ANALYSIS: How Capito plans to reshape Williams after first 100 days in charge, as Roberts leaves the team
Ever since Jost Capito began work at Williams in February, impending change was inevitable, and that process kicked-off this week with the departure of Team Principal Simon Roberts.
Former McLaren boss Capito, who has more than 40 years of experience across motorsport including immense success with Volkswagen in the World Rally Championship, joined Williams at the lowest point in their history.
The iconic British team – the second most successful in F1 history in terms of constructors’ titles – have finished 10th in each of the last three seasons. It was abundantly clear an overhaul was required.
The need for such dramatic change is exactly why Capito was convinced to delay his retirement and take on the project. He knew it would be a long-term project, with no silver bullets or the need for rash decisions – so he took his time to assess how to revitalise the company from the ground up.
He set about speaking to everyone in the business, holding more than 80 one-to-one meetings with senior managers to find out what needed to change, while analysing the operations of the business both at the factory and trackside.
Technical overhaul top of Capito’s to-do list
And this writer understands, it quickly became clear there was a major issue with the technical structure, with trackside engineering and factory engineering not aligned. They were reporting into different channels.
This was a legacy of Paddy Lowe vacating the role of Technical Director and the team opting not to fill it under previous management, instead creating the role of Managing Director, which Simon Roberts took last June, that had responsibility for technical, operations and planning functions.
The problem with this structure was that silos were created, with a greater focus put on trackside engineering. That department was not working hand in hand with its factory equivalent. It is understood each was protecting their position and not working well together and therefore not developing the car with a common goal.
So Capito, after 100 days in charge, formulated the first stage of his long-term plan which focused on restructuring the technical department. Trackside engineering would no longer report through the Team Principal, internally known as Racing Director, and instead come under Technical Director FX Demaison’s remit.
The Racing Director role would then be removed, with the remaining functions being split between Capito – who will now be the de-facto Team Principal alongside his CEO role – and a newly-created role of Sporting Director.
Meanwhile, sources say Williams will now have a new position of Head of Race Engineering (though this is a working title), with the person filling that role to be announced ahead of the upcoming French Grand Prix.
The Sporting Director role is currently vacant, with the team now working through potential candidates. They will work closely with Team Manager Dave Redding, and have responsibility for looking after – among other things – the race drivers at track as well as the team’s Driver Academy, two functions which do not currently fall under anyone’s remit.
The new owners have sensibly relied on advice of those who know the sport well since they took over the running of Williams, bringing in ex-Marussia CEO Graeme Lowdon as an advisor following the purchase of the team. And on recruiting Capito, they have given him their full backing to instil the changes he believes are required to get the team back to the front.
What about the drivers?
What does this mean for Williams' driver line-up beyond 2021, with both George Russell and Nicholas Latifi out of contract at the end of the year?
This writer understands this isn't an imminent priority for the team, even if Russell said publicly that he would like his future sorted before the summer break. For Capito, he believes it is more important to get the team structure, operations and engineering capabilities in place first, before thinking about drivers.
It's likely they will not have their pick of drivers because of their current position in the constructors' standings, so it is believed the greater focus is on getting a package that moves them up and improves the desire for drivers to race for them.
As a result, it is unlikely the team will be making a decision on their line-up in the next couple of months.
Making the big calls
Letting Roberts go was a tough decision, given how successfully he managed the transition to the new owners Dorilton Capital. He was well-liked within the team and had them operating at an improved and more efficient level at track.
Many inside Williams believe the team would have fallen apart through the changeover without him – but ultimately his role no longer existed and a move to any other role would have been a demotion, which neither party wanted. Williams are believed to have parted ways with him on good terms.
The reshuffle is part of Capito’s plans to make the organisation leaner and more efficient. There will be shorter reporting lines to speed up communication, with a move away from decisions by committee, to allow for things to happen quicker and more efficiently.
Individual managers have now been tasked with realigning their departments, following the restructure, before working with Capito to make their respective teams leaner and establish clearer layers beneath.
Key for Capito, it is understood, is for the team to be more efficient and avoid tasks being doubled up. This is particularly critical following the introduction of the budget cap, which will reduce on a glidepath over the next couple of years. Every penny matters even more than before.
It also means that while Williams have been operating with a smaller organisation than most of their rivals, they aren’t planning on taking the Aston Martin approach of growing their company in terms of staff numbers. Instead, they want to focus on getting the best out of the people they have and spending their resources – which are forthcoming from Dorilton – wisely.
Change is not without pain, but if Williams are to return to the front of the grid, big decisions like this will need to be made.