Inside the busy schedule of an F1 team principal who oversees 1,000 employees

Inside the busy schedule of an F1 team principal who oversees 1,000 employees
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Toto Wolff, Christian Horner and Guenther Steiner
Steiner worked alongside Christian Horner at Red Bull before joining Haas.

  • Formula 1 team principals handle extensive behind-the-scenes work.
  • Some team principals, like James Vowles of Williams Racing, oversee hundreds of employees.
  • Guenther Steiner likened being the team principal of Haas F1 to “being the CEO of a small company.”
  • This article is part of “Behind the Wheel,” a series about the highly competitive and high-tech world of Formula 1.

A Formula 1 team principal can seem like a pretty fun, glamorous job. After all, fans typically see them spending race weekends in heated conversations with drivers, giving interviews to TV reporters, pounding their fists on tables, occasionally spraying Champagne, and earning tons of airtime on “Drive to Survive,” the sport’s Netflix docuseries.

But the job requires a lot more behind-the-scenes work than many fans realize — especially during non-race weeks at the factory, where teams put in late nights looking to maximize performance.

“The good news is no two days are the same,” said James Vowles, Williams Racing’s team principal. “That’s a thing I really enjoy about this role.”

Managing a team of 1,000 employees

Vowles, a 44-year-old British engineer, joined Williams in 2023 after spending more than a decade as a top engineer and strategist at the Brawn GP and Mercedes teams, contributing to nine total Formula 1 World Constructors’ Championships.

Now that he’s stepped into the top job at Williams, he oversees the team’s 1,000 or so employees — and a typical week is jam-packed with meetings.

Williams Racing team principal James Vowles poses for a photo with fans ahead of the final practice before the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2024.
James Vowles, the Williams Racing team principal, posing for a photo with fans in Bahrain.

“Let me walk you through my Monday morning,” he said, whipping out his phone to refresh his memory. “I’ll even load up my full calendar so I can give you a full assessment.”

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Vowles started his day with a marketing and strategy meeting, looking ahead to the next six or seven races. He also met with the team’s chief operating officer to discuss the technical development pipeline.

“In the middle of all that was also a meeting with the commercial side to discuss what’s happening in that world,” Vowles added. “When it comes to that, we’re looking at short-, middle-, and long-term goals.”

After that, Vowles joined a meeting with a potential IT partner the team is considering investing in.

By the afternoon, the team’s star driver, Alex Albon, had arrived at the factory. Vowles met briefly with Albon before making the rounds to chat with engineers and other staff members. Then he conducted informal phone interviews with three job candidates who were interested in joining Williams.

The day concluded with a series of management meetings that lasted until 9 p.m.

“And that’s just Monday,” Vowles said.

‘No driver wants to talk to me every day’

Being a team principal requires a breadth of skills. Guenther Steiner, a former team principal of the Haas F1 team who’s now an ambassador for the Miami Grand Prix, said the job was sort of like running a corporation.

“It’s really like being the CEO of a small company,” he said. “You’re supervising HR, finance, engineering, race activation, logistics, marketing — you need to be quite widespread and have your hand in everything.”

Guenther Steiner (left) and Kevin Magnussen.
Guenther Steiner with his Haas F1 driver Kevin Magnussen in 2022.

Steiner rose to popularity thanks to “Drive to Survive,” which documented his humorous and heated interactions with his team’s drivers.

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“During the week, though, I’m not the guy talking with the drivers,” he said. “No driver wants to talk to me every day! But the few times you do speak with them, it’ll surely find its way on TV.”

Steiner said team principals often spend their time focusing on other aspects of the team. He added that the job comes with a lot of stress, especially when the team is going through a rough patch.

“There are two stressful parts: sponsors and performance on the track,” he said. “The second one is the worse of the two. If you have good results, you’ll sort out the sponsorships. But you can’t make up for bad results.”

Leading by example to get the most out of the team

For Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren, the importance of a good team principal can’t be overstated. Last year, his team hovered near the bottom of the grid for the first half of the season until leadership changes — including the promotion of Andrea Stella to team principal — led to a stunning turnaround. Now the team is competing for wins and podiums weekly.

Andrea Stella and Lando Norris of McLaren F1 racing pose on the podium after winning the Miami Grand Prix in 2024
Andrea Stella and Lando Norris of McLaren F1 after winning the Miami Grand Prix in 2024.

“Of our 1,000-person team, we changed only three people, though they happened to be in key leadership roles,” Brown said. “So the same 997 people that developed us the car at the start of the year were the same people who turned it around.”

He added that Stella “was able to get more out of the same people that our previous leadership wasn’t able to.”

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Brown said the top traits he looked for in a team principal were selflessness, a focus on performance, and a willingness to lead by example.

“In a team-principal role, you can have people who are focused more on media or their own ego,” he said. “Andrea is a team principal that focuses on his team, putting his people first.”

For Vowles, the job has been a fun way to step outside of his comfort zone — to get a more hands-on look at marketing and HR alongside the engineering skills he’s long possessed. He says it boils down to having emotional intelligence, dealing with people, and showing empathy.

“There are individuals who will sleep on the floor of the building if I ask them to,” he said, though he quickly added, “Of course, we don’t ask them to do that.”

“But I hope I have a team that wants to follow me,” he said, “because I care about them and they care about what we’re building together.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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