Paddy Lowe’s switch from the Mercedes team he’d helped mould into world­beat­ers, to a re-tool­ing Wil­liams, was the talk of the For­mula 1 off-sea­son. Here, for the first time, he opens up about com­ing ‘home’ to the place where his F1 ca­reer be­gan, and of­fers a glimpse of the fu­ture for this proud band of rac­ers

Atwin­kle in the eye. That sub­tle sig­ni­fier of mis­chief within. It gives Paddy Lowe away as one of the good guys, even as he car­ries – lightly – the man­tle of tech­ni­cal great­ness. The warmth of his greet­ing at Wil­liams’ Grove HQ, a readi­ness to chat. It’s dis­arm­ing in one so ac­com­plished. This, af­ter all, is the man whose tech­ni­cal lead­er­ship helped Mercedes to a pe­riod of con­sum­mate dom­i­na­tion from 2014-16 (in tan­dem, it must be noted, with engine boss Andy Cow­ell). And one whose CV en­com­passes years at Wil­liams dur­ing their ’90s glory days, then McLaren when they were last fron­trun­ners. Lowe has been at the cut­ting edge of seven suc­cess­ful world ti­tle cam­paigns, with three dif­fer­ent teams, mak­ing him one of a tiny elite band of rock-star tech ti­tans ac­tive among the F1 tribe. He, along with Adrian Newey, James Al­li­son and Rory Byrne, plus Cow­ell and – maybe – Fer­rari’s emerg­ing Mat­tia Binotto, are those con­sid­ered suf­fi­ciently emi­nent to be able to make a dif­fer­ence by virtue of their pres­ence, nous and method.

None would en­ter­tain for a mo­ment the no­tion that they alone are re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing ma­chines that can out­per­form those of their ri­vals. But em­ploy­ing one of these starry in­di­vid­u­als is the near­est thing there is to an F1 sil­ver bul­let. Bag one and you’re prob­a­bly in the game – be­cause they know what it takes to win.

Which is why his sign­ing by Wil­liams, in a di­rec­to­rial po­si­tion that makes him part-owner as well as ‘just’ their tech­ni­cal leader, is a mas­sive coup for this once-great team still brim-full of am­bi­tion to rise above their ‘best of the rest’ sta­tus be­hind mighty Mercedes, Fer­rari and Red Bull.

It’s also why his de­par­ture from Merc at the end of last sea­son is a sen­si­tive topic shrouded in se­crecy, and one that is, alas, deemed off-topic for this en­gage­ment. The true na­ture of his split with the reign­ing cham­pi­ons has yet to be pub­licly es­tab­lished, al­though, tellingly, Mercedes have sub­se­quently adopted a more hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­ture be­tween team boss Toto Wolff and newly ar­rived tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Al­li­son, to re­place the ‘twin-num­ber-one’ set up that ex­isted with Lowe and Wolff, both of whom were ‘ex­ec­u­tive direc­tors’.

Re­gard­less, Lowe, 55, has alighted at his F1 alma mater as chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer, a role that gives him great scope to shape its destiny. All the more sur­pris­ing, then, to nd him so de­void of ego and still en­dear­ingly en­thused by the eld in which he op­er­ates. Emi­nent F1 en­gi­neers don’t re­ally ‘do’ small talk; their minds are con­stantly a-whirr with the sub­tleties of aero­dy­namic ow over, un­der and through the body­work of their lat­est cre­ation; with L over D ra­tios and nu­ances of CAD-re­alised vor­tices to be in­ter­ro­gated and re­solved. Their men­tal space is not to be in­vaded with pad­dock bab­ble; the only hot air they’re in­ter­ested in is the su­per­heated ow that ex­its the rear dif­fuser.

To­day, how­ever, Lowe is pos­i­tively bub­bling about his re­turn to the team he left in 1993. And it is here that we be­gin.

F1 Rac­ing: So you’ve been back at Wil­liams for a few weeks now. How does it feel to come home?

Paddy Lowe: It’s very exciting, ac­tu­ally. I’ve had a great welcome from ev­ery­body and it’s good to see some old friends. There are many peo­ple here who don’t travel to the races, so I lit­er­ally haven’t seen them since I left, which was 24 years ago when we were in a dif­fer­ent site – the old fac­tory in Did­cot near the cool­ing tow­ers. There’s only one guy, Carl Gaden, who was still with the race team when I was last here in 1993. I need to nd out ex­actly who… I have a list…

Lowe pauses to pick up a spread­sheet from the desk in his large, but so far un-or­na­mented of­fice. He counts col­umns and rows, be­fore a split-sec­ond men­tal cal­cu­la­tion…

PL: Sixty-four. There are 64 peo­ple still here at the team who were here in 1993.

