Principal, Williams Racing

Photo by: Williams

James Vowles, Team Principal, Williams Racing

A new mindset 

While Vowles knows that the catch-up game Williams needs to execute to match the infrastructure of rivals is a long-tern project, this has not stopped him pushing on with more immediate changes since his arrival.

And perhaps the area where he has been able to have the biggest influence is in shifting the mindset of Williams – getting its belief back and putting in place the attitudes it needs to produce better racing cars. 

It started with getting rid of a short-termism mentality that he felt was not conducive to making Williams a consistent competitor at the front. 

“When I joined, I asked: ‘How are we getting on with next year's car?’ And the answer was, nothing," he explained. “I said: ‘Right, we're changing that immediately. We need to focus on next year, the year after, and 2026.’ 

“Because as soon as you focus on the just now, and that's where your window is, everything is bursts of activities, and you don't move the organisation forward.” 

It was very much a situation of Williams having the right people in place, but them just not operating in the right way. 

“You don't finish seventh in the championship with what you have unless you have intelligent individuals," added Vowles. "But they weren't working together. They were very, very insular pockets of people.   

“So, step one was bringing the intelligent people together to just work together as a group. Then give the responsibility to the [entire] group that performance is your responsibility.  

James Vowles, Williams Racing Team Principal

Photo by: Williams

James Vowles, Team Principal, Williams Racing

“It's not aero. It's not vehicle dynamics. It's this group. Work it out yourselves. You mix them all together and all of a sudden, you get a shift of dynamic, that it's not pointing fingers at each other. It is, okay, let's work together.  

“The second change is you put the flags on the hill. I don’t care about what happens at this race or the next race. What excites me is how we're going to develop across next year, the year after, and into 2026. These big milestone changes.  So how do we achieve that? 

“There were those that were focused on short-term firefighting. So, you need to put down the fire hoses and focus on putting a proper structure in place.  

“Then the real good bits start coming six months, 12 months later. The organisation has embraced this change, and it's 'let's work a little bit more' to 'how do we go ahead and look forward'.”

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Vowles hopes that progress has been noticeable at Williams since his arrival, especially in areas that go beyond pure car speed. 

There are some bits that everyone can pick up on, and performance is one element of things, but I mean attitude, approach, body language, direction of travel, and investment – going out in the world and asking for more money, not less money now,” he said. “They're all changes in approach that are, hopefully, tangible.

“The direction of travel is one I'm comfortable with. I'm comfortable that the ship is turning the right way. We're not facing the right way yet, but at least we've got the rudder down and we're moving.” 

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