Formula 1: Williams team principal Simon Roberts leaves

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
George Russell
Williams finished Sunday's Azerbaijan GP in 16th and 17th position

Williams team principal Simon Roberts has left the company following an internal restructure.

Chief executive officer Jost Capito, who joined in February, will take over the responsibilities of team principal.

Technical director Francois-Xavier Demaison will oversee all engineering - Roberts had previously been in charge of trackside engineering.

Roberts joined Williams as managing director in June 2020 and was confirmed as team principal only in February.

He had been made acting team principal in September after the founders of the team, Sir Frank Williams and his family, stepped away from the team following its sale to new owners, the Dorilton Group.

Capito said: "Simon has played an integral role in managing the transition over the last 12 months and I would like to thank him for his great contribution during that time."

Roberts added: "It has been a pleasure to take on the role of team principal following the departure of the Williams family from the sport. However, with the transition well under way, I am looking forward to a new challenge and wish everyone in the team well."

Roberts was informed of Capito's decision on Tuesday and left the company that day. The employees were briefed by Capito on the developments on Wednesday morning.

Why the changes?

Roberts was confirmed as team principal at the same time as Capito, an experienced car-industry and motorsport boss, joined Williams from Volkswagen before the 2021 season.

Capito's first move was to appoint his former colleague Demaison as technical director, a role Williams had not filled for some years.

Capito spent his first 100 days in the job studying the company and talking to employees to try to understand why Williams had fallen to finish last in the championship for the past three years.

The 62-year-old German discovered that there was a breakdown in communication between the two different branches of engineering - the department that runs the car at the races, and the design engineers at the factory.

Race engineering reported into Roberts as racing director, while factory engineering had a separate management structure. Capito found that they were working in isolation from each other, and often even in different directions.

Capito decided this was affecting the competitiveness of the car and that the arrangement needed to be replaced with a new structure in which both parts of the engineering group were working towards common objectives under the technical director, with Capito in overall charge.

The idea is to create a leaner organisation with a clearer decision-making process, roles and responsibilities.

And Williams' plan is to employ someone to fulfil a role as sporting director, a position on the race-management side of the team that traditionally liaises with the governing body over rules issues and supports the drivers but which Williams do not currently have.

Will this improve performance?

Capito's changes effectively move Williams to an organisational model used by the majority of F1 teams.

Most have race and factory engineering working in harmony - the factory designing the car, the race team racing it, feeding back problems that need resolving, and the design engineers coming up with ways of improving performance - under a technical director.

The move is also aimed at making the team more efficient and avoiding duplication of roles - an issue of key importance following the introduction this year of a budget cap.

The silo mentality identified between the two branches of the engineering department may also have had an influence on the key weakness of the Williams car this year.

The car is badly affected by wind and other changes in conditions, because it has a design that is overly sensitive on which the airflow and aerodynamics can be easily disrupted.

That makes the car nervous and difficult to drive in all but the calmest conditions, and also makes it hard for the drivers to maintain consistent pace over a period of laps.

The lack of a technical director in overall charge while the car was being designed last year may well also have had an influence on this.

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