F1R: So do Wil­liams still feel like the team you left, or have things changed?

PL: It does feel dif­fer­ent, be­cause it’s a dif­fer­ent place and ev­ery­thing is ar­ranged dif­fer­ently. Most of the peo­ple are dif­fer­ent, too. But what doesn’t feel dif­fer­ent is when you go to meet the peo­ple who were here be­fore and it feels like you know them well al­ready, so you’re just kind of car­ry­ing on from where you left off.

F1R: The sport is full of Wil­liams grad­u­ates who have gone on to other things – you be­ing one, of course, Ross Brawn an­other. It’s a long list...


All stu­dents of Pa­trick [Lowe grins at the rec­ol­lec­tion of his fa­mously de­mand­ing – and com­bustible – for­mer boss, Pa­trick Head]. And many of them have been very suc­cess­ful.

F1R: What would you at­tribute that to? Is it the cul­ture here? A lot of peo­ple say Wil­liams were al­ways the hard­est of the hard­core in terms of be­ing an en­gi­neer­ing-driven team. Do you think that’s true?

PL: Frank and Pa­trick set a very dis­tinct cul­ture that has re­ally set the tone, for me, for my whole ca­reer in the sport. They’re real rac­ers; they al­ways want to win; they’re ob­sessed with the sport, but they’ve also got the hu­mil­ity to un­der­stand that there’s no kind of ‘right’ to win – and if you don’t win, there’s re­spect for the com­pe­ti­tion who have been bet­ter than you. It’s your fail­ing, and you have to go and ad­dress that fail­ing and meet that com­pe­ti­tion, rather than just sort of as­sum­ing that you should win and any­thing else is wrong. Pa­trick and Frank have been very strong in cre­at­ing that cul­ture within this team and I still feel it to­day.

F1R: Da­mon Hill came up with a fantastic line about Pa­trick Head be­ing the Isam­bard King­dom Brunel of For­mula 1…

PL: Yeah, that was re­ally nice. I’m a fan of these big, his­toric en­gi­neers and, ac­tu­ally, I love photography as well and there are some fantastic photos of them. One of my favourites is the pho­to­graph of Brunel stand­ing in front of all these chains [on the SS Great Eastern]. The other photo I re­ally love is [rocket sci­en­tist] Wern­her Von Braun stand­ing in front of the Saturn V rocket on its side. I think it’s one of my favourite pic­tures ever – there are so many great el­e­ments to it. I ac­tu­ally thought it would be nice to col­lect some of these pic­tures to­gether at some point, of the great en­gi­neers in great photos.

F1R: I read a book re­cently called Em­pire of the Clouds. It’s about the avi­a­tion cot­tage in­dus­try spawned in Bri­tain by World War II. It’s a lot like the UK For­mula 1 in­dus­try now – lots of lit­tle in­de­pen­dent man­u­fac­tur­ers do­ing in­sanely bril­liant things, just by ap­ply­ing their brains to prob­lems.

PL: There’s some­thing about that, be­cause we seem to be par­tic­u­larly good at mo­tor­sport in the UK, and For­mula 1 in par­tic­u­lar. There must be some­thing about the na­ture and the cul­ture and the ap­proach taken by Bri­tish en­gi­neers that works for For­mula 1.

F1R: When you were rst at Wil­liams [1987-93], they were a front-run­ning team, but they haven’t won a cham­pi­onship since 1997. So what ex­pe­ri­ence can you bring back here from your time with teams that have been dom­i­nant in that pe­riod?

PL: To be clear, Wil­liams con­tin­ued to be very suc­cess­ful and dom­i­nant af­ter I left, up un­til the late 1990s. But, to an­swer your ques­tion, I think I have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and I’ve been very for­tu­nate to work with teams who have been suc­cess­ful

in the in­ter­ven­ing years, so I can bring back that be­lief. Be­cause that’s what’s been miss­ing here, in­evitably, with­out many race wins over the past decade-and-a-half.

I sus­pect peo­ple start to lose the be­lief that they can do it. And I hope I can in­spire the team to come back to the front and give them the con­fi­dence to do the right things and re­alise that, ac­tu­ally, they are win­ners. Those 64 peo­ple and many more in the team are win­ners – they know what it’s like to win, they know what it takes to win, and I can help bring back the con­fi­dence and the be­lief that we can do it again.

