The Mercedes director of strategy James Vowles is to leave the team to take over as team principal at Williams. The move is a blow to Mercedes with Vowles occupying a crucial role in the team and being a key contributor to their success over the past decade.
The team principal Toto Wolff, however, was optimistic Mercedes were in a strong position to cope with his departure.
Vowles has been chief strategist at Mercedes since 2010 during which time they won eight constructors’ and seven drivers’ championships. He has been in F1 for 21 years, previously with BAR, Honda and Brawn, where he won the first of his nine constructors’ titles.
With Mercedes having suffered their worst season for almost a decade last year, winning only one race, the loss of such an experienced figure is not ideal. However Vowles has been involved in the planning for members of his strategy team to step up and Wolff believes Mercedes have sufficient strength in depth.
“One of the successes in our team has been planning succession,” he said. “We have been very reliant on James’s ability and a few years ago we put an emphasis on how that would continue if he decided to do something else. James has been very good in setting that up. We have an extremely talented group of strategists. We have nine people, some very senior and I feel very comfortable with the structure going forward and not that big weaknesses have been created.”
Vowles joins a Williams team who have finished last in four of the past five seasons despite their successful heritage, with nine constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ championships between 1980 and 1997. The task in front of Vowles is huge but it is one he is eager to begin.
“Perhaps I am being carried away with the excitement of wanting to start this,” he said. “It’s not trepidation, I am waking up every morning at 5am and scribbling down thoughts and notes. That’s a level of motivation that is going to keep me going for years and years, I am confident of that.”
Lewis Hamilton has worked closely with Vowles and was pleased he was making a major step up in his career, telling Wolff: “That’s amazing for James.”
Wolff also addressed the recent decision by the FIA to ban drivers from making political statements, something Hamilton has stridently done in recent years. Hamilton is unlikely to accept being silenced by the sport’s governing body. Wolff suggested the FIA’s intentions would yet have to be talked through with teams and drivers.
“We need to see how this really pans out,” Wolff said. “I have no doubt that Mohammed [ben Sulayem, FIA president] and the FIA mean well, to achieve the right things but it is about aligning that with the drivers that have spoken out in the past. I have no doubt that when people sit round the table together things will not appear as harsh as when they are written down in the off season.”