James Vowles has explained how he saw Lewis Hamilton’s mentality towards racing shift during his years with Mercedes.
Vowles is now with Williams as their team boss, but spent 20 years with the Brackley-based squad through their iterations as BAR, Honda, Brawn and, finally, Mercedes.
That involved a decade working closely with Lewis Hamilton after the former McLaren driver jumped ship to join Mercedes for 2013 – a move that proved monumental in the following seasons as he won a further six titles to add to his one with McLaren from 2008.
James Vowles: Lewis Hamilton the most naturally talented driver I’ve worked with
Vowles appeared on the High Performance podcast to discuss the changes in his career after moving into team management and leadership, having operated as strategy director with Mercedes in his final years with Brackley.
Having had first-hand experience of dealing with Hamilton through his period of dominance, Vowles said he could see how Hamilton’s mentality evolved since first joining Mercedes – becoming a driver more willing to maximise results rather than focusing exclusively on the top step of the podium.
“Probably the thing that makes me one of the most excited by Formula 1, that I struggle to find another sport similar to this – it’s a team sport. But it starts with beating your teammate. You don’t beat your teammate, you’re in question,” he said.
“The key behind it is that that’s just one fight. But each individual contributes towards the success of the team. Simple as that.
“Lewis, when he joined us, was – and still is today – the most, within my Mercedes career, the most naturally talented driver that I’ve worked with, including Michael [Schumacher].
“Just so much natural talent. His mentality, at the time when he joined, was a brilliant one.
“I can see why he was successful but it was ‘I’m going to win every race, at all costs. It doesn’t matter what the cost is, I’m gonna win that race. Done.’
“If you speak to him today, it’s migrated to he accepts that the second and third places are how you win the championship – building it and working with the team on the days where you can’t win the race will give you far more reward than pushing everyone away to win that single race out of it.”
How Mercedes helped Lewis Hamilton’s mentality shift
While Hamilton’s win-at-all-costs mentality wasn’t necessarily a weakness, there’s no arguing that the shift to result maximisation culminated in greater overall success.
Mercedes themselves, having employed a logical approach to racing that placed greater emphasis on establishing a no-blame culture under team boss Toto Wolff, played a critical role in helping Hamilton’s approach change.
Vowles explained how this slow evolution occurred, coming about as a result of direct conversations – including the late Niki Lauda as the three-time World Champion imparted his wisdom as non-executive chairman at the team.
“It wasn’t the journey of one individual – or even Toto or myself or, at the time, Shov [Andrew Shovlin],” Vowles explained.
“I would also say Niki Lauda now – there was a strong part of it as well, a strong-minded individual who had won multiple World Championships and I learned a tremendous amount from him.
“It starts with being open and honest with the drivers, just as simple as that. All too often, we don’t actually go to the real truth of the matter and we skirt around it.
“They are after all, in many regards, the best in the world at what they do. So it becomes difficult to have a direct conversation. You’ll see the way I am publicly, the way I am here, and the way I am would be off-camera are exactly the same.
“It’s open, honest, transparent. It starts there – you have that open, honest conversation about it, which includes when their behaviours are hurting the team and hurting themselves, not helping.”