Formula 1 | Paddy Lowe fiasco at Williams F1, a warning for Vowles?

It was at Mercedes that Williams went in search of the next team leader and successor to Jost Capito – in the person of James Vowles, whom Toto Wolff agreed to fail.

However, it is not the first time in F1’s recent history that a central member of the Mercedes team has moved to Williams for a critical position.

Indeed, in 2017, Paddy Lowe, then Mercedes executive director (technical director) and crowned by three seasons of outright dominance, left for Williams to take over as chief technical officer. At the time, this transfer was a real battle for the Grove team, and thus intended to continue the increase in power (despite a slight slowdown in 2016, the beginning of the hybrid era was very satisfactory).

When he arrived, Lowe even showed big ambitions and said he was aiming for the title in the long term. “It’s absolutely possible to win the championship, there’s no better example than Red Bull, which has succeeded with a Renault engine only when it’s a customer team” then he said.

However, Lowe’s switch to Williams was a fiasco. Since the 2018 season, nothing has gone as planned compared to the initial ambitions. Not only was the driver duo (Sergey Sirotkin-Lance Stroll) unsatisfactory; but again Williams entered only 7 units and finished last in the constructors’ standings.

But Williams hit rock bottom in winter testing in 2019 – missing the first days of testing in Barcelona. British single-seaters then had a logically disastrous competitive run, being the slowest single-seater on the grid in 2019 and 2020.

Was Lowe the scapegoat?

A failed FW41 in 2018, an FW42 that wasn’t even ready in time to start winter testing… Naturally, Lowe’s position at Williams was greatly weakened.

However, on 1 March 2019, Lowe claimed he was still confident in his position and even warned Claire Williams of the consequences of any sacking: “Blame one person for a problem caused by an incredible number of circumstances and factors? That would be a wrong and too simplistic conclusion. What I’ve noticed over the many years I’ve been in F1 is that often when you change people when something goes wrong, it doesn’t work. What I’ve also noticed is that the strongest stables are the ones that don’t move like that at all. »

Reality ends with a knock on Lou’s door. So, on March 6, 2019, even before the first Grand Prix, Williams announced that Lowe was going on “personal leave” – ​​an unnamed dismissal.

“He has decided to leave the team and we wish him the best.” Claire Williams diplomatically explained…

Lowe’s departure, just days after a failed winter test in Barcelona, ​​however, sent a clear message to the paddocks: the man in charge has found it all.

After a long silence, it wasn’t until April 2021 that Lowe finally returned to the Williams ouster and the whole disastrous experience.

Over time, but also with some sense of injustice, the engineer initially refused to admit primary or at least personal responsibility for this failure: “Those two years at Williams, I honestly didn’t enjoy them. It was very hard work with no reward. Well, I think, to be honest, the less said the better. When I was on the team, I watched this negative spiral get worse and worse, and it’s actually quite painful because you realize there’s no end to it: it’s going to fail. »

“I would only say that Formula 1 is a very impatient sport, nobody is patient in Formula 1. However, it is an incredibly difficult race. It’s arguably the toughest competition on earth, and that means if you miss your turn, and of course, if you don’t do things right for a long time, you won’t be able to make up your time. »

“I’m good at a lot of things and I think I’ve proven it at a lot of things, but I can’t do miracles and certainly no miracles when it comes to timing. (…) If you have a slow car, it is not because you have a slow car, but because you have an organization that produces slow cars. »

Between the lines, Lou attacked the real culprit, the person responsible, Claire Williams. The Deputy Director did not make the right strategic choices or investments at the right time…

“When an organization starts to go astray because it didn’t make the right investments or make the right decisions, it doesn’t immediately make bad cars.” Lou scolded.

A collective failure, not an individual one

It’s unfortunate that Lowe has been singled out as the scapegoat of this era.

Williams’ main challenge was undoubtedly the budget. Grove was simply struggling to survive – which took up most of Williams’ days as assistant manager. The pandemic almost dealt a fatal blow, but the acquisition of Williams by the Dorilton Group, a group of American investors in 2020, both kept the team afloat and gave it new resources… and reason to “hope”.

Lowe’s failure is less of a personal failure because it occurred in the context of a certain disorganization at the top of the team – so Claire Williams will be the one to blame here.

Amazingly, Williams went two years after Lowe’s departure without anyone to replace him as technical director!

It baffled even George Russell: “When I was at Williams we didn’t have a technical director, which is pretty crazy when you think about it. A few people have done things they shouldn’t have done. With the technical director in place, those mechanics and engineers can once again focus on their mission. »

Again (not) again?

Nothing says as clearly that new spawn transfer from Mercedes to Williams, James Vowles, will go as badly as Paddy Lowe.

Only because the environment at Williams has changed. Funding is now secure thanks to the backing of Dorilton Capital, which has allowed the team to develop within limited budgets.

However, the issue with the technical director is still pending! Francois-Xavier Demaison’s departure leaves a void today: let’s hope Williams doesn’t take two years to fill it this time.

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