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Formula 1

Williams frustration rises as rivals rebuff F1 rule tweak bid

by Edd Straw, Scott Mitchell-Malm
4 min read

A proposal that is key to Williams’s Formula 1 recovery plan was rebuffed by rival team bosses in an F1 Commission meeting that a frustrated James Vowles felt ended up going “round in circles”.

Williams team principal Vowles has lobbied hard for an increase in what F1 teams can spend on their facilities and infrastructure since taking over as Williams team principal because of the need for smaller teams to eliminate deficits to the bigger teams on this front. He previously described today’s meeting as “crunch time”, but no resolution was found.

When F1’s cost cap is talked about, it is normally in the context of the operational expenses (OpEx) limits, set this year at a baseline figure of $135million. However, there is also a capital expenditure (CapEx) limit described by Vowles as “$36 million spread across four years”.

Two proposals were discussed. One was an across-the-board increase that everyone would benefit from, with Vowles suggesting both $50 and $70million were discussed. This had the necessary support from teams but not from the FIA and F1. This is because it goes against the objectives of the cost cap, as raising the spending limit would allow the bigger teams to continue to spend heavily on facilities.

The other suggestion, favoured by Williams, would allow teams deemed to have a deficit requiring increased CapEx spending to eliminate it based on benchmarking facilities against other teams based on an agreed framework, That garnered less support.

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“The blanket increase was the one that had the most support, as you would imagine, because all teams across the grid benefit from it,” said Vowles.

“It’s not the right solution for the sport. But even so, as Williams I would have preferred a blanket increase over nothing, which is where we are today.

“On the case by case [proposal], as you would imagine the hands started to drop. My hand was actually aching from the amount of time I held it in the air.”

However, the possibility of a CaPex increase is not dead in the water. The F1 Commission agreed to extend the deadline for agreeing a change to the cost cap regulations to October, rather than September, to allow for the interruption of the August break.

This means negotiations will continue, with the FIA investigating the possible formulation of modified proposals that would gain the support of the F1 Commission.

“If I wind back, February 20, which was a few days after I started here, was the first day I put on the table that we as Williams need help [because] we cannot compete at the front with the facilities we have at the factory,” said Vowles.

“That remains the case today.

“In five months or so, it’s unfortunate and it’s disappointing, frankly, that we’re in a situation where that meeting went around in circles. And to a certain extent it will do, because everyone in that room wants to make sure that they’re not losing out relative to everyone else.

“We will extend the deadline from September to end of October. The FIA have been tasked to find another solution that is amenable.

“It’s no surprise that the back end of the grid near enough unanimously have hands up for most of these votes and the ones at the front end of the grid did not. There’s some exceptions to that.

“This is about for the greater good of the sport, and I really do believe this.

“I appreciate I have more to gain than others. You need it to be that, on any given Sunday, you don’t know who’s going to win and certainly dominance doesn’t exist the way it does at the moment. I think that’s good for sport.

“To do that everyone needs to have ability to produce performance and move forward and that’s not the case as it is today.

“It’s hard to know what’s going to change over the next two months, which is the next point we’ll get together and talk about all this because of everyone’s fears of where they lie in the championship and how it affects them short term and how powerful Williams could become as a result of it.

“What I’m hoping out of all of it is it’s undoubtably agreed in that room that Williams is the one with the least amount of facilities and that needs rectifying. And we’ll have another go at fixing that and see if we get other people’s mindsets to modify.”

Vowles will continue to push for support from rival teams given how important increasing the potential for CapEx is to Williams.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Sprint Day Spa Francorchamps, Belgium

While the CapEx limit doesn’t cover buildings, it does limit spending on everything inside them. This includes one area Vowles has singled out for improvement at Williams – the absence of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that tracks the progress of design work and parts production for maximum efficiency.

“More than anything else, what I’m trying to do is present to the world [the need for an increase], which is part of the reason I went out to the media and tried to get the support of my peers in the media as well,” said Vowles.

“I want the ability to fight at the front. But I need the support of my peers to be able to do that. And clearly from today, what you see is that support isn’t there and available.”

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