Claire Williams, Williams, Baku, 2019

F1 mustn’t let “red herrings” distract it from income reform – Williams

2019 F1 season

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Fixing Formula 1’s revenue distribution is the single most importance problem the sport must solve, says Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams, who called other issues “red herrings”.

F1 has postponed final agreement on its regulations for 2021 and beyond until the end of October while it seeks agreement on other potential changes to enhance the championship. This has included further debate over tyres, including whether the sport should move away from high-degradation rubber or even abandoned its planned move to 18-inch wheels.

“I think we need to be clear with Pirelli on what we do want,” said Williams. “We obviously have this target letter when we all met with Pirelli a couple of years ago. I think Pirelli feel that they have delivered against that and we just do need to be clear.

“Invariably different teams are going to have different opinions based on how are you able to manage your tyre with the car that you’ve got. Drivers are going to have different opinions on what what tyres they want. I think it’s just coming up with a solution that is sensible for the teams, the drivers and Pirelli that makes it easy to stick with that.

“We’ve got the 18-inch tyres coming on and then there’s debate around should we revert back to 13. We’ve got to set a path, stick to it and then make the supporting elements of that work for it.”

However Williams said the issue of income is far more important to her team than tyre specifications.

“If we’re going to improve the sport and improve the show, you can’t just focus on one element. You can’t just point the finger of blame on the tyres. It’s a lot of stuff that’s a contributing factor.

“Not least for us, our opinion certainly is that the financial side of Formula 1 needs to be resolved. The distribution of income in particular needs to be resolved. The cost cap needs to be finalised and written in stone.

“That’s really for me will give us the fundamental platform to create a better show I think conversations about other things could be somewhat [of a] red herring. For me, if you have a more equitable equitable distribution of income, you’re going to get, inevitably, better racing.”

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12 comments on “F1 mustn’t let “red herrings” distract it from income reform – Williams”

  1. … if you have a more equitable equitable distribution of income, you’re going to get, inevitably, better racing.

    I totally agree with that.
    Let’s consider the first half of this season: Only 1 driver outside of the three affluently funded teams has stood on the podium. I don’t know how the rest of this season will evolve, but I’m expecting that Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso podium to be the only one by a driver from the other 7 teams. This plainly is unacceptable for a racing series that is supposed to be a credible racing series. We’d never accept a football game where one side starts with more players than another, but we’re supposed to accept that giving vast amounts to some teams and not others will make F1 better.
    We know that affluently funding some teams produces great results for those teams, and meagre … sorry, Very Meagre results for everyone else. Since money buys performance, then Clair is suggesting more equitable TV rights payouts and Budget Caps will produce more equitable racing results, and that is a thought I agree with.

    1. @drycrust But as she also says you can’t just point the finger at one thing. I don’t think the lesser teams are going to get so much more money that they’re going to ever be on the level with the ‘have’ teams, but of course more money for them and less for the top teams will help.

      But it must be a multi-faceted approach. I’m of the opinion that along with a more fair money distribution they must do as they will be doing and make cars that can race closely. That will improve the product on the track which will create excitement and buzz around F1 which should grow the audience and the sponsor base and help invite new teams in as well. After all, it doesn’t cost any more money to build different concept cars that can race more closely, as they were going to spend money to build heavily aero cars anyway. Aside from the initial ‘re-tooling’ for new concept cars they were still going to build cars. Make them exciting and enthralling cars and that will be the biggest aspect to tackle. Distributing money better in a setting that would still have cars unable to pass without a terrible gadget would not do enough. So no I would not call the other aspects besides money ‘red herrings’ at all. Claire is highlighting what is most important for Williams right now.

    2. I totally agree with that.

      Yet it’s nonsense.

      Suppose Williams indeed gets 30 million more from the income. Will they be competing with the top 3 teams then? Will it improve racing one iota really?

      It’s a drop in the bucket. I get that they need more money to stay afloat and that she will pump it up like it’s the holy grail to fix everything, but in reality it does practically nothing to bring budgets closer together.

      The only thing that might actually work to bring budgets closer together is the budget cap.

    3. @drycrust, whilst you say that “We’d never accept a football game where one side starts with more players than another”, on the other hand it has become routine to accept the idea that we’d allow the top football clubs to still have significantly larger budgets than their rivals.

      If you look at the Premier League, there is a marked difference in spending power between the top clubs and the bottom clubs – they refer to the dominance of “the Big Six”, that being Man United, Man City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspurs and Chelsea, and if you look at their financial accounts, there is a very big difference in budgets between them and the rest of the league.

      Most of those teams had turnovers in excess of £400 million a year (Tottenham was slightly lower, at £381 million), with the richest two (Man City and Man United) over £500 million. The five biggest teams were spending close to £250 million on wages alone, and had annual budgets in excess of £350 million.

      By contrast, the teams in the rest of the league had turnovers that were generally less than £150 million, with a couple at the £180-190 million mark. Most of the smaller teams were spending less than £100 million on players, and indeed most of them had an annual turnover that didn’t even match the wage budgets of “the Big Six”.

      It’s an odd thing, as individual football matches might exhibit variability, but the Premier League is still very lop-sided in terms of competitiveness – basically, with the exception of Leicester City in 2015 and Blackburn Rovers in 1994, a small handful of clubs have dominated the championship, and thus the political and financial world of the Premier League, for at least 30 years now.

