Karun Chandhok suspects a ‘Mercedes element’ to James Vowles’ Williams move

Jamie Woodhouse
Mercedes strategy director James Vowles listening to a conversation. Melbourne, April 2022.

It has been stressed that James Vowles to Williams is not a strengthening of Mercedes ties, but ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok has his doubts.

With Jost Capito having vacated the Williams team principal role, the Grove outfit moved to confirm Vowles as their new team boss, Mercedes’ now former strategy chief stepping up to a team principal role for the first time.

He has made it clear that this move is not designed to provide a clearer bridge between both teams, Williams already an engine customer and technical partner of Mercedes, while the Silver Arrows have said the same.

However, Chandhok is not so sure that this is the case.

“I think it caught most of the paddock by surprise,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“I do wonder whether there’s some Mercedes element to this deal, because it’s very rare that you find someone certainly in a senior position of a team move across with zero gardening leave, and James has done that, so clearly a very amicable thing.

“I mean, to the point of which I think Mercedes, basically, were orchestrating the press announcement in some ways, certainly liaising with the media.”

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Chandhok believes that Williams have made a good move in securing the services of Vowles, but warns that he “has his work cut out for him” as he looks to improve the fortunes of the team that slipped back to the bottom of the Constructors’ standings in 2022.

“I think it’s a good move,” said Chandhok. “Actually, I like the fact that they’ve gone for a bold move in terms of getting someone who hasn’t done the role before, but someone with an engineering background, who’s recently worked with a top team.

“He’s going to bring technical knowledge, he’s going to bring an understanding of a team structure that perhaps Williams didn’t have in recent times. And he’s a smart guy, we all know James in the paddock, he’s got a strong work ethic.

“But Formula 1 teams are like big tankers, you can’t just pivot quickly, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of work. I think he’s got his work cut out for him.

“I think the biggest challenge is how quickly can he poach other top people from other teams. I think because you can have all the technology in the world but it is still a human sport. And you need that brainpower. So how quickly can he poach that brainpower? That will be key to his success.”