James Vowles reveals Toto Wolff phone call after Williams approach

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' James Vowles pictured at the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022. Toto Wolff

Mercedes' James Vowles pictured at the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2022.

James Vowles’ phone call to Toto Wolff to tell him he was off to Williams had an enthusiastic eavesdropper…

Vowles enthusiastically signed up to succeed Jost Capito as the Williams team boss following the departure of the German from the lead role after two years in charge, with Vowles stepping up from his lead strategy role at Mercedes to become a team boss for the first time.

The move led to Vowles having to make a phone call to his boss, Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, in order to tell him that he was moving to Williams, and Vowles revealed that the reaction of Susie Wolff, Toto’s wife, meant he got nothing but support from the Austrian.

Susie Wolff ‘whooped’ as James Vowles revealed move to Toto Wolff

Making the dreaded phone call to Toto Wolff, Vowles recounted the story as he spoke to Tom Clarkson on the Beyond the Grid podcast, saying he could hear Susie Wolff’s enthusiasm in the background.

“Toto said ‘I knew you were calling me about that’ at the time,” Vowles smiled.

“So he was having dinner with Susie and I could hear her in the background whooping.

“So it didn’t matter how he wanted to play it down, it didn’t matter. I had Susie’s backing! So I was good to go.

“He was happy for me. He knows that I’d been alongside him, really doing everything I could to support him and learn from him and every opportunity he provided.

“Another opportunity wouldn’t, for the time being, at Mercedes, he could see that I had really reached a glass ceiling, reached a wall I couldn’t break through, but had the capability to do this elsewhere. And he was completely in support.”

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James Vowles hadn’t considered team boss role until Toto Wolff substitution

Having become a senior member of the Mercedes race team, there was no obvious career progression for Vowles to make as Wolff holds onto his position as team boss as well as CEO.

But Vowles did get a taste for what it would be like to break through the aforementioned glass ceiling, as he stepped into the role of team boss at the track as Wolff sat out the Japanese and Sao Paulo Grands Prix – Mercedes pulling off their sole victory of 2022 at the latter as George Russell led home Lewis Hamilton for a 1-2.

“No, [it was] the first time I looked for it”, Vowles said when asked if he’s been looking to become a team boss for a long time.

“I think there was still a learning cycle that I was going through, last year were some of the first races where Toto wasn’t with us at the track. Obviously, Brazil was a strong moment where we went on to win.

“There were relationships and bonds and learning that I had to go through. And it felt right at the end of last year.

“I wouldn’t say it was correct before then, I think anything before then it would have been not too significant a jump necessarily, but it would have been a slow process.

“So for me personally, it was the right time to do it.”

Having spent a decade working alongside Wolff, who has gone on to become one of the sport’s most successful team bosses as he oversaw their Constructors’ title wins between 2014 and 2021, Vowles paid tribute to his former boss’ strengths.

“[He’s] charismatic, he can make a room laugh or cry,” he said.

“He has the ability to generate the direction of travel that’s needed behind it. He’s very honest, very, very honest, much too… painful at times.

“We’ll call it brutal honesty, but actually it worked well. He commercially had a vision. So the strategic thinking… Toto has that, focused on the commercial side.

“But he had a vision of how to make Mercedes into what it is, financially. It’s a powerhouse. And that was his mindset.”

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