James Vowles expanded on the toughest decision since joining Williams, managing Logan Sargeant’s disappointment and chassis prep.

It was unusual thing to happen on the Friday of F1 Australian GP weekend where Williams decided to give Sargeant’s chassis to Alexander Albon after the Thai suffered a heavy crash in FP1 and damaged the gearbox, engine and the chassis itself.

With no spare chassis available due to delays back at the base, Vowles took the difficult decision to give Sargeant’s chassis away to Albon on the point that the Thai will have a better chance to score a point for Williams than the American as of now.

Vowles understands it is not correct considering that Sagreant did nothing wrong, but due to the situation Williams is in, he had nothing else he could have done. He took the board, the sponsors and also both the drivers in confidence before taking the decision.

It will have a knock-on effect as Vowles suggested since Williams will have to divert resources to repair the chassis which has been sent to the UK. It will again delay the third chassis which they now aim to have by China – a race after Japan.

Vowles expects delays in their development programme too as he is overhauling the Grove base to prepare them for a faster production than what they do. He acknowledges it being unacceptable to not have a spare chassis available and needing for such decisions.

But with things now happened, Vowles reckons this can be used a catalyst for the changes they are pushing at Grove. It also helps in vindicating his role of trying to change things at the factory and aide Williams to return to a better situation.

Here’s all what James Vowles said in Australia –

Damage to the chassis –

Vowles: “Yesterday the gearbox was cracked in two, the engine mounts were completely bent and the engine’s done, fundamentally. And the chassis on the front right corner where the suspension goes in is torn apart, that’s the best way to say it. I can put my finger into the chassis, which you shouldn’t be able to do, just for clarity. In terms of finances, I’m going to make a number up on the spot, because I haven’t seen the bill, but I’d say
circa half a million out of it. Overnight the team has been brilliant at working with the structures and stress department and the design office in order to decide how we are going to fix this in a short period of time. And the team here have managed to get the car back for around about Monday 2am, so we’ll have teams already working on it from Monday onwards in order to get it repaired. Until they see it in person it will be very difficult, we’re doing things by photo and entity that we’ve done here, but there’s about four or five mitigation plans in place for it.”

Faith situation with Sagreant –

Vowles: “No, I don’t think that’s the case. The fact that I re-signed him shows you I have faith in him. This year, I think you’ve seen he’s been closer to Alex than before. However, I have one car and just one car. There are five very fast teams taking up those top 10 positions. There’s no points apart from if you’re in the top 10. There’s one point separating the bottom five teams, at the moment. So, every point will make a difference between now and the end of the year. In that regard, you therefore put your money on the driver that so far, this year, has been slightly ahead of the other one, which is Alex.

“So, I reset everything, have taken a view from Bahrain, taken the view from Saudi and taken the view from here, which of the two drivers is most likely score a point. No, never had that discussion before, so in that circumstances, it was difficult discussions with both drivers on Friday, but only in reaction to the fact that we only have one car. And no, I purposely didn’t want to put pressure on his shoulders of all the things [so didn’t speak to Logan about it before FP2]. Actually, I wanted to see in FP2, how he went and how the car performance was.”

Taking board, sponsors on-line to take such decision –

Vowles: “Before you make a decision like this, you need to make sure that you’re legally covered in every regard, without question. So, there’s several things you do as an organisation. First and foremost, we communicate it to all of our sponsors before we spoke to all of you at the same time, to make sure that they’re aware of the situation. This is where we are, this is what we’re doing to remedy it, and these are the decisions I’ve taken as a result of it. So, the normal procedure in this is you speak to the board, of which it’s not in this case, you speak to your sponsors to make sure they’re aware. There are always within contracts, as you would imagine, provisions for it. So, if you remember, this isn’t the first time a car hasn’t participated. There was, I think, a case with Hulkenberg recently where the car was parked in the garage. That’s just motor racing to a certain extent, so you have provisions that cover you.”

