Sven Smeets, the Sporting Director at Williams, is partly responsible for the British team’s recent success in Formula 1, having previously worked in rallying and held managerial positions at Citroën and Volkswagen; he also oversees the Driver Academy, logistics, and driver strategy, and is committed to fostering an open culture within the team.
‣ Sven Smeets, a Belgian, is currently the Sporting Director at Williams and has played a significant role in the British team’s recent rise in Formula 1.
‣ Smeets was initially on his way to becoming an accountant before he made a successful career as a co-driver in rallying. He later found himself in various managerial positions in the sport, first at Citroën and then at Volkswagen.
‣ Smeets is responsible for various aspects at Williams, including the Driver Academy, setting up and dismantling garages and hospitality areas, logistics, and maintaining contact with the FIA. He also deals with driver strategy with team boss James Vowles.
‣ Under the leadership of team boss Vowles, Smeets sees Williams growing and emphasizes the importance of an open culture where people are not afraid to make mistakes and learn from them.
Sven Smeets. Not a household name, but a big deal in Formula 1. This 51-year-old Belgian is the Sporting Director at Williams. He’s a key player in the British team’s recent surge. Born in Hasselt, same as Verstappen.
She’s proud. Really proud. Grandpa Smeets was the family’s F1 fanatic. Grandma Smeets tries to catch every Grand Prix. GPblog caught up with Sven during a GP weekend. He’d just found out grandma hadn’t seen him on TV yet. “My grandfather was a GP fanatic, so for her this is kind of special,” Sven shared.
Grandma: Verstappen and Williams Fan
Grandma’s emotional. Grandpa never saw Sven in F1. She’s a fan of Williams now, and a die-hard Verstappen fan. Max is also from Hasselt. She’s 94. A visit to the track would be great, but TV does a better job explaining the action.
Sven’s F1 career wasn’t always a sure thing. He was on track to be an accountant. Then he became a successful co-driver in rallying. He worked with Freddy Loix in the World Rally Championship (WRC). After quitting, he held managerial positions at Citroën and Volkswagen. At Volkswagen, he worked with Jost Capito, who became CEO of Williams in 2021.
Smeets Couldn’t Say ‘No’ Twice
Capito invited Smeets to Formula 1 in 2021. Sven was a rally guy, but he took the leap. “This was the only thing I hadn’t done yet. And the job he offered me really appealed to me,” Smeets explained. He saw it as a chance to help Williams rise from the bottom. He’d already turned down one F1 opportunity. He didn’t want to miss another.
Williams’ Jack of All Trades
Smeets does it all. He’s (co-)responsible for the Driver Academy, setting up and dismantling garages and hospitality areas, logistics, liaising with the FIA, and knowing the sporting regulations inside out. He also works on driver strategy with team boss James Vowles.
Smeets loves his role. “I like working with these young guys – aged 13 or 14 – until they are maybe ready for Formula 1,” he says. He’s currently working with two 13-year-old karting talents. He helps create a culture for them, with personal trainers and simulator sessions.
Education is important to Williams. “There are only twenty seats in Formula 1. It is not a big football league with lots of places,” Smeets points out. Most parents agree.
Sargeant on the Running Track
Smeets compares F1 to football. Talents spend a lot of time with their team. If Williams thinks they can make it, they’re asked to move closer and work in the factory. They learn how much time it takes to make a new front wing. Logan Sargeant did this. He’s met everyone in the factory, even those who never come to the track.
Williams values its internal culture. Team boss Vowles, who took over from Capito, insists on it. Smeets sees Williams growing under Vowles’ leadership. “There are things he really focuses on, things that need to change faster,” Smeets says.
Changed Culture at Williams
Pat Fry recently joined Williams as chief technical officer. “Again someone who has seen different teams from the inside, someone who brings a lot of experience, especially in terms of organisation,” Smeets says.
With Vowles, Fry, and Smeets, Williams has changed. “There is an open culture, where you shouldn’t be afraid to say anything,” Smeets says. Mistakes are okay, as long as you learn from them. Communication is key. “In the past, there were departments that never talked to each other. How can it work if there is never communication?” Smeets asks. He thinks the atmosphere is good. “Of course, results always help. And we have booked a few of those,” Smeets concludes.