We have the ingredients to do it, and while it’s dif­fi­cult to win in this sport, be­cause it’s so com­pet­i­tive, it is pos­si­ble and I hope I can help bring back that feel­ing and put the right things to­gether, the right pro­grammes that get us back there.

F1R: Is it a case of tak­ing what you saw and im­ple­mented at Mercedes and trans­pos­ing it onto what you have here? Or is it much more com­pli­cated than that?

PL: No, and it’s re­ally not about that, ac­tu­ally. There may be a per­cep­tion – un­der­stand­ably – that peo­ple can move from team to team and bring ideas that should then just be copied or what­ever, but it’s re­ally not about that. The teams al­ready op­er­ate at a very pro­fes­sional stan­dard – the stan­dard of en­gi­neer­ing in For­mula 1 teams in gen­eral is ex­ceed­ingly high. It would be pre­sump­tive and, in fact, in­ap­pro­pri­ate to come in and say ‘right, we’re all go­ing to do it this way be­cause I know that works’. For me, it’s very much about see­ing what peo­ple are do­ing, what are the so­lu­tions they’ve al­ready ar­rived at – many of which are al­ready bet­ter than I may have seen else­where. But maybe you can mi­grate the fo­cus here and there and get the right peo­ple do­ing the right things to­gether. So it’s very much about tweak­ing what you have, rather than im­pos­ing some to­tally new struc­ture or set of sys­tems or set of de­signs. That’s the process I’m start­ing now.

F1R: Do you think there’s a limit to what you can achieve when teams like Mercedes, Fer­rari and Red Bull bring such vast re­sources to their F1 pro­grammes? [ This power trio each spend in the re­gion of half a bil­lion dol­lars per sea­son on F1; Wil­liams’ bud­get is ap­prox­i­mately one-third of that.]

PL: Well, Wil­liams are a team who have al­ways prided them­selves on get­ting a bet­ter job done with low re­source, and that was true back in the early ’90s – re­mem­ber at that time McLaren were the big team with their years of dom­i­nance with Honda and it felt like they were the Ro­mans, to put it that way. It was a case of: ‘When will we ever beat the Ro­mans?’ But, ac­tu­ally, we did it, start­ing in ’91 with a strong sea­son [Wil­liams nished a close sec­ond in that year’s con­struc­tors’ cham­pi­onship] and then beat­ing them in ’92. And we were ex­tremely proud be­cause at that point we’d done it with far lower re­sources.

A great ex­am­ple of that is the de­part­ment we had in Wil­liams that did all the elec­tronic and con­trol sys­tems and all the soft­ware, which Steve Wise and I had built up – Steve Wise is still here and it’s great to be work­ing with him again. We had no more than around ten peo­ple, and when I went to McLaren in 1993 they had an en­tire com­pany for elec­tron­ics, some­thing like 50-100 peo­ple do­ing what we’d been do­ing in that small de­part­ment. They did it in a far more so­phis­ti­cated way, but we had got the job done and got the re­sult we needed. I think that’s a typ­i­cal il­lus­tra­tion of the cul­ture within Wil­liams, which I still de­tect: ‘How can we get the re­sults we need in the most cost-ef­fec­tive man­ner?’

F1R: Know­ing what you know about Mercedes, would you say that it’s in­tim­i­dat­ing to take them on, given their nan­cial and tech­ni­cal re­power?

PL: Quite the re­verse: it’s an exciting chal­lenge ac­tu­ally. It is ex­actly equiv­a­lent to when I was last here. We knew McLaren had a lot of money, so it was a great point of pride here to beat a team who were spend­ing far more than us.

F1R: But why would you leave a team like Mercedes to come back to Wil­liams?

PL: It’s a very exciting chal­lenge. I had a good in­nings at Mercedes; I re­ally en­joyed my time there [2013-17] and I re­ally loved work­ing with some fantastic col­leagues. But I could see the op­por­tu­nity to move my own ca­reer to a dif­fer­ent place. It’s a dif­fer­ent par­a­digm, to come in as an owner, and I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to nd a way to take a share­hold­ing in the team, hav­ing been an em­ployee all my ca­reer. In it­self that’s very exciting.

Then there’s the as­pect of com­ing to Wil­liams – a great team where I loved work­ing in the past. I’m a big ad­mirer

of Frank and Pa­trick and what they set up. To take on this chal­lenge was very much the no-brainer op­tion from that point of view, be­cause the team have such an amaz­ing history. And if we can cre­ate a new chap­ter in that history, build­ing on what’s gone be­fore, tak­ing the place of my orig­i­nal boss in the sport, that’s a very exciting prospect. It’s quite spe­cial.

