Williams F1 has named James Vowles as its new team principal. Vowles (43) will join the Grove team from Mercedes AMG Petronas, where he has been Motorsport Strategy Director for the last three years.
Vowles has had an impressive career to date, which goes back 21 years, to when he joined British American Racing as a junior engineer, at the age of just 22.
He had an international education as his father was based in Geneva and so James attended the International School there. He then studied computer science at the University of East Anglia, graduating at the age of 20 and went on to study for a Masters in Motorsport Engineering and Management from Cranfield University and then joining BAR in Brackley.
He has been there ever since and played an important role as a strategist, overseeing no fewer than nine World Championship titles with Brawn GP and then Mercedes. Vowles has long been viewed as a possible replacement for Toto Wolff at Mercedes, but with Wolff showing no signs of stepping aside, the offer from Williams came at the right moment as it will mean that James will get operational experience as a team principal, which could be useful one day if Mercedes wanted to take him back.
The team is still to decide on a technical director but expect announcements to be made in the next few months. The new FW45 is already finished and so the focus for the new recruit will be on the 2024 car. Williams still has a lot of work to day to get up to speed after 10 years without sufficient investment but the owners (whoever they may be) are in F1 for the long haul and have not been tempted to sell up, take a big profit and then depart.
“James has been a highly valued member of our team in his role as Motorsport Strategy Director, playing an integral part in our success in recent years,” said Toto Wolff. “Having worked with him since I first joined the team in 2013, I know how diligent, capable and talented he is and have taken great satisfaction from watching James develop and grow over the past decade. Since stepping back from the pit wall mid-season last year, he has continued to build the capability of our strategy team at Brackley, and we have a fantastic group of talented strategists who will continue their superb work in the years to come. While we are naturally sad to be saying goodbye to such a capable member of the team, I have no doubts whatsoever that he has all the necessary skills to become a fantastic Team Principal in Formula One. We wish him every success and are delighted that he will take this next step in his career with Williams, a strong technical partner of ours and one that has a place close to my own heart.”
41 thoughts on “Williams appoints Vowles”
Is this a “real” move or more of a lend&lease for James to build experience?
I think it is probably a bit of both
Feels like a good appointment, I guess whether or not he’s allowed to immediately start would indicate whether Merc are planning a mid term succession plan with him cutting his teeth at a ‘friendly’ team that they already know how to work with. Winners all round if it works out…..not much to lose if it doesn’t
It is a very good appointment
Both technically and strategically
I didn’t see such a move coming at all.
Great for Mercedes building links with another team. Does it also offer Merc more insight into the performance and suitability of Albon and Sargeant to step into Hamilton’s seat when he retires? Sargeant might be a useful driver to woo as the teams look to outcompete eachother in building a US fanbase?!
No different from or deeper than Vasseur’s Ferrari move. Just an employee making a team switch, which happens at all times in F1.
It is very different
How? In both cases, a move between teams with the same PU manufacturer but in a different order, i.e., customer team to works team versus works to customer.
One is talented…
Hello Joe. Forgive the direct question but you are clearly incredulous at the Ferrari appointment. Is it because you don’t rate Vasseur period or that you see his previous (junior formula) successes as coming in a completely different environment?
I do not think he showed at Sauber that he has the skill set required for the Ferrari job. I am beginning to think that he was hired because of this. Ferrari may be deconstructing the fiefdom that Binotto built. They may think that the only way for Ferrari to succeed is to be ran directly by the boss, thus without influence from above…
Interesting. Thank you.
His dismantling of the Honda deal is a classic example of his hyperconservative nature. Would have been a game changer for Sauber if Monisha had stayed, I suspect.
Nothing deep. No different from Vasseur’s Ferrari move.
Albon and Sargeant? Have you been drinking Rich?
Seems like a great appointment, they need a great Tech Director too now. So sad to see where Williams were dragged down to.
Does he habe experience in managing big, diverse organisation? I guess that strategy team is rather small and self-contained without so many deep interactions with various departments. Or maybe I misunderstand what Motorsport Strategy Director’s role is all about.
But how do you get experience of managing a big, diverse organisation, without managing a big diverse organisation? I think this is a great appointment. Although he’s moving to a different team, it is very much recruiting from within the wider F1 pool of talent. I hope Williams can support him and enable him to grow into the role.
He has been doing more than you think at Mercedes
Toto has said that the only place for him to go in Mercedes was if Toto stepped back. Very high praise, and of course a chance for him to learn the ropes in a smaller spotlight.
Toto did not have much experience in this respect when he was slotted in at Mercedes. I was very surprised at the move at the time, but it clearly worked.
People skills, empowerment and team-building are all as important as his technical skills. Developing a strategy to move Wiliams up the pecking order should be easy for James.
Many (not all) F1 principles have an uncanny ability to make you feel that you are insignificant and wasting their time. Toto on the other hand deals with one person at a time and when he turns to you, you are confident you have his full attention. When he turns away you usually feel you have been heard. If you don’t the you are in real deep do-do.
I’m delighted for Mr Vowles! If anyone can do this, it’ll be (this) JV!
As a Merc supporter, a little sad to see him go, but this will be great development for him, and Williams. His collaborative work ethic will take him far, as will his experience.
Also like Toto’s response, and I believe in the team structure and believe they have continuity built in the team’s architecture!
Good for all involved!
“Logan, it’s James, please hold position. I’m sorry.”
A proper move by Williams. They seem to have been looking for a saviour the last few years and now maybe they have found one. It’s probably going to be a tough year again as the 2023 car was designed under the concepts laid out by the previous technical director. Wouldn’t surprise me if we see another Mercedes man appointed at Williams.
Joe Interesting move is this the start of a Mercedes takeover of Williams to become its “Alpha Tauri” to strengthen its political clout in the sport?
Joe: Don’t know your policy but feel free to delete my post. With the pending arrival of another season of Drive to Survive, I would like to draw your readers’ attention to a very different documentary, Rookie Season. This one hour doc (available on Prime in North America) follows a private sports car team competing in a lower class of ALMS I presume and the ups and downs of its rookie season. Polar opposite to the glamour of F1. Enjoy!
Hi Joe, do you give any credence to the Williams and Porsche liaison?
Well, if you can figure out how Porsche can build an engine in the time available, it’s possible that they could get into bed with Williams for 2026. However, right now they don’t have the industrial capacity nor the people to do it. I like the idea of a Gulf Porsche Williams but I’m not convinced it is possible for 2026. Unless they shared power unit stuff with Audi…
I mean that sounds like the thing Cadillac is intimating they will be doing. I think….
I’m not doubting that it takes 3 years to build a PU, but I am still stunned that it takes that long. Aren’t these meant to be the simpler cheaper engines, where the complexity of the MGU-H is gone? If you’re having to bet on a moving target 4 years in advance, it’s a hell of an ask for an OEM to have to do.
I am stunned too. Three years to build a PU with the amount of money that is being spent.
Depends on your starting point of course, but if you imagine the number of factors (many conflicting, of course) that the development of a PU has to consider and that a successful one is highly integrated with the rest of the car (which changes on a near constant basis) it’s not that hard to see why it would take a long time to get it right, regardless of how much you’re willing to pay. There are technical and commercial complexities in the supply chain as well, of course. Getting it all right also means developing the entire enterprise and infrastructure to keep getting it right out in to the future at a similar pace to your rivals. We’re not talking about a few peeps tinkering in a shed here.
You might consider Pat Symonds recent comments about modern F1 combustion to be close to a diesel running on gasoline and getting the process right takes a lot of R&D – it took Honda several years.