Currently reading: Exclusive: Williams F1 team outlines bold recovery plan
Storied British team unveils new 2020 livery, with deputy team principal Claire Williams telling Autocar how it plans to escape the back of the grid

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.

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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.

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“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.

Racing insiders have previously revealed that under Ecclestone’s arcane system, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes have been sharing pre-season payments totalling nearly $300million before their cars even turn a wheel. Next year all F1 budgets will be capped at $145million (a late, Covid-19-led reduction from the previously planned $175m) and earnings from F1’s worldwide TV earnings will be much more equitable. 

In 2022 a sweeping revision of F1’s technical regulations will simplify car designs, make the machines look sleeker, more stylish and different from one another. Expensive race-by-race upgrades will go, and new aerodynamic regulations will allow cars to race more closely. Williams’ management backs the whole package.

“The current situation is completely changed by the new regulations,” added Claire Williams. “And funnily enough, the ante has been upped further by the way the virus has affected us all. We’ve come together to realise we have to do a better job of creating parity within the sport and of getting costs down.”

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Williams’ impatience for the new order is understandable: the new rules hold a particularly strong potential to restore the competitiveness of so-called independent teams like themselves (as opposed to OEM-backed concerns like Renault and Mercedes, or satellite teams such as Haas and Sauber).

The 2022 rules will pose a fresh challenges for satellite teams most of which currently buy ready-engineered component assemblies from the leading manufacturers. For 2021 teams will race their 2020 chassis (plus unaltered gearboxes and crash structures) which Williams expects to make “an enormous difference” to expenditure. But after that satellite teams will be forced to manufacture much more of their own cars’ components, which will mean acquiring the kind of expertise, equipment and IP Williams has always had as an independent. It is perhaps the most dramatic levelling of the F1 playing field of all.

“Until now, being an independent hasn’t made a whole lot of sense,” said Claire Williams. “But we believe, and thankfully so do the new administrators, that doing your own design and engineering should not be allowed to be a disadvantage.”

Claire Williams isn’t allowed (under stock exchange regulations) to comment on the approaches the team has had beyond commenting that she is “impressed by the quality” of the potential investors. Another source reports that many see the Williams name and heritage as major assets of the Grove team, and would want the family to continue working much as it does now.

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Despite its recent poor results and financial difficulties, Williams F1 has had little trouble recruiting the fresh talent in leadership positions it has needed. Former McLaren COO Simon Roberts joined as managing director just a few weeks ago, and Red Bull’s Dave Worner recently arrived as chief designer. Director of operations James Colgate (appointed after Williams’ cars missed several days of pre-season practice last year) has pulled the organisation back on track. And there have been other moves.

“Last year as part of a move to bolster team spirit we did a big series of 15-20 person seminars for our whole staff of 700-plus people,” says Claire Williams. “Nearly every department said they needed a couple of extra staff. That would add about 50 extra people; we’d definitely get them if we could.”

For now, the strategic review continues apace, racing begins in a few days with a part-familiar, part-new driver team (last year’s excellent George Russell and well-funded Canadian recruit Nicholas Latifi) and a car Claire Williams carefully described as “much more solid”.

Claire Williams said that the extra effort and expertise deployed for the latest FW43 deserves a better performance, but recognises that a comeback from last place in F1 is tough. Racing on equal terms with Haas and Alfa Romeo would be “a good start”, she added.


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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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si73 27 June 2020

Really hope they succeed, F1

Really hope they succeed, F1 loses too many teams and I don't want to see Williams disappearing from the grid.
The Colonel 27 June 2020

Outlines bold recovery plan?

To who did they outline a bold recovery plan?

There isn't one laid out in that article.  There's a lot of what they got wrong.  There's a lot of what may come in the future with rules and regulations changes.  There's a lot of "ifs" contingent upon other things happening.  There's "potential" for investment (isn't there always) but no substance.

James Colgate came in after Paddy Lowe was dropped after screwing up the start of their 2019 season.  No doubt.  But the jury ought still be out as to whether 2019 would have unfolded any differently had construction and pre-season gone well.  

That was all to see in the Netflix doc.  What was also for all to see is just how petulant Claire Williams can be.  There's your problem, right there.  They should find a new TP, she should take a step back, be the public face of the Williams team, name, and family.  To do otherwise will mean the team disappearing.  The team may reappear in another form, but not through sale, but collapse and someone esle picking up the pieces.

Did you get sa nice brunch though Steve?