Revealed: The Williams system in desperate need of an upgrade

Mark Scott
James Vowles, Williams boss, speaks to the press in Canada. June 2023

James Vowles, Williams boss, speaks to the press.

Williams boss James Vowles has provided a fascinating insight into just how much catching up the team has to do both on and off the track.

Ahead of the F1 2023 season, Vowles left a team well-versed in how to be a successful F1 team in Mercedes to a Williams outfit that hasn’t won a World Championship title since 1997 and a race since 2012.

But, with his vast amount of experience and knowledge gained from his time with Mercedes, Vowles is the perfect man to apply those lessons to a team who is desperate need of them.

The harsh truth surrounding Williams’ downfall

“20 years of underinvestment is why we are where we are today,” was Vowles’ blunt assessment when speaking at the FIA press conference in Canada.

“But I’m in a fortunate position that my predecessors weren’t – where we have investment, significant investment, behind us.

“In fact, there is a strong desire to have Williams return back to a competitive position. But to do that requires investment. So the money’s available and ready.

“But in many regards, where we are today, that money is disappearing on what I think is basic infrastructure.

“So if I take an example of things that were in Williams, and this is being very transparent about it, when a designer releases a part, it sort of goes into a black hole.

“And then there’s emails going backwards and forwards between production to try and find out where their part is, how it’s being upgraded, how big it is, how long it will take.

“Normally, that would go into a digital system that can be tracked, so you understand actually, what does the car get made up of.

“And bear in mind, there are 17,000 components and by the time you have designers doing this 17,000 times, you get lost. So you have inefficiencies.

“That software to fix that isn’t, unfortunately, 100 pounds, but that’s millions, and even up to 10s of millions if you get it right.”

Smells like team spirit at Williams

It would be a pretty fair assumption to make that when Vowles first entered the Grove complex as team boss, he would find a company that was devoid of belief and energy following another tough season in 2022.

But, Vowles has said he found the complete opposite. The belief was there, it’s just the money to make those hopes and dreams become a reality were sadly missing.

He added: “Team spirit was high, given that they had gone through what I think was an incredibly difficult winter, when there was large change at all management levels, and to a certain extent, a lack of leadership at that point, as well.

“But the morale was high and in fact the build that they did, without much structure around it, was very impressive. I mean, I’ve quoted it before in the media, but 17,000 components coming together, and the thing has four wheels pointing the right way is impressive out of it.

“There’s definitely a sentiment now, I’ve described it as you can see people’s heads are held high, the shoulders are up, they can see a direction of travel for how we’re going to pull ourselves out of this, which is not the same as going round in a circle.

“The best way to describe it is that the team was in a survival mode, where what it was thinking about was what do we need to do get ready for the next race to go forward? That’s not how Formula 1 works anymore.

“What you’re thinking about now, already, is 2024, 2025 and 2026. And if you’re not thinking that far ahead, you’re going to fall behind against competitors that are.

“And that cultural change will take quite a while to properly kick in because it’s very different. You’re now not thinking about the carbon bits appearing in Montréal, but you’re thinking about what do you want the car to look like in two years’ time.

“And I think that’s the direction of travel that’s helped everyone understand how we are going to pull ourselves out of the performance region we are today.”