Claire Williams, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020

‘Williams are not in long-term decline – we’ve had two bad years’

2020 F1 season

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Williams deputy team principal Claire Williams says the decision to offer the team for sale is the best option to secure funding and protect its future.

A complete takeover of the team by a new owner is one of several possible outcomes following today’s announcement said Williams, who has been deputy team principal of the outfit since 2013.

“It’s obviously very early days and all options are available to us,” said Williams today in response to a question from RaceFans.

“Whether that be purely a capital investment or a divestment of a minority or majority stake or a full sale of the company, all options at this very early stage in the process are open to us and we aren’t ruling anything out.”

The team last won a world championship 23 years ago and has won just one race since 2004. It slumped to last in the championship in 2018, and remained there last year. Williams, however, challenged the idea the 43-year-old team is in “long-term decline”.

Pastor Maldonado, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2012
Pastor Maldonado scored Williams’s last win in 2012
“We’ve had two bad years,” she said. “Any team can have two bad years and it’s what you do as a result of those two bad years and learn from your mistakes and pull yourself up. That’s the work that we’ve been doing over the past year and into this year.”

Williams split from chief technical officer Paddy Lowe at the beginning of 2019, when its FW42 was not completed in time for the start of pre-season testing. The team languished at the back of the grid throughout the year and scored a single point in 21 races.

Pre-season testing this year began more promisingly, but the FW43 is yet to be tested in competition due to the pandemic.

“Unfortunately because we couldn’t go racing this year, we couldn’t show people that we’ve made progress,” said Williams. “Obviously prior to those two years we’d had some quite considerable success in ’14 and ’15, finishing third and third and then ’16 and ’17 finishing fifth and fifth.

“So I think to say that Williams has been in a long term spiral of decline is probably slightly exaggerated or erroneous.”

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Formula 1 has approved sweeping new regulations for the coming seasons which will further reduce the budget cap and give teams which finish lower in the championship the chance to do more development work on their cars. Williams is optimistic this will aid her team.

Robert Kubica, Williams, Circuit de Catalunya, 2019
The 2019 season started badly and barely improved
“That for me is incredibly exciting and I think for our team it’s incredibly exciting. I sit here today genuinely very confident about this team’s future and our ability to succeed in our sport again, because the environment in which we can compete is changing.

“The fact that we’re now making this decision to source inward investment in order to help us achieve everything that we want to, to help us fulfil all the plans that we’ve been putting into place and to drive us even further forward it’s absolutely the right day to be doing this in Williams history.”

One potential consequence, however, is that the Williams name could be lost to the sport. Williams said it’s “far too early to speculate” on how the team might look after it secure the sought-after investment, but is hopeful a new owner would recognise the huge value in the Williams brand.”

“The Williams brand I think is loved by sports teams, sports fans, both in and out of Formula 1. I think it stands for something and I’m sure any investor would recognise that. But that would be a conversation for a later point.”

Jacques Villeneuve, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Williams, Melbourne, 1997
Williams won its ninth and last title in 1997
The team, which was started by her father Sir Frank Williams in 1977, has remained one of F1’s steadfast independents. While the decision to offer it for sale is clearly a sign of the challenging times the team now faces, Williams does not regard the move as a sign of “desperation”, but a rational decision to improve its financial position.

“I think that it’s the right and prudent thing to do,” she said. “Williams as a family have always put our Formula 1 team first.

“I feel very much that seeking inward investment at this juncture is absolutely in line with that philosophy that we’ve always had: To protect our teams each year to protect the people that work for us.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
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Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 41 comments on “‘Williams are not in long-term decline – we’ve had two bad years’”

    1. In the last 20 years, no championships. In the 20 years before that, 9 constructors titles and 7 drivers championships. No long term decline?

      1. Atleast in early 2000s they were a team fighting for titles which seem to have taken taken turn for worse in late 2000s.

      2. Well, McLaren last constructors championship 1998, last driver championship 2008 (so only one in 20 years), same for Ferrari (12 years without title), who knows if Ferrari or Red Bull will win titles again in next 10-20 years? Of course they’re still around fighting for victories just like Williams or McLaren in 2000s, but who knows how long will it take.

        1. 2008 are you sure? I think that Lewis Hamilton was not driving a Williams that year.

        2. Sorry , re read your post, for some reason I undertood williams instead of mclaren

      3. I can only think that Claire Williams doesn’t know what the expression means. There cannot be any other explanation.

      4. After watching the documentary on Williams I immediately wrote them off. They lucked into the active suspension thing which delivered success until it was banned. And thats basically it. Lots of good intentions and passion but couldn’t see any actual skill within the family to run a team. Should have gone for a B Mercedes team option or sell way earlier. So blatantly clear (for years and years) that this was coming. But what bothered me most is that Claire just won’t acknowledge it. She keeps being a 1950s-1980s Brit: whatever you do never be open and honest. Deny everything and just keep doing what you are doing despite it is not working at all. Very odd.

