Williams F1 deputy team principal Claire Williams has told Autocar that recent moves to search for 'urgent' investment are part of a plan to regain competitiveness after a “perfect storm” of setbacks — on-track struggles, a split with its headline sponsor, a loss-making 2019 and the Covid-19-led disruption to the 2020 season.
The ultra-successful squad has struggled at the back of the grid in recent years, but to coincide with the unveiling of its new 2020 livery Claire Williams and CEO Mike O'Driscoll have spoken exclusively to Autocar to outline a bold turnaround plan.
After revealing a £13m loss for 2019 recently the Didcot-based team, one of the most successful in F1 history, announced an immediate review of operations and an urgent search for new investment. It said that that in the worst case this could lead to the team’s outright sale to a new owner, raising the prospect of the departure of the Williams name from F1 after more than 40 years, 114 race wins, nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles.
But Williams and O’Driscoll insist that, with fairer F1 regulations in prospect and the potential of new investment to take advantage of ambitious restructuring already under way, Williams has a realistic prospects of a historic revival, and even a return to the front of the grid. In the meantime the team is fully funded through the three to four months a new investor’s entry would take, and onwards through the 15 to 18 races expected to take place this season.
Rather than being the “fire sale” discussed in some quarters, the Williams management’s dramatic moves reflect its own exasperation with the years-long need to stretch every pound too far, to rely at least partly on paying drivers and a boiling impatience to return to the full-on, Frank-and-Patrick style competitiveness of the old days.
“We started talking about the need for new investment last year,” said Claire Williams, “before the virus was even on the horizon. We decided that if we were ever going to punch our weight again we needed support beyond what we could raise from the F1 prize fund or sponsorship.
“Our overriding desire is to find the best outcome for the team. If that means a full sale, it’s okay. If it means sale of a majority as a path to a full sale, so be it. Or if it means someone wants to come in and work alongside us, that’s fantastic. We could probably scrabble the funds together to keep going, but we’ve been doing that for too long. It’s time for change.”
One important part of Williams’ problems stems from the old-school — and under most circumstances entirely praiseworthy — reluctance of company founder Frank Williams and Patrick Head to make excuses for losing. It is now clear that they and others should have protested much more when unfair financial rules were drafted eight or nine years ago by Bernie Ecclestone’s administration, favouring today’s corporately funded top teams to encourage them to sign the then-new Concorde agreement, F1’s package of commercial, financial and technical rules that will be replaced next year.