Vowles: Five-year plans “remarkably meaningless” in F1

Former Mercedes man Vowles took over the reins of Williams at the start of this year, having been appointed by owners Dorilton Capital to oversee a complete overhaul of the historic Grove squad.

He found a previously cash-strapped team that had been focused on short-term survival until Dorilton took over its ownership in 2020 and has been severely lagging behind the competition in terms of its infrastructure.

Williams’ competitors Alpine had been zeroed in on a five-year or 100-race plan to get back to the front, which ultimately didn’t prove ambitious enough for Renault’s management and led to team principal Otmar Szafnauer’s removal this summer after just 18 months.

But Vowles thinks setting long-term targets like that is “meaningless’ because there are too many unknown factors involved in a team’s long-term success.

“As I was interviewed to come here, I gave them a very clear view of how long it would take, and it’s a long time,” Vowles told Motorsport.com in an exclusive interview.

“That hasn’t changed. Same with Pat [Fry] when he joined. Pat was very clear to me on ‘This will take a while’. I said: ‘I know, and the board know as well’.

“So, you have to present sensible things but when you’re presenting any more than three years out it’s just into the unknown. Definitely at five, 100% at 10.

“Setting a target of saying we’re going to be third in five years is honestly not the right direction of travel because it’s a remarkably meaningless thing.”

Pat Fry, Chief Technical Officer, Alpine F1 Team, in a Press Conference

Pat Fry, Chief Technical Officer, Alpine F1 Team, in a Press Conference

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Instead, Vowles presented Dorilton with a step-by-step plan to address Williams’ main weaknesses, such as improving its ageing infrastructure and reinforcing its technical structure.

Prising Fry away from Alpine was one key move Vowles has already made, with the experienced engineer starting before the end of this calendar year.

Another key goal was producing a sizeable upgrade for this year’s car, which arrived in Canada and appears to have delivered a meaningful step, with Williams entering the second half of the season in seventh place.

“What’s more important is showing that you’ve got structures and systems that lead you towards that in time,” Vowles explained.

“What you can present more is how I think we can get ourselves on track for that pathway and what are the key milestones that we’re looking for on that journey.

“One of this year was showing that we can demonstrably put performance on the car and use it effectively. One of them next year is, demonstrable across the winter, building on that package.

“We’ll be doing about 100 other things in the background. That’s how you lead towards moving up the grid.

“What I’ve been very careful about in that is making sure that whatever we’re demonstrating and promising is aligned with controlled reality.

“And when it starts to diverge away from it, bring it back to ‘This is where we are, and this is where we need to go forward’. And that happened from the outset.”

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