Williams team boss James Vowles has big plans and hopes to guide the historically dominant British team back to the absolute top, a mission that seems more feasible than in the past since the introduction of the budget ceiling. In conversation with the German Auto, Motor, und Sport, Vowles indicates that he is prepared to forego short-term results if it will help in the long term.
Vowles took over at Williams at the beginning of 2023, which had ended 2022 as the weakest team. The winter tests also did not bode well, but Williams ultimately ended the season as the winner of the rearguard action with AlphaTauri, Alfa Romeo, and Haas. ‘After the test in Bahrain we were the slowest team. We were incredibly lucky in that race,” Vowles said of Alexander Albon’s point in the opening race. The Virtual Safety Car matched our pit stop perfectly, so that saved us time.”
“We have been able to make major progress since the summer break,” says the 44-year-old British CEO. “The exceptions were Suzuka, where we were simply too slow, Singapore, where Sergio Pérez left us out of the points, and Brazil, where we were involved in the start crash, but otherwise we scored points in every race after the summer break.” Of Williams’ 28 points, 27 were scored by Albon.
Albon takes the lead at reformed Williams
“This Williams team is very different from the team we saw at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023. When I started as team boss, I didn’t set a target on where we wanted to finish in the championship. I wanted to get the team back on track. I would have loved ninth place, and eighth place would have been a dream,” said Vowles, who wants to achieve more with Williams than competing in the middle bracket.
Albon lost his seat in Formula 1 after 2020, after he regularly struggled as a Red Bull Racing driver. The inexperienced driver returned to Williams in 2022, where he is undergoing strong development and is now increasingly acting as a team leader. ‘We fought for seventh place because Albon did an incredible job. In Montreal, Silverstone, and Monza he kept a whole train of cars behind him. We then improved the package so that we could more easily score points based on speed. However, the top teams score as many points in one weekend as we do in an entire season. Those teams are the benchmark.’
Vowles did not fight AlphaTauri with all his might
For a long time, Williams seemed certain of P7, but in the end AlphaTauri, which carried the red lantern for a long time, came quite close. “We wanted to completely shift the focus to 2024 at an early stage, even if that entailed a risk that we would be overtaken by AlphaTauri,” Vowles explains the priorities. ‘I know I have asked a lot of my drivers and team. We had to defend our seventh place with one arm behind our back. They accepted the challenge and fought. The AlphaTauri was a fast car that outpaced a Mercedes and a Ferrari in the Brazilian sprint race. That shows their quality. For me, however, it is not about seventh, eighth or ninth place today, but about the big step we can take tomorrow.’
“That’s not realistic,” says Vowles about potentially challenging Alpine and Aston Martin in 2024. “I know how big the gap is, and how quickly we want to develop. The things we want to change mean that those teams are too far away to take such a step this year. I am confident we will do better in 2024, but I will not do anything that jeopardizes our long-term goals.”