With some Formula 1 teams flying high and others barely getting off the ground, how big of a role do the team principals play?
Coming into the 2023 season there was an influx of changes at the top of Formula 1. The introduction of 4 new team principals was an unexpected shift that provided much to talk about before the lights went out in Bahrain.
We have already discussed the changes that Fred Vasseur has started to implement at Formula 1’s most historic team, so for the sake of this article, we will look at the impact that the new team principals have had on the remaining teams.
McLaren, Williams, and Alfa Romeo have all stepped in a new direction for 2023 as they welcomed in a new era of leadership within their teams. They have had varying degrees of success as the year has progressed, but who has come out on top?
Andrea Stella – McLaren
McLaren have made the most significant progress of any team this year. Their current form has seen them score a few podiums in the latter half of the season which is a world away from the team that showed up at the beginning of the year.
From the moment their car launched in February, Team Principal, Andrea Stella, was quick to point out that they were “not entirely happy” with their car. With the team dropping to the back of the grid at the start of the season, it became increasingly more difficult to justify that Stella was the right choice to take over from Seidl. However, Austria flipped this thought on its head as their hotly anticipated upgrades marked the start of a competitive McLaren that would have a transformative season.
Having been promoted from within the team, Stella already had a clear idea of what the team required to move closer to the top. What has been so surprising with McLaren is how quickly they’ve been able to pull this off. When looking at the turnover time of Formula 1 teams, we would usually expect that a team would take a year or so to make the jump that McLaren has made in a couple of months. Stella looks to be steering the team back onto the right path as they continue to progress throughout the year.
James Vowels – Williams
Over the past few years, Williams have found themselves falling into the role of being Formula 1’s back marker team. The lack of stability at the top has drastically altered the success of the once championship-winning team.
Williams were led by their founder, Frank Williams, for the majority of their time in Formula 1, but if we look at their trajectory following Williams’ retirement, it becomes clear that there has been an ongoing pattern of instability at the helm.
The introduction of James Vowels in 2023 marks Williams’ third team principal in the past decade, but it could also signify the start of a new chapter for the team. The results that the team has been able to produce this year have been a noticeable step up from where they were previously. Although they have historically performed well at tracks such as Monza, this year they have been able to expand the performance of their car to incorporate a wider variety of tracks.
Despite the out-of-date facilities and lack of funding that is holding the team back, they have been able to make practical changes that have greatly assisted them in climbing to p7 in the Constructor Standings. This is in part down to the impressive performances that Alex Albon has put in this year, combined with the wealth of knowledge that Vowles has brought to the team. Following his previous stint at Mercedes, Williams’ new team principal oversaw the success of the 8-time Constructor Champions in his role as motorsport strategy director and is clearly carrying this over to Williams. The announcement of their new Chief Technical Officer, Pat Fry, further illuminates the ambition to turn this into a competitive contender that can challenge further up the grid on a regular basis.
Alessandro Alunni Bravi – Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo has been Formula 1’s most anonymous team this year making it difficult to quantify how well Alunni Bravi is doing. Following the departure of Fred Vasseur, the Sauber-run team opted to appoint Alessandro as the team representative. The structure at the top differs from every other team on the grid, and it doesn’t look to have made any significant impact on track this year.
In contrast to the teams mentioned above, Alfa Romeo have remained exactly where they were at the beginning of the year and despite having an experienced driver in Valtteri Bottas and an ever-improving driver in Zhou Guanyu, the team just seems to be stuck in the same place.
The car will undoubtedly play an important role in determining the success of the team, but the forgettable season does not reflect well on the new leadership when you consider the steps that their rivals have been able to make in 2023.
All focus in Alfa Romeo looks to have turned to the 2026 takeover that will see Audi enter Formula 1. As this impending transition looms over the team, it’s hard to see the team making any significant jumps forward before the long-awaited introduction of the German manufacturer.
As the battle behind the scenes continues amongst the team principals, it’s clear to see that some have found their footing whilst others are still a little shaky at the top.