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Williams Racing has publicly fought through aging operational and cultural systems for years now. Its newest team principal has had terse things to say since onboarding. Starting last spring, James Vowles began sifting through the Formula 1 team’s workflows. He’s dealing with the team’s 20,000-line car build parts tracker, which happens to be a Microsoft Excel sheet. Vowles has called the document “useless” and “a joke.”

Vowles, who came from Mercedes, and chief technical officer Pat Fry aimed to redesign the Williams F1 chassis for 2024. To do so, the team would need to record and track thousands of racecar components effectively. This includes keeping a record of the status, location, cost, and more for each part. This is sort of a “duh” concept, but it’s proved exasperating to the motorsports leadership team.

Vowles found the current systems, including how they recorded in Excel, totally abhorrent. He told The Race that the Excel sheet was “a joke” and that it was “impossible to navigate and impossible to update.”

Williams F1 car, the FW46, on the track in right front angle view
Williams FW46 F1 car | Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Tracking thousands of F1 racecar parts through Excel sounds like a giant headache

“Take a front wing. A front wing is about 400 different bits. And when you say I would like one front wing, what you need to kick off is the metallic bits and the carbon bits that make up that single front wing,” Vowles explains.

“You need to go into the system, and they need to be ordered. Is a front wing more important than a front wishbone in that circumstance? When do they go through, when is the inspection? When you start tracking now hundreds of thousands of components through your organization moving around, an Excel spreadsheet is useless.”

Vowles went on, “And once you start putting that level of complexity in, which is where modern Formula 1 is, the Excel spreadsheet falls over, and humans fall over. And that’s exactly where we are.”

The response to the ranting has been mixed. Some say that Excel is perfectly fine for project management and that the complaining is a reflection of the operation, not the platform. However, F1 teams do use other tools that are cloud-based or serve more specific inventory management needs.

Overall, the growing pains are part of the Williams F1 team undergoing uncomfortable but necessary updates to secure a better rank. Once a top-performing team, Williams was sold out of the family name, which it operated under for 43 years, in 2020. This was after about 15 years of struggling performance as BMW exited and other team executives entered and left.

While the road to optimized modernization is certainly proving painful, Vowles seems determined to interrupt legacy operations and move forward. After all, it can’t get much worse than 2020, the year the team failed to score any points.