James Vowles explains the key difference between Williams and Mercedes

Oliver Harden
James Vowles, Williams team principal. Bahrain March 2023.

Williams team principal James Vowles stands on the grid ahead of the race. Bahrain March 2023.

James Vowles has revealed the key difference between teams at the front and the back of the Formula 1 grid, explaining that the quality of the facilities separates the likes of Williams from title-winning outfits like Mercedes.

A stalwart of Mercedes’ success in recent years, Vowles left his role as chief strategist over the winter to become only the third team principal in Williams’ history, replacing Jost Capito.

Vowles has made an impressive start as Williams’ new boss, with the team scoring a point at a season opener for the first time since 2017 thanks to Alex Albon’s 10th-place finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Albon’s team-mate, Logan Sargeant, has also enjoyed an assured start to 2023 after graduating from Williams’ junior scheme.

Having been a central figure behind the success of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas and George Russell during F1’s hybrid era, Vowles believes that the size and scale of Williams’ factory is comparable to that of Mercedes – but he feels that a lack of investment at the Grove base over recent times is where the deficit to F1’s leading teams is truly felt.

Appearing on the Vowles Verdict Q&A on Williams’ official website, he said: “First and foremost, Williams is a large site.

“It actually mirrors that of Mercedes in many ways in terms of size, but very clearly some of the facilities are not necessarily at the same level as they were in Mercedes.

“It hasn’t had the same joyous journey financially and as a result is lacking in certain parts, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

“It’s normal when you consider it from the outside, but when you really come into the depths of it you can see why the team has had the struggles it’s had across the years.”

Vowles has been firm that every decision by Williams under his stewardship will be made with the team’s long-term prosperity in mind, with the team principal convinced the approach will pay dividends.

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“In terms of how we move forward from here, it’s very clear,” he added.

“We have some base fundamentals that we’ve just got to go back and make sure we’re very happy with first and foremost, build structures that allow us to generate performance not for tomorrow, but for next year and the years beyond.

“That takes time to do properly.

“It’s very easy to do short-term gains, but that isn’t how you’ll move forward up and down the grid because everyone’s doing that.”

With a point already on the board, Williams’ prospects for this season appear promising after finishing at the bottom of the Constructors’ standings in four of the last five seasons.

As rival teams – including Mercedes and, if recent reports are to be believed, Ferrari – consider switching to a Red Bull-esque car concept to escape their current struggles, Williams already made the move halfway through last season.

And Vowles is hopeful that there is more performance to come from the FW45.

He said: “The car is always a prototype. We never aim to bring exactly the same car [to each race].

“Through an understanding from previous races or even changes and improvements aerodynamically or otherwise, we’re continuously trying to move forward through a season.

“That said, there is a tremendous amount of potential still in the package we have. There’s still a few more tenths to come across the next few races.

“However, competitors up and down the grid are having a very similar conversation where they also have potential to come and it’s a race between all of us to see who unlocks the most in the shortest period of time.”

Vowles confirmed that Williams will seek to improve the car through a series of small upgrades throughout the season, rather than a single major step as seen in 2022.

“We’re continuously evaluating whether or not we should be doing a large package or a number of small packages and it’s more a function as to the problems we’re suffering with the car,” he added.

“Right now, what we’re focusing on is a number of small packages that will deliver learning and performance across the races to come.

“That’s where our focus is.”