Following the departure of team principal Otmar Szafnauer and sporting director Alan Permane after the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend, as announced by the French squad Alpine, Williams has made moves to bring former Alpine member Pat Fry onboard. This news was confirmed just shortly after the announcement of Szafnauer and Permane’s departure.
This churn in team members over at Alpine has resulted in what is being described as a tumultuous “conversion phase”. So says James Vowles, who has been leading the team over at Williams since February. “I’m not inside, but they’re clearly in a lot of pain and trouble and going through a conversion phase,” he said.
He clarified, however, that Fry is not a product of this on-going transition period at Alpine. “Pat’s decision [to join Williams] was made many, many months ago. If you look at what was happening in the media with Alpine around that time, you might be able to pinpoint when it was happening,” explained Vowles.
When Vowles first approached Fry in January to join the ranks at Williams, he stated that “he was the one I really wanted to be within Williams“, however, initially Fry was content with his position at Alpine. Vowles eventually won Fry over with his vision by April. Around the same time, Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi had an interview with French broadcaster Canal+ where he labelled his own team as “amateurish”.
Meanwhile, Szafnauer had disagreements with Renault management over timelines for when Alpine can expect to see success. Using similar experiences, ex-Mercedes strategy boss Vowles shared that “it’s a misalignment of ‘This year we should be third in the championship’ that causes the friction you’re seeing, ending up in a decision. The board expects one thing, the results suggest something else and there’s no way out.”
Emphasizing on the importance of managing expectations, Vowles said, “The proactive way is that, as you see the journey isn’t going towards it, you show the pathway of what you need to do to change that.” He defended this approach by stating, “I’m more for that because the reactive will never end well, fundamentally.”
Vowles hopes that with Fry’s appointment, Williams will see more than just performance gains and possibly a shift in culture and restructure. “There are different types of CTOs available to you. There are ones that are very good at finding your last 10 milliseconds. There are ones that are very good at putting structures and systems in place, and he’s more the latter,” Vowles said, referring to Fry.
Emphasizing on the qualities he sought in a CTO, Vowles said, “I’m very much a believer in behaviours and characteristics. You need to have empowerment, you need to know how to train up the next generation of individuals, you need to know how to put structure in place. It’s not about blame, it’s about having a policy that allows failure as long as you capture it correctly and talk about it. Pat mirrors all of these. He’s not political in his nature. He just gets on with things.”
With these changes in place, Williams is looking forward to hiring a less high-profile technical director who can work under Fry. According to Vowles, these new additions will prevent the team from being “on crutches” and allow him to focus on building a long-term future for Williams.