Is Williams on his way to the top again? ‘Ideally we could spend 142 million’

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Is Williams on his way to the top again?  'Ideally we could spend 142 million'

James Vowles switched from Mercedes to Williams at the beginning of 2023. Vowles had been with the German team for a long time and was primarily responsible for strategy, while at Williams he was given the opportunity to become team boss. In 2023, Williams already worked his way up from last to seventh place among the constructors, but Vowles is ambitious and wants to achieve much more. In conversation with the German Auto, Motor, und Sport, he discussed the situation and plans at Williams in detail.

At Mercedes, Vowles had become accustomed to the best facilities and an organized structure, so it was a bit of a shock when he started on his first day at work. ‘When I walked into Williams, I found a lot of very good and intelligent people. They may have had few successes in recent years, but that does not make them any less competent,” explains the 44-year-old Briton, the youngest of the ten team bosses.

Vowles was shocked upon entering Williams

‘I did find many individual groups at Williams, and not a collective of 800 people working together as one group. The problem was actually everywhere, because different groups were working in different directions,” Vowles continues. ‘The infrastructure is twenty years outdated. “It’s just enough to get two cars on the start line, but there is no software that records information about the car parts, or their lifespan,” Vowles said.

‘The factory is divided into many individual rooms, so people cannot see each other. That’s how I found Williams,” the Briton reflects. ‘Williams is now stronger in every area, but we are still a long way from where we want to be. We have started creating a structure where there is more mutual consultation between the department heads. As a team we are entirely responsible for what we show on the track.’

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james vowles williams 2023
Vowles works in a structured way and hopes to help Williams improve.

The former strategist believes that the road to the top has now begun. ‘Yesterday is in the past and the past is not going to get us anywhere. We should not think about today, but about tomorrow. That should be the attitude. The cultural change has started, but it takes time before the effect becomes noticeable. The first results are now coming and the car is getting better step by step.’

‘Many facilities are very outdated, almost antique’, says Vowles, who achieved an important step when he managed to make more investments to improve facilities. “Because the budget ceiling has been increased for capital investments, we now have more opportunity to address these types of things. We started with that, but you can’t spend twenty million overnight. That is a process that will take months, if not years.’

Vowles would like to have more money available

“The first step now is to set up the management team,” Vowles indicates. ‘You cannot do everything alone, you need key people you can rely on. We now have five management positions, and below that we have department managers. We have also improved internal communication. Everyone on the team now knows what the plan is, why it is the plan, and how we should benefit from it.”

“Of the $65 million we’re allowed to spend, we’ve already spent $45 million,” Vowles said of the capital investments. ‘So we now still have twenty million available. Ideally, we would need 142 million to reach the same level as the top teams, but we have had to set priorities. That means we need to eliminate our biggest weaknesses, including production. Every part that we do not produce ourselves costs three to four times as much money and takes us extra time. That is why we want to produce more parts ourselves. We invest in a simulator and software that allows us to monitor the status of the parts. The simulator will be available in 2025.’

‘Our wind tunnel is fine. We were able to modernize it for relatively little money, and the investment in the wind tunnel is also registered separately under the budget ceiling,” says Vowles, who confirms that Williams has also used the full available budget under the budget limit since 2023. ‘The large teams have more than 1,000 employees. I try to optimize the number of employees in relation to the development of the car. If you have more people, you have less budget for the car, and therefore fewer upgrades, and vice versa. As far as I’m concerned, the golden mean is between 800 and 900 employees.’

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