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Williams team principal James Vowles denies Mercedes control rival F1 team

James Vowles has left his role as Mercedes strategy director to become Williams team principal; both Vowles and his former Mercedes boss Toto Wolff have dismissed suggestions the Silver Arrows hold undue influence over Williams

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Williams have appointed former Mercedes strategy director James Vowles as their new team principal ahead of the 2023 F1 season

Newly-appointed Williams team principal James Vowles insists the team will not become a "mini-Mercedes" following his move from the Silver Arrows.

Williams announced on Friday that Vowles will take over as team principal on February 20 ahead of the new season, ending his 13-year run with Mercedes.

Vowles, who departs his position as strategy director, provides a further link between the two teams, who are already tied by Mercedes having supplied Williams with engines since 2014.

Meanwhile, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff is a former owner and director of the British team, and Silver Arrows driver George Russell spent three years at Williams before partnering Hamilton for the first time last season.

"I wouldn't consider it a mini-Mercedes," Vowles said on Friday. "Williams is an incredibly independent team in its own right, which has formed its own history, its own heritage.

Mercedes head of strategy James Vowles
Image: Vowles had been at Mercedes since the team's inception in 2010

"Williams is an entirely independent organisation, and furthermore, it's one that my success is subject and dependent on me doing a good job there, and that has to be independent of Mercedes.

"It doesn't mean that Mercedes and ourselves won't have collaboration in some form or another, there was collaboration before I joined, but I have to do what is best for Williams from here onwards."

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Wolff, who joined Vowles at Mercedes and led the team to a run of eight successive constructors' titles that ended last year, is adamant that his former colleague won't be doing him any favours.

"One thing we all have in common is that we are in this position to defend our standpoint and our teams, to do everything that's in our power to prosper," Wolff said.

"If I were ever to get involved with James and asked him to become mini-Mercedes, he would tell me to get lost.

"There was always the speculation that Williams, because of the Mercedes engine, was a subordinate but none of that was obviously true and we never interfered into some kind of driver situation.

Image: Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has rejected suggestions he has influence over Williams

"We always understood the authority of the team management in their own way and that's why James is going to do what's good for the team. He's going to do what's going to be good for James in order to bring that forward.

"He's going to be judged on the team's success and if Mercedes is helpful he will talk about it, and if he feels he needs a different position, then he will stand for that position."

Vowles: No double agents in F1

Vowles referenced a past meeting with the UK's Secret Intelligence Service to explain that, as of Friday, he will only have his new team's interests at heart.

He said: "An interesting analogy I bring to the party is that I met with MI6 about 10 years ago, and we described all the techniques that we do within Formula 1, and many of them mirror, but the one that doesn't mirror is this one, the concept of double agents.

James Vowles (L) with Lewis Hamilton
Image: Vowles (left) has helped Lewis Hamilton win six drivers' titles with Mercedes

"The second, just now fundamentally, that you put a crisp Williams shirt on, that's where you are, that's where your loyalty is, and that's where my success and the team's success will come from.

"There's no mini-Mercedes or B-team, or any of that notion. This is about me standing on my own two legs and making a success with an organisation around me."

The 43-year-old is seeking to turn around a team that has finished bottom in four of the last five F1 seasons.

He replaced Jost Capito, who left his dual roles as chief executive and team principal in December after two years at the helm. Vowles confirmed that Williams would not be appointing a new CEO.

Asked to explain what he believes has been going wrong at Williams and how he hopes to change it, Vowles pointed to owners Dorilton Capital, who bought the team in 2020.

"It's hard to answer what's wrong, simply because I haven't set foot inside and my contact has been fairly limited," Vowles said.

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Logan Sargeant finished fifth in the final F2 feature race of 2022 to secure his super licence, ensuring he'll drive for Williams in F1 next season

"What will definitely be wrong is, when you're hurting and you've been punished and pushed down as an organisation because you're suffering, that doesn't get any better year on year unless you get a change to what's going on, a change to the culture, to the methods and systems.

"I suspect a lot of it was that… if we go back a few years, we didn't have the strength that is Dorilton. Dorilton really want and will invest the correct amount to make this a performing team, and I don't think it's fair to say that was the case a few years ago, and the impact of them will take a while to properly kick in."

Wolff: No gap to fill at Mercedes

Mercedes are looking to hit back in 2023 after a hugely disappointing campaign in 2022 saw them fail to challenge for titles, but Wolff is confident the team are prepared to handle Vowles' departure.

Wolff explained why he does not intend to appoint a direct replacement to Vowles' final position.

"There is no gap left behind, because for many years we have discussed the succession planning in this area," he said.

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Speaking in Sky F1's season review, pundit Karun Chandhok says that out of every team next year, Mercedes' car will look the most different at pre-season testing

"We've been very reliant on James' visibility, and we put an emphasis a few years ago on how that would continue if he one day would decide to do something else, whether within Mercedes or outside. James was very good in setting that up.

"We have an extremely talented team of strategists. We have nine people, some very senior, that are not always on the front line, and some that have grown within the organisation.

"They have flown the airplane now alone in the last six months, and before that already very much just under James's supervision. So I feel very comfortable in the structure going forward. And it's not that suddenly a big weakness has been created."

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