James Vowles opens up on Williams F1 move, moving on from Mercedes, taking a leap, b-team and more as Toto Wolff adds his views.
After Williams surprised with the news of the departure of Jost Capito and FX Demaison ahead of the 2023 season, the Grove-based F1 outfit surprised again with the hiring of former Mercedes strategy director Vowles in the role of team principal.
It seemingly came on the table very late as Vowles revealed about the talks only taking place last month. He had to take permission from Mercedes which is why he can’t join in his role until February 20 which days before the pre-season test and after their launch.
Vowles is to miss the Williams launch on February 6 and will have his task cut out for the 2023 season start. Additionally, it will be a step up from his current role which he thinks he ready for it and feels confident that he will be able to manage when talking to media including F1 website.
He has worked under Wolff for long which will be a bonus but the closeness with the Austrian and Mercedes team will not make Williams a ‘b-team’. Vowles insists on the independent tag of the F1 outfit which has been the case since its inception.
On the other hand, Wolff has no hard feelings in letting go of Vowles. Having lost many names to Red Bull from the engine side, the Brit is another big name to leave at a time when Mercedes are on a recovery mode. The Austrian has kind words for him.
James Vowles –
How Williams role came about –
Vowles: “I’ve been chatting to Williams over the last month or so. Very clearly, we all have a relationship inside this sport, so it wasn’t that it was a complete cold call. From my perspective, the conversation just started picking up initially because it’s an incredible opportunity and I feel like I can add to it. And really from both sides, both Williams and myself, we concluded that the fit is very very good after a number of meetings with the board. We actually found a way of working, a way of thinking, a way of approaching things, culture, people, systems, was incredibly aligned. It was at that point that were I brought Toto into the conversation to let him know what my will and desire was.”
Reaction of to-be former boss Toto Wolff –
Vowles: “I think from my perspective Toto, in fairness, wasn’t really made aware of it until late on, so just a few weeks ago, really into the new year. Toto’s response was the best I could have hoped for. He has been incredibly good in terms of accommodating this change. Mercedes know it’s obviously a loss, but in a way it’s a gain because Williams fundamentally and for myself it ends up being a big step, and I think that is why you are seeing this collaborative nature.”
Leap from being strategy director to now team principal –
Vowles: “Fortunately, I’m not seeing it… it is a leap, it is a jump, but I don’t think it’s a massive leap. I think this journey towards Team Principal has been one that has been in my head for many years, and Toto and Mercedes have been incredibly kind in order to provide me a pathway to get there. A number of responsibilities fell my way in the last few years. However, it’s the same if I asked any of you to change what you’re doing and move on to a different organisation, even perhaps if you’re doing the same job. You have to reform your relationships, you have to build the team around you that you want, that you are with, and you have to reform those social groups that are now disappearing. Disappearing after 20 years.
“The best analogy I can use so far is almost like a divorce. It’s hard. That’s a lot of people that are incredibly close to me, that I’ve grown up with. But I’m going into an arena that has people that are just as motivated, just as committed, and just as hungry for success. It’s a different starting point but the end goal is going to be hopefully no different. To answer your question, is it difficult? I don’t see it that way. Perhaps I’m getting carried away with the excitement and the want and will to start this, and get into this, but it’s not trepidation. I’m waking up every morning, I don’t mind saying, at five AM and just scribbling down thoughts, notes, directions. That is the level of motivation that is just going to keep me going for years and years. I’m confident of it.”
Closeness to Mercedes, so Williams a b-team –
Vowles: “Williams is an entirely independent organisation, and furthermore, it’s one that my success is subject and dependent on me doing a good job there, and that has to be independent of Mercedes. It doesn’t mean that Mercedes and ourselves won’t have collaboration in some form or another, there was collaboration before I joined, but I have to do what is best for Williams from here onwards. The second, which is now fundamentally, that you put a crisp Williams shirt on, that is where your loyalty is and that is where my success and the team success will come from. There is no mini-Mercedes or B-team or any of that notion. This is about me standing on my own two legs and measuring success with an organisation around me.”
Toto Wolff –
His departure and contribution –
Wolff: “He’s been having a massive contribution, not only to what’s happening during the races, but also in terms of the global strategy of the team, and Mercedes Motorsport in general. In the last year, we decided that he would hand over the reigns to a new team of strategists and, since July, James has been moving off the pit wall, and not actively interfering anymore in the decision-making on the race weekends. He’s been with me, basically overlooking the situation, like I have done for many years.”
Next big step for Vowles –
Wolff: “That next step is something that James deserves. Within our organisation, for him to move up, I would have needed to move aside, and I feel still that there is something left in me, and that I can add a contribution, or that I can contribute Having a sparring partner at Williams, someone that’s very logical, rational, while very experienced in F1, is of overall benefit, I think, for the Williams organisation, for Mercedes, but for F1 generally. James has been around for a long time, he’s seen it all – the intelligent things and the less intelligent things. I have no doubt that Williams choosing James is a fantastic move for them.”
Here’s news of James Vowles joining Williams
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Here’s Williams getting modernaised at Grove
Here’s Williams focusing more on long-term
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Here’s Williams on ‘too nice’ Alexander Albon