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Formula 1

Williams's serious Newey bid has more merit than you think

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

Adrian Newey has been heavily linked with a Ferrari move in the wake of his impending Red Bull exit - but Williams wants to make a return there a realistic alternative.

Williams boss James Vowles says he has had a tentative initial conversation with Newey and though this didn’t seem to amount to a full-scale pitch or negotiation, the idea has at least been planted.

On paper, choosing between Ferrari and Williams - if that is what it ends up being - would seem as obvious to Newey as it would a driver or any senior team figure.

One looks like Red Bull’s closest rival, is still winning races, has immense facilities, and the potential to offer some exciting automotive opportunities.

The other is a back-of-the-grid team that Vowles himself has said is 20 years behind rivals in some key areas, with a long-term project on the go, and nothing like the immediate competitive prospects.

Therein lies one element of a Williams reunion though: the challenge. If revitalised by time off from Red Bull that will start soon once his RB17 hypercar project is complete, Newey may come to view the prospect of helping revive the team he won his first races and titles with.

Williams clearly offers its own emotional angle to rival the romantic notion of joining Ferrari. Squaring the circle, going back to where it (almost) all began, and helping the team that started to decline after he left - there’s a wonderful sentiment to that. 

The case would also no doubt be stronger if Williams were to finally offer Newey some team equity to sweeten the deal, almost 30 years after failing to do exactly what drove him away in the first place. 

But perhaps the strongest argument is one Vowles laid out while indirectly pitching Williams to Newey in a press conference in Miami. It is clear that Vowles, like all others, respects Newey the designer, Newey the winner, Newey the competitor. But he’s also appealing to Newey the person.

Preaching the value of the team’s family DNA, the racing focus, and the absence of the politics that have clearly played a part in Newey’s enthusiasm waning at Red Bull, Vowles made it clear that he believes Williams is the kind of place Newey could enjoy working again. And that's important, given Newey says that he is fortunate to choose to work because he likes it, not because he needs to.

“It was a light conversation more than anything else, saying it can't have been an easy decision and fundamentally wanting just to have an additional chat about things,” Vowles said.

“But from a Williams perspective, that's where Adrian really cut his teeth for the first time. And we're a team without politics. It's a small team that's trying to make our way back to the front. And it could fit very perfectly for someone that wants to potentially dig into a challenge like that.

“More than that, what is great about Williams is that it has retained the family feel to it. We're not driven by an OEM. We're driven by just a group of individuals that want to be there.

“It's all about really racing. And hopefully some of that plays to his strengths.”

The message, essentially, is that Williams isn’t trying to outgun Ferrari, or replicate what Newey had at Red Bull. Williams's appeal will stand and fall on the team's own merits - and it is a surprisingly compelling case, at least the way Vowles makes it.

By not getting into direct comparisons with others, Vowles emphasises what Williams can offer and lets Newey draw his own conclusions on how different that is to what has put him off Red Bull, or might lie elsewhere - and leaving it to him to decide if it could appeal.  

If so, great. There's a bigger conversation to be had. If not, it was worth trying, and at least put Williams in mind. Vowles has been effective at making that happen with various parties on many different matters - some see him as quite literally the team’s most convincing asset. And credit to him for at least giving this a go. 

A less ambitious team and team boss might have removed themselves from the discussion entirely with a passive ‘we have much bigger issues to fix and Adrian isn’t the answer’. While it might sound obvious to say Newey has a lot to offer, Williams isn’t quite in a position culturally or technologically to capitalise on every brilliant Newey idea or suggestion to the extent Ferrari might.

It's good for Williams to have a leader willing to fight its corner and make its case in the sincere, impassioned way Vowles has with Newey. It's also entirely logical.

Even a compromised F1 team will be able to cash in on Newey gold dust in car design, though. And the value of Newey getting sight of Williams’s facilities and its working practices could be immeasurable in terms of getting Dorilton investments over the line, identifying the best areas to spend money, getting people to buy into new practices, and changing the way Williams approaches a car concept and development.

If anything, Williams would have more to gain from Newey in this area than a team like Ferrari.

Ultimately, the reasons to want Newey are obvious. And it is Williams who needs to make the big sell to him. Vowles has tentatively started that process - although really, as he hinted, he wouldn’t be doing his job otherwise.

“With Adrian, you have someone with his accolades, with his touch, there's not a team he hasn't been to – and that includes McLaren, ourselves, Red Bull – where he hasn't made a significant difference,” Vowles said.

“Anyone here [in F1] would be foolish not to at least open some conversation with him at that stage.”

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