Many a con­spir­acy the­ory has swirled around Lowe since he left Mercedes last Jan­uary, but there, for the record, is his an­swer to those who ques­tion the mo­ti­va­tion for his trans­fer.

F1R: What was it like to sign the bit of pa­per that made you a Wil­liams share­holder?

PL: I didn’t make any great cer­e­mony of it, ac­tu­ally – I guess I could have done. I wouldn’t say I didn’t fo­cus on that par­tic­u­lar mo­ment it­self, it was just the process of get­ting here… [long pause]… I can’t think of the words. I haven’t got a good an­swer for that, to be hon­est.

F1R: Will you take on some of the team prin­ci­pal-es­que re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, such as meet­ing the me­dia at races?

PL: Some things will get shared around as needs be. Claire [Wil­liams] won’t be at­tend­ing all the races, so there will be races when I’ll cover for her, or Mike [O’Driscoll, CEO]. For the mo­ment, I will go to all the races be­cause I need to stay on top of that. We will take it step by step.

F1R: You started to make a name for your­self in F1 cir­cles as some­thing of an elec­tron­ics guru. Did you ever imag­ine that you’d end up here, in this po­si­tion?

PL: No – and it’s sur­real, but in a re­ally nice way. I don’t feel like I’m go­ing back­wards, there’s no sense of that – it’s go­ing for­wards, but with some fa­mil­iar land­marks.

F1R: You’re in a unique po­si­tion now, in F1 terms, be­ing a tech­ni­cal leader but also a part-owner. There’s no one else in that po­si­tion cur­rently – is that cor­rect?

PL: No. I guess we had Ross [Brawn] own­ing Brawn GP at one point, and then, be­fore that, Pa­trick here at Wil­liams. But I think that’s prob­a­bly it.

F1R: That’s got to be a good thing for any team or or­gan­i­sa­tion with en­gi­neer­ing at their heart?

PL: For­mula 1 is a fantastic en­vi­ron­ment for en­gi­neer­ing, and while it’s a sport and the sport­ing el­e­ments are a cru­cial part of the spec­ta­cle, un­der­neath it there’s a very strong en­gi­neer­ing el­e­ment that marks out For­mula 1, in par­tic­u­lar, as unique and spe­cial in the world of mo­tor­sport.

We see it all the time, that it’s the car that very largely makes the dif­fer­ence, and there­fore the en­gi­neer­ing be­hind the car that makes the dif­fer­ence. So I’m a big sup­porter of


en­gi­neer­ing in gen­eral and us­ing For­mula 1 as a plat­form to sup­port and to en­cour­age more peo­ple to un­der­stand what en­gi­neer­ing means and to go into it. En­gi­neers build the world – there was a great quote from Prince Phillip last year: “Ev­ery­thing not in­vented by God is in­vented by an en­gi­neer.”

En­gi­neers will solve the prob­lems of the world, ac­tu­ally, I’m greatly op­ti­mistic about that. There are a lot of de­press­ing signs around the sus­tain­abil­ity of our planet – global warm­ing, pol­lu­tion or what­ever – but I think that man is so in­ge­nious and cre­ative, par­tic­u­larly when cor­nered, and it will be the en­gi­neers who solve those prob­lems and keep us alive in the cen­turies ahead. We need more en­gi­neers mak­ing the key de­ci­sions in in­dus­try. I’m a big fan of For­mula 1 en­gi­neers, ba­si­cally! So that’s a re­ally nice el­e­ment.

F1R: Are you en­cour­aged, then, by the po­si­tion Ross has now, as tech­ni­cal and sport­ing boss of the new For­mula 1 Group?

PL: Ab­so­lutely. It’s an­other great ex­am­ple of ex­actly what I was talk­ing about. It’s fantastic, and to see the great sup­port and ac­claim he’s had – there’s not a per­son who isn’t full of praise and sup­port for that ap­point­ment.

F1R: How do you think Ross will work that one out? He has a very clear tech­ni­cal ‘map’ but that side of things has tra­di­tion­ally been the FIA’s job. Never be­fore has some­one from FOM sat down and said: “This is go­ing to be the tech­ni­cal land­scape.”

PL: Well you could look at it neg­a­tively and say we’re squar­ing up for a ght here be­tween the FIA and FOM – ob­vi­ously the FIA owns the rules and that’s a very im­por­tant role for them. But then we’re all in it to­gether, so ac­tu­ally we should all be set­ting our­selves up for fantastic col­lab­o­ra­tion, and I hope that’s how ev­ery­body sees it.