Why no third chassis –

Vowles: “When I started in February last year, the plan was to have three chassis at round one. As we went through large changes in organisation, having performance and technology changes in the back end and process, we started to push out fundamentally certain elements of things. There’s a finite amount of resources. And as we were going through an inefficient structure, and making transformation at the same time, we started to cause problems. And those problems before could have translated to adding metal components, or last year’s rear wings. In this particular case, the third chassis started to get delayed and delayed and delayed. And I think one of the things that we’ve been transparent about is we were very late with these cars – very, very late. We pushed everything to the absolute limit.

“And the fallout of that is we didn’t have a spare chassis. Even then it was intended to be coming here, at round three. But it got delayed and delayed again as other items got pushed back as a result. If we go back to root cause, it’s the fact that we’ve added significant processes. We’ve completely changed how we make a chassis. I think I described it the other week in Bahrain that there’s almost 10 times the amount of parts in a chassis compared to last year. That’s a level of complexity that takes an organisation to a new level. But the ramifications aren’t that the third chassis is any more difficult to make, that they’ve already made, we’ve already made two. It’s more that the knock-on effect from all the work that we’ve done that pushed everything very late has pushed everything else very late, if that makes hopefully some sense to you.”

Albon being thankful –

Vowles: “You can see it in Alex’s note that I think we put out in the press release yesterday, but you can hear Alex’s words almost. He’s thankful for it. He’s conflicted. He knows that he’s the reason why Logan isn’t able to race today and that frustrates him. The converse to it is any racing driver I’ve met wants to go out there and give 100% for the team and even more so now that they realise the sacrifice that’s been made for them to do that. So, yes, to answer your question, there’s thanks and there’s frustration all mixed into that at the same time for both.”

Managing Sargeant, his role in Australia –

Vowles: “First and foremost, it’s very difficult to do. You have an elite athlete that’s doing nothing but what I’ve asked him to do this year. He hasn’t made a single mistake; he didn’t put a foot wrong across this year and yet, I’ve taken him out of the car. So, that would damage whether it’s you in a car or him in the car, it would damage your confidence of all things. One of the methods I’ve been putting in place with him so far is structure, including he and I talking about where his strengths are, and where are his weaknesses, help and support in terms of his surroundings in order to move him forward. The truth behind it is, with a racing driver, when they get in the car again, which for him now will be in Japan, and he ends up within milliseconds of Alex, which is what he’s been doing the last few races, you’ll see the confidence flows back anyway. And the second message is, he understands this is a team sport. It’s the weirdest sport in the world, where I’ve got two drivers, but it’s a team sport and he understands that.

“And one of the reflections I had is I nowhere near had his maturity when I was his age. But he came out and you’ll see it both in his commentary and you’ll see it when you ask him questions today. He’s frustrated by it because he wants to be performing at the highest level but equally he understands and recognises that as a team sport, I’ve had to make one of the hardest decisions so far in my position here. As you would imagine, he gets up in the morning in order to get into a racing car and drive quickly. And from his perspective, he did nothing wrong, which I think is an entirely fair reflection on what happened yesterday. However, he was also, as I said, the maturity he displayed immediately afterwards, both understanding it and in his commentary, it shows you where he’s at. He wants to be successful within this organisation and he wants us to be successful as a team. And that overrides his personal ambition for being in the car today. In terms of where he is, his help will be absolutely required in order for us to move forward and he will be doing so. Where he positions himself, I leave his choice to be doing, whether he wants to do it back here or next to us out in the garage.”

Team on ground management –

Vowles: “So this is a good question for how demoralised or how people are feeling about things. The car crews last night pulled together and did shift work to fundamentally get the car to where it is at the moment. So instead of pulling apart, the team pulled together, which is something I’ve observed here and something that makes me really proud to be here leading this organisation. The same with the engineering teams. What they’re doing right now is splitting the workload of how do we go together forward and score points. Everyone recognises this isn’t a situation that anyone wanted, but conversely, this is not the time to back down. This is the time to double down on it and work together.”

