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Why Williams F1 is no longer living "hand-to-mouth"

The Williams Formula 1 team took a first step in its long road to recovery with the arrival of former Mercedes man James Vowles in 2023, who has brought back long-term thinking to the Grove squad.

James Vowles, Williams F1 team principal

Alister Thorpe / GP Racing

With investment and commitment in place from owners Dorilton, incoming team boss Vowles has been backed to make sweeping changes in a bid to restore the winner of seven drivers' and nine constructors' titles to its former glory.
Williams has suffered from years of underinvestment that gradually turned it from a benchmark into a backmarker. But instead of putting all its efforts into just surviving another year, its fresh impetus under F1's budget cap means Vowles and his recent key hire Pat Fry as CTO can now fully chart out where Williams' Grove facility and its staff need to be in five years time and put all the intermediate steps in place to get there.
While Vowles' new-look Williams isn't built in a day, and the team is unlikely to make big jumps until the 2026 regulation reset, Fry felt the team has to develop a "winning mindset".
That mindset shift and strategic thinking Vowles has brought from Mercedes is already making a difference according to Head of Vehicle Performance Dave Robson, and a shift from "short-term firefighting" as Vowles called it.
"There are all sorts of things that James has sort of unlocked," Robson told Autosport. "I think that probably one of the biggest things is for the first time in a long time we're not just focused on today and tomorrow, so you can afford to have a much more long-term or medium-term view on things.
"That's completely different to how it's been probably since 2014-2015. It's not hand-to-mouth anymore, so that changes an awful lot."
Robson says Vowles' strong mandate by its owners has led to much swifter decision-making and the implementation of a healthier company culture.
James Vowles, Williams Racing Team Principal

Photo by: Williams

James Vowles, Williams Racing Team Principal

"That whole sort of philosophy about how we do the R&D, what the real goals are, becomes quite different," Robson explained. "On top of that, he's been able to come in and see exactly where the weaknesses are.
"Having that sort of experience and authority come in means that there's not that much discussion, the investment needs to be made, the investors are prepared to make that investment. And now we've got a clear sense of confidence as to where we should be.
"Whereas before, even if the money was available, we had to do all the work to understand why it was the right place to invest in. So that makes a big difference.
"His whole way of leading is quite different. I think it's probably taken a bit of time for everyone to come to terms with it, but now everyone understands how it works. It's really quite refreshing.
"It is genuinely about being open and honest, and everyone understanding that mistakes are fine as long as we learn from them, which again is different to how it sometimes was. There's not like a list of five things that severely have made an impact. It's just the whole way he operates the team is different and better."
With a fresh Mercedes engine deal in place until 2030, what is now key to Williams' long-term fortunes is significant investment into its outdated infrastructure. But alongside that long-term focus, Robson feels the change of tack is already paying dividends during the development of the 2024 car that should allow Alex Albon and Logan Sargeant to be more competitive on a wider range of circuits.
"As we got into the development of next year's car, the FW46, we can see that new attitude kind of rippling its way throughout the company," he added.
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"At the track, we see way more James on a day-to-day basis than the factory does. We probably adapted to it reasonably quickly, but I think now over the last few months you can really see it has taken effect everywhere.
"It's still probably another year or two from fully materialising into performance, but you can really feel the sense of change now."

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