James Vowles explains why cost cap is slowing Williams progress

Thomas Maher
Alex Albon ahead of Williams colleague Logan Sargeant, Williams. Bahrain, March 2023.

Alex Albon ahead of his Williams team-mate Logan Sargeant. Bahrain, March 2023.

Williams’ team boss James Vowles has said progress in terms of infrastructure can’t be hurried, due to constraints in the F1 budget cap.

F1’s budget cap is now a maturing entity, with 2023 marking the third season since the introduction of the Financial Regulations.

Said regulations spell out the limit of spending teams are allowed to splurge on their cars and performance-related departments annually.

While, in theory, the budget cap means all the teams are on a level playing field throughout a season, the fact remains that some of the smaller, lesser-resourced teams are still finding it difficult to keep up with the big boys – the reason for this is due to starting from a lower baseline in terms of infrastructure.

New Williams team boss James Vowles, who took over from the departing Jost Capito over the winter, has shared an example of this. Speaking to F1 Unlocked, Vowles revealed that Williams lack a computer logging system for keeping track of the 15,000 components that make up an F1 car, as well as their usage.

James Vowles: Williams has just been surviving in recent years

While this ‘basic requirement’ is one that Vowles may be able to prioritise into existence at Grove, systems and infrastructure like this is where Williams have fallen behind some of their grid rivals – and the cost cap doesn’t allow the team, even with funding from owners Dorilton Capital, to simply spend their way to equality.

This is due to a limit on annual capital expenditure, which caps team spend to just $45 million – Vowles revealing that it will take a few seasons to get Williams fully up to the standards he feels capable of fighting at the front of F1.

“The team has, over the last 15 years, been through a tremendous amount of difficulty, financially and otherwise and it’s survived all of that,” he said.

“But it’s just survival, compared to other organisations that have had finance.

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“That’s the luxury I had prior to joining the team and, as a result of that, you have these stark differences between where we are today and where we need to be in the future.

“The cost cap is just a limiting factor on all of these things, simply just because it puts us in a position where there’s a limited amount of capex (capital expenditure), that won’t be enough to spend our way to success.

“So the pathway is to a certain extent the number of years required to get some of the core facilities to the level required to compete with the funds and that’s not the work of six months or 12 months.”

How confident is James Vowles in making that progress?

An identified task for 2023 is finding a new technical director to replace the departed FX Demaison, but Vowles has promised there will be no knee-jerk hiring to fill the position.

“I’m a firm believer in fundamentally ensuring we have growth within our sport, we have some incredible individuals that are ready to be technical directors,” he said.

“So first and foremost, it’s someone with Formula 1 experience, it’s not going to be someone from outside of our sport.

“And it could be someone who has already been in the role who wants a change of scenery or someone that has been really up against a glass ceiling and ready and waiting, and has all the ability to do so but hasn’t had the opportunity.”

With Vowles seemingly at Williams in a committed long-term mindset after moving into the role of a team boss, he laid out the expected timeline and goals that he is hopeful of achieving as he steadies the ship at Grove.

“A realistic step for this organisation is to make sure every year, we are just pushing forward and not slipping back, so that has to be dream number one,” he said.

“Dream number two is we have to decide on a sensible time in the future – and it’s years – where we start to actually break into sixth, fifth, fourth.

“From then onwards, the sport will really have to have some level of political change to allow probably the teams to break into the top three. That’s the future, but we’ll see how it ends up.”