Taking such situation as a catalyst to push than be frustrated –

Vowles: “Without doubt. You’re in a situation where you have teams that are here that have flown on an aircraft, as all of you have as well, near enough, for 24 hours to come here and now not be able to compete at the highest level. So, one of the things I did yesterday is brought all the team together and explained why I’ve made the decision to have, much as I am doing with you now as well, why we have to pull together as a team, not pull apart as a team. And why we have to use this as a catalyst for change. So, this is all frustrating. We should never be in a situation in the top tier of motorsport where we’re not able to produce two cars to go to the grid.

“But I’ve always said all the way along that this catalyst of change that we need to do, the change that we’re doing within Williams at the moment, is not one that will take place over one month or one year, but many years to start resolving all these issues. As you would imagine, you’re seeing an output of it, which is the third chassis is not ready. This is more what I’m trying to use as a strength within the organisation of, this is why we are changing, this is why I’m confident this will work as a result of things. And please use what’s happened today, not as a frustration, but as a catalyst for why we need to do this and very quickly together.”

Unacceptable situation, delay in development –

Vowles: “Without doubt, it will do. So, we’re in an organisation, you can already tell at the
moment, that no team plans to not have a third chassis. Not in modern day Formula 1. The last time I had that was in 2009. That’s the last time I didn’t have three cars and we got lucky that year. We could easily have lost the championship as a result of losing a car. You don’t plan to do that. It’s simply unacceptable to not have two of your cars out on track next to each other fighting. In the case of what we are doing at the moment, the reason why it’s come about, though, is because we are on the back foot with everything. We are simply, as we try and move through process and systems and transformation, something’s being pushed out the back. And in this case, it’s the third chassis. So, that also means that as we go through now, we have updates planned and other items planned, but I’m having to divert the entire workforce and getting this chassis in a good state. Without losing the momentum we have on the third chassis and on updates, something will give. There’s no doubt about it.”

Two chassis in Japan, three when –

Vowles: “We will have, definitely we’ll have two chassis in Japan, but no, I don’t think that third chassis because the workload that we now have on as a result of this change will push it back. There’s a finite amount of resource and you can either put it into making sure we have two cars built up with the correct amount of spares in Japan or the additional chassis. I think the best option for having the car is to repair the chassis based on the news from
last night. I think it will be [third chassis], is it China the race after Japan? It’ll be in China. Regarding the factory work, it’s hard until I get the chassis physically back there, to give you a full acknowledgement of how difficult it will be, but based on the conversations we’ve had overnight, it should all be achievable.

“So, the car has to leave by Saturday in order to make it back on time, which gives us effectively new enough a week, and that’s sufficient amounts of time. As I said, until the chassis is back in the UK and they’ve properly inspected it from not just photos that we have and NDT that we have here, but properly get into it, no one can give you 100% certainty. What I can tell you is based on the evidence that we have so far and the work that’s completed overnight, everything looks completely feasible. I’ve seen chassis in worse states come back from this. 100% is a difficult number to give you. And as a statistics man, I wouldn’t say 100%, but I would say you’re at a very high probability you’ll all be fine.”

Drivers now more cautious –

Vowles: “I’m pretty sure after yesterday they fully understand that there are no risks that we can be taking at this stage at this point in time. It’s an interesting psychological trick. If you talk to a driver and say don’t take any risks, they’re racing drivers, that’s what I pay them to do, I pay them to be pushing to the absolute limits of where they can be within reason. And I’m asking them to do something that’s entirely natural to them, and in certain aspects, probably worse. So in response to that, it’s not how I operate with the drivers. But I think they have enough awareness now of what’s happened over the last 24 hours what situation we’re in.”

Here’s how F1 Australian GP qualifying panned out

Here’s what Williams said further after Friday

Here’s news from Williams

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