until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Formula 1

Capito’s Williams can be what his McLaren should have been

by Matt Beer
6 min read

Jost Capito’s optimism for Williams is similar to the enthusiasm espoused when he joined McLaren in 2016. It seems unlikely that Williams’s new CEO will be repeating his rapid exit as well.

Capito joined McLaren after steering Volkswagen to Mercedes-like domination of the World Rally Championship. He left five months later, ousted as a victim of the power struggle that stripped Ron Dennis of his control of the team.

It robbed McLaren, and F1, of a man who had been lavished with praise and affection as the VW WRC project leader. His brief tenure at McLaren would begin with identifying the sort of changes that the team would eventually go onto incorporate after a period of stubbornness and more managerial upheaval. Ironically, McLaren in its current form is probably a much better fit for Capito than the team he was tasked with leading. But so be it.

Williams is a different scenario in many ways. It has finished last for the previous three seasons but has new ownership that is investing significantly in the team, and Capito is the man chosen to lead the charge into a new era. At McLaren in 2016, Capito joined a team stuck in the middle of a doomed Honda partnership with a boardroom coup on the way and an ineffective structure wasting some of F1’s most enviable resources.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Japanese Grand Prix Race Day Suzuka, Japan

Yet Capito believes there’s a core similarity to the situation he found at McLaren.

“I’m not sure if it was in a very different place as an organisation,” he says. “I think the challenges are very much the same than they were at McLaren at that time.

“It’s all about utilising the infrastructure you have at the very best, and get the team working together very well. Have the systems in place that the information flow goes throughout all the departments, so that everybody knows what you should know to do the best possible job.

“That is the challenge every organisation has, and some are better in that and some are worse. For Williams, the investments that have been done recently, we must focus on making them work for performance.”

Capito is not a corporate hire unaccustomed to top-level motorsport. He’s even got prior F1 experience as a senior executive at Sauber’s operation in the late-1990s. And he has a good understanding of motorsport and business, which makes him an excellent addition to Williams’s efforts to strike the right balance in its management structure.

But what of Williams’s appeal to Capito?

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Day Three Sakhir, Bahrain

The way he was said to have operated at VW prior to his McLaren move immediately made him seem a good appointment at Williams. It’s not a family-owned team anymore but that ethos doesn’t get eroded in a few months. And it’s something Capito wants to protect.

The Dorilton Capital investment began before Capito was hired so he is buying into someone else’s vision rather than being given a blank sheet of paper. So, as well as being a tremendous career opportunity, there must have been a deeper interest in the Williams project to get Capito on board.

The Race suggests to Capito that with everything that has been said before of how he likes to run a business, the fact Williams has been a family-owned enterprise for so long, and how the team wants to operate in the future, this looks like a perfect match-up.

“You’re absolutely right,” says Capito, who had to work remotely in Germany for the first few weeks of his new job because of COVID-19 quarantine requirements in the UK.

“When I started, as I couldn’t be in Grove, I arranged [virtual] meetings between half an hour to 45 minutes with all the managers. I’ve done more than 50 now. I asked everybody the same questions, they each got six.

“It was very interesting to speak with colleagues who have just joined recently or who have been there for a very long time. One question was what we should preserve, and why. And it was 99% said ‘It’s the family feel, it’s how we treat people, and how we work together’.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Day One Sakhir, Bahrain

“And I was really happy to hear that from nearly everybody because that’s my management style. You have to work as a family.

“That doesn’t always mean happy times. I think we’re all used to families, not every day is a happy time! But it is like this family feel that means a very strong connection. You do everything for the family. Blood is stronger than water, so there is blood in the team that connects you all together and that everybody respects every single job that is done.

“Respect is very important. And also support. If somebody sees there is a weakness that somebody has, then you can support it and not [apportion] blame but get that cooperation in the team.

“And also celebrate success. Define success and celebrate success together. That welds a team together and then the more fun you have working together, the better the results will be.”

There are shades of Mercedes’ famous no-blame culture in what Capito says, which bodes well for a long-term project of restoring Williams to competitiveness.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Day One Sakhir, Bahrain

He feels he has had a “smooth and weird entry” into life at Williams because of his four-week wait to meet his new colleagues in person. But he also joins a team with an upwardly-mobile spirit and optimism even though the results have flatlined in recent years.

There is no outrageous expectation of a sudden 2021 turnaround, but a promise of progress before the new car rules in 2022 afford an opportunity to make a bigger leap.

That optimism is rooted in Dorilton’s £100m+ investment in the team and a host of new partnerships that have upgraded Williams’s facilities at Grove.

Now all sorts of new or upgraded additions have begun to bring Williams’s tools up to the necessary standard, from 3D printing to part integrity testing to IT equipment. Add that to items like a “fantastic” windtunnel and Capito believes Williams has “most [things] in place to move up the grid”.

There is an acknowledgement that it will take some to calibrate every single new tool, which is why Dorilton was quick to invest late last year to give the team as much time as possible to adapt.

“We have to do our very best to optimise the infrastructure we’ve got now, to have an impact on the performance of the ’22 car,” Capito admits.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Day Three Sakhir, Bahrain

But it is easy to believe he will foster the right environment at Williams because he believes in the team’s people. He’s excited about the mix of experienced personnel and aspiring engineers and believes that the public-facing enthusiasm about the new season from the likes of team principal Simon Roberts (above) is “absolutely what is behind the scenes as well – I think the whole atmosphere is very positive”.

“The situation Williams is in is not the situation that the people really got it in,” says Capito.

“There is a lot more [down to] the financial restrictions the team had for a couple of years. That didn’t destroy the team’s family feeling and identity. That is so strong with Williams that even these bad times can’t damage it.

“This is a fantastic basis to build on and to get the team back, through a cooperative management style. Because what I’ve seen, there is a lot of talent. If you get that really working well together, then I’m sure it will be fun to work there, and be successful.”

This approach, allied to significant resources and good management, was the foundation for Capito’s success with VW. It is undoubtedly what he wanted to put into practice in Formula 1 but didn’t get time at McLaren.

With Williams, it looks like Capito might finally have his chance.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks