When Jost Capito unexpectedly resigned as Williams team principal at the end of 2022, a whole slew of names was rumoured to be replacing the German.
Some thought Susie Wolff would take the reigns; others felt Jenson Button could make the jump from driver to team principal just seven years after ending his full-time Formula 1 career.
But in what came as a surprise to many, Williams appointed Mercedes‘ chief strategist James Vowles to the role taking on his first team management role.
With Williams needing an upturn in fortunes after a disappointing 2022 season, could Vowles turn the tide when so many have failed?
An integral part of a winning culture
For over a decade, Vowles has been an integral part of the Mercedes machine that has dominated F1, with his performances as chief strategist helping the team win seven constructors championships.
Many of Vowles‘ calls had helped Lewis Hamilton, and Valtteri Bottas take victory from even the most unlikely grid positions, particularly in the 2018 German Grand Prix when Hamilton won from 14th in tricky conditions.
Vowles was also head of strategy at Brawn GP when they won the 2009 world championship, meaning that whatever team he’s at, he can turn them into winners overnight.
Although ex-Mercedes employees such as Paddy Lowe failed to turn Williams around, Vowles comes in with a fresh mindset and learning about his job race by race but, crucially, will have plenty of support.
Hand-picked by Dorilton
Since Claire Williams stood down as team principal in 2020 following Dorilton Capital’s purchase of the team, Williams has gone through three team principals in three years.
The team started 2021 with Simon Roberts at the helm, but after less than 12 months in the job, he left the team to be replaced by the highly rated Capito, the team’s CEO.
Capito’s short spell in charge saw points return to the team at the Hungaroring, with George Russell delivering the team’s first podium for three years with a controversial second place in Spa.
But the new regulations didn’t bring Williams closer to the midfield; on the contrary, they went backwards and at the end of last year, he stepped down as team principal and CEO.
Vowles won’t have it easy, but with this being his first team principal job and being handpicked by Dorilton, he could be given more time than his predecessors.
Granted, he will be under pressure to get the team off the bottom of the constructors’ championship table, but he’ll have a better driver lineup to work than Capito and Roberts did.
Plus, with Dorilton’s financial muscle, the team should have the resources to move back up the constructors’ table if Haas and Alfa Romeo go backward in 2023.
Potential factory deal may make life easier.
In an era of continued manufacturers’ interest, Williams is a team unique to F1 as it receives engines from Mercedes with no added factory support.
That could all change if Williams agree on a deal with Porsche, who have been keen to enter F1 since the new engine regulations started to take shape in the summer of 2021.
Porsche had hoped to enter F1 with reigning constructors champions Red Bull, only for the deal to fall apart in the eleventh hour, yet despite this hiccup, the company is still keen to enter the sport.
Although rumours of a deal have been quashed, a Porsche-Williams deal would undoubtedly give Vowles more chance to stamp his authority down on the team and start a new era at the team.