What’s fantastic about what Ross is propos­ing is that they will also bring re­source to the ta­ble – the abil­ity to re­search ideas. Of course they have a slightly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to the FIA, but they are a stake­holder nev­er­the­less – we’re all stake­hold­ers. So it’s great that we now have ev­ery­body chip­ping in to the R&D ef­fort that’s re­quired to keep de­vel­op­ing these reg­u­la­tions to be bet­ter and bet­ter in the fu­ture.


F1R: Do you and any of the tech­ni­cal heads from other teams ever just go out for a drink? That would be a great gath­er­ing to eaves­drop on…

PL: We don’t ac­tu­ally, but that would be a re­ally nice idea. We did have a great meet­ing a cou­ple of years ago of a small­ish group like that, which was or­gan­ised just to brain­storm where the rules were and what we thought was wrong with them and where we should take it. That was re­ally very in­ter­est­ing. The key thing is to get peo­ple think­ing long enough into the fu­ture so that self-in­ter­est isn’t com­ing into play. But I think it would be in­ter­est­ing to see if we could or­gan­ise some sort of so­cial get-to­gether like that in the fu­ture.

F1R: Go­ing back to Wil­liams, what sort of men­tal timescale do you have for do­ing ev­ery­thing you need to do? Do you have a clear set of goals?

PL: I haven’t re­ally cap­tured it in that way. I’ve only been here a few weeks and at the mo­ment it’s about in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ment from where we are.

F1R: Is there an over­ar­ch­ing goal? Is it to make Wil­liams a world cham­pi­onship-win­ning team again?

PL: Ab­so­lutely. That is, with­out ques­tion, the ob­jec­tive. That’s ab­so­lutely where we want to get to.

F1R: One last ques­tion, re­lat­ing to Mercedes. Abu Dhabi last year, the clos­ing stages of the race, Lewis back­ing Nico up into Se­bas­tian Vet­tel… and you get on the team ra­dio to or­der Lewis to speed up. It was in­cred­i­ble to watch but what was it like on the pit­wall?

PL: It was in­ter­est­ing. I don’t know whether we should get into this or not, but the in­ter­est­ing thing is that there was a de­gree of panic, let’s say, around the idea that we might ac­tu­ally lose the win. So there was a lot of ‘in­com­ing’ in my di­rec­tion about telling Lewis to go quicker! But it was pretty clear to me that as soon as he saw a red car in his mir­rors, he was go­ing to speed up. But that didn’t seem to be ob­vi­ous to some peo­ple. Seb Vet­tel was com­ing through be­cause he had a newer set of tyres, so clearly it would have been nice for Lewis to start early to cre­ate the gap, cre­ate a buf­fer – but he wasn’t go­ing to do that un­til he re­ally needed to. So Lewis was play­ing it very clev­erly, and I could see that he knew what he was do­ing, he had it all un­der con­trol – if the win was ever un­der any threat he would have been re­spond­ing be­cause he had lots of pace in hand. If Seb had over­taken Nico, Lewis would have been gone. That was ob­vi­ous to me, but not to ev­ery­one else. So there were some in­ter­est­ing dis­cus­sions.

I gave Lewis the in­struc­tion be­cause it was ab­so­lutely the right po­si­tion for the team to take. Bear in mind – which peo­ple of­ten for­get – that Nico had let Lewis past im­me­di­ately in Monaco last year when we asked him to, be­cause we’d given him a one-lap warn­ing that time – ‘you need to speed up, oth­er­wise we’ll call Lewis past you’. He didn’t re­spond on that lap but pulled over im­me­di­ately on re­quest. So it was the only other time we’ve given a team or­der. In fair­ness to Nico and the team and our ob­jec­tives and the cham­pi­onship it was the right thing to tell Lewis that what he was do­ing was not in the team’s in­ter­ests. But I knew he would ig­nore it – prob­a­bly he knew I knew he’d ig­nore it! That’s the right po­si­tion for the team to take – but I wasn’t go­ing to say it twice. We laugh about it now, but Toto [Wolff] was giv­ing me a hard time – “Tell him again, he hasn’t done it!’ I said: “No, I’ll look like a com­plete prat if I say it again.”

It was an in­ter­est­ing race, wasn’t it?

Wil­liams racer Felipe Massa presents Lowe with a cake to cel­e­brate his 55th birth­day, at the Chi­nese Grand Prix

Deputy team prin­ci­pal Claire Wil­liams won’t be at all the races this year, so as be­fits his new role as a share­holder, Paddy Lowe will stand in as nec­es­sary

Lowe made his first ap­pear­ance on the pit­wall in his new role with Wil­liams at the Aus­tralian GP

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