  2. it is time that the top teams have more difficulties: less money given to them, less tests in winter for them (or more tests for bottom teams), and doing a qualifying like in wrc where the top teams would run first on cold or dirty track, and the bottom team would run on clean track (ofc it is rains at the end of the qualifying, that does not work). perhaps even no parc fermé for bottom teams.

    1. Disagree about money, I feel like winning should give you more money. That is only fair. If we mean stuff like prestige money, then yeah.

      However spending cap is needed.

  3. Agree. Let’s start fixing the most important one first.

  4. How is it that an independent Williams was such a powerhouse against some of the same manufacturers in past decades and won world championships but now they are the new Manor/Marussia/etc.? Money may be one major component, but leadership ingenuity and drive account for so much more. I’m sorry, Claire, you are not your father when he was your age.

    Aside from that, it baffles me how people want to argue for more competition by way non-competitive mandates. The business side is no different than on the track: you compete and either win or you don’t. Imagine if all these arguments were yearning for distribution of Lewis and Max’s points because they get too many? In the end is everyone supposed to get a championship trophy? Every constructor wins? If the investment and work is not correlative with the gains then why would any new teams, much less existing teams, want to compete in F1? Formula 1 is a highly competitive, high stakes, high demand, high reward business, it is not a charity.

    1. Lee, when Williams was that powerhouse, though, they were also operating on a similar budget to the larger teams around them – leadership alone cannot pay for research and development.

      In the late 1980s, and the very start of the 1990s, Williams had around £32 million to spend, plus were being supplied with free engines from Renault – McLaren, at around that time, was estimated to be operating on about £40 million and Ferrari about £50 million. However, when you account for the fact that Ferrari were paying to develop their own engines and account for what Renault were spending on their engine development, Williams probably actually had more available money to spend on chassis development than Ferrari did, and a comparable amount to what McLaren likely had to spend on their car as well.

      Equally, in the early 1980s, when Williams first became a manufacturer of note, it was pointed out that part of what got them there was the fact that they were, in the early 1980s, reckoned to be one of the richest teams in the sport. The Saudia deal that Williams struck in the late 1970s, for example, was the biggest ever in the sport at the time, and those deals did help Williams to become one of the first teams in the sport to have a multi-million pound budget.

      To put it bluntly, the problem for Williams is that, in their heyday, they were able to match the financial musclepower of the other big teams pretty closely, or perhaps even outspend quite a few rivals – that’s part of the reason why they were up there in the first place.

      These days, their current budget of $150 million puts them towards the tail end of the field – and most of the teams with smaller budgets, such as Haas or Toro Rosso, are able to do so because they are offloading some of their development costs onto parent teams. Inflation adjusted, Williams’s budget today is a little short of twice what it was in 1992, but the front running teams are probably spending closer to five or six times what they were spending back then.

      Williams want to retain their independence and operate in a way that means they are less dependent on a major manufacturer, but on the flip side it means their operating model is more expensive than those of Haas, Toro Rosso or Racing Point, which are closer to satellite teams of a larger company.

      1. I think that’s only part of what happened, there’s definitely also some problem in how williams operates, the team has been in decline since 2003 (more or less) and back then they had competitive budget, can’t be it’s all gone in a year or two.

        1. @esploratore, well, it is worth noting that 2004 did see the team struggle with the “walrus nose” FW26, which was a fairly radical aerodynamic concept that failed to work in practise, since the car was slightly overweight and had a weight distribution that was further forward than desired, eroding most of the aerodynamic benefits. It was a clever idea, but one beset by technical problems and created a car with a very narrow set up window that proved to be harder to drive on track than predicted.

          In the background, that flawed chassis did add to the increasing friction between BMW and Williams, with both sides starting to distrust each other in the wake of a failed attempt by BMW to buy the team from Frank Williams. With BMW starting to open discussions with Sauber about buying them as early as the 2004 season, it seems that there was a decline in the technical co-operation between the two sides as both sides sought to prevent the other learning about what they were up to.

          It’s also worth noting that BMW did take a little bit of a backwards step in terms of competitiveness in 2004 and 2005 – 2005 in particular was a big step backwards, as BMW were unprepared for the requirement for engines to last two race weekends that season. They had planned a new engine, the P85, for that season, but had to scrap it because they were not confident it could meet the minimum lifespan requirements – that resulted in the P84/5 engine, a quickly updated version of the 2004 spec P84 which was underdeveloped, given the decision to use that engine was made at a fairly late stage.

          After that, you then had the disaster of the 2006 season, where the team had a 55% DNF rate that season and was also struggling to fund development of Cosworth’s CA2006 engine as well. The following seasons saw the team using the Toyota V8 engine, which was initially competitive in its first year, but the rev cap and a lack of development meant the Toyota engine was one of the weaker engines on the grid – by that time, it is fair to say that Williams were definitely now in the “minor league” compared to where they had been, and they’ve now been there ever since then.

          Some of the problems were there from earlier – Webber, for example, was fairly critical of what he considered to be Frank Williams’s archaic leadership style in 2005 – but, until then, the team could patch over some of those faults with BMW’s money and their engines.

          It’s not coincidental that things started getting progressively worse as BMW started to cut their technical and financial support from 2004 onwards, which in turn started to cause internal arguments that weakened the team. Some of it was internal politics and poor management, but budgetary issues were already starting to come into the equation as BMW were starting to cut back on their support of Williams as they began shifting their focus towards Sauber.

    2. Williams were only ever successful when they were a manufacturer backed tram with huge sponsorship.

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