    2. There’s been a lot of poor decisions in the last 20 years. It didn’t need to be like this.

      1. agreed.

        a lot of people like to point fingers at Claire, but the truth is, despite a few upticks, Williams has been in a downward spiral for almost a quarter century now. looks like their business model isn’t enough for F1 anymore, which sucks: they always seemed the kind of team F1 should strive to have more of…

        1. Williams downfall begun with their F1 model of “doing everything in house”. With a small staff and limited resources they carry on with the this mantra (in the meantime Force India, Toro Rosso, Sauber) outsource the gearbox and other components of the car.
          Because of this in the last years they had “to hire” (accept) pay drivers (Stroll, Sirotkin, Maldonado). The arrival of V6 hybrids gave them a life support since the Mercedes engine was by far the best of the grid in 2014-16 but since then the car has gone backwards and with 2018/19 disaster is no surprise sponsors run away or pay much lower fees.
          Last year I was adamant that Claire should leave. The car was a disaster due to a poor design and building schedule but she hires the people in charge of all that. Instead Williams carry on with the same attitude of “everything ourselves”.
          With the terrible recession due to Covid19 I highly doubt someone will pay buy the team (the worst of the grid and with the slowest or second slowest car of 2020). Even worst in case someone buy I don´t think they will have any interest in keeping the name (you don´t invest that amount so someone else take credit if you obtain points or victories).
          It´s sad but that what happens when management is stubborn and doesn’t change with the times (the same fate of Tyrell, and so many other before).

    3. Adam (@rocketpanda)
      29th May 2020, 12:54

      A team that was known for winning championships slumping to last and now going on ‘all options considered’ sale suggests it’s more than just two bad years and rather being on a steady decline for quite a while. They’ve not seemed like they know what they’re doing. They don’t seem to know whether they want to be a B-team or not, they never seem to settle on drivers or consistency and seem to have no idea how to fix the car problems they’ve been having and that’s before Paddy Lowe came and went. But losing them and the Williams name from F1 is something I never thought would happen – I hope very much that it stays.

      F1 really needs to protect the independent teams far more than it has. These car companies that have a history of coming and going aren’t the lifeblood of F1 – the teams that are here just for the racing are and without them I think F1 ends up being rather soulless.

    4. When you read this nonsense from Claire Williams you will understand the problem at the team.

      Perhaps she thinks she is talking up the selling price but instead she is revealing the unrealistic mind set which currently dominates the team. Outdated, self absorbed, fixated on “complete independence” rather than progress back up the grid.

      In the current world the two things are not compatible.

      Save the team, dump the family.

    5. It’s easy to look at Williams and think “wow, this is a team that not long ago were pushing for podiums”

      But between 2004 and 2014 the team also struggled a lot.

      So that’s a long term decline in itself

    6. Graham (@guitargraham)
      29th May 2020, 13:17

      Jonathan always said Claire would do this

    7. Not in a long term decline…Is she joking? Williams have won one, yes one race, in 16years!!! During this virus lockdown i have re read Webber’s ‘True Grit’ and in there he quite succinctly put the point that Williams would never listen to anyone, especially the drivers. According to Webber they were fixated on their past glories and nobody could tell them anything at all. It is quite devastating really as i was a solid Williams supporter but their cavalier attitude towards Mark Webber and the subsequent treatment that they meted out lost me forever. They’re getting what they deserve…IMO of course.

      1. I think the dressing down JPM got in 2003 after the French GP was a turning point. Frank & Patrick of old would have loved JPM’s frustration at getting screwed by Ralf, but instead he got some HR bs warning letter (allegedly).

        They’ve been a hollowed out husk for a while, looking backwards when everyone else was looking forward.

        1. Well, the BMW years were interesting in the sense that it felt like two half teams running under the same name. JPM was Williams, Ralf was BMW. I guess Frank got tired of that too…

    8. I mean, the team would be in a lot more trouble if it didn’t have the Merc engine advantage for the years before the last two. Let’s be real honest here, both them and Force India really profited during that time over the other midfield teams purely on having that huge power advantage.

      Given that they’re now having to look to sell the team, I think some more modesty would be prudent here now that a whole lot of employees are at risk while Williams scrambles to find a potential buyer for the team. Talk them up, sure, but leave it at that.

      1. @iii….I really don’t see your point. We are discussing business decisions here. Sentimentality is an alien concept within that context. Williams have been mismanaged whilst under Williams management. In business there are those that succeed and those who lose. I recall a story from a long while back when FW called on Bernie Ecclestone for financial assistance and he was told that they were pursuing the wrong business model. In typical Williams fashion they ignored that advice. They are in this current position as a result of various conditions that have wreaked universal disruption but they were in a weak position prior to that anyway. I have very little sympathy and just hope that whoever picks it up has more business acumen than the current crop. I read where one interested party made an offer, conditional that the Williams family were removed from management, meaning Clare, as FW is only a nominal figurehead, but they refused? Nice lady that she is, she has made a mess of it all and has to go.

        1. Couldnt agree more. Save the team, dump the family

    9. Best moment to sell is when you’re at the very bottom. Good call. They’re still in denial. It’s over.

    10. An F1 team is a business. The Williams business was poorly run. It may be sad and unfortunate for its employees, management, shareholders and creditors, but this is what happens to poorly run businesses.

    11. Who cares about Lotus, Tyrrell, Brabham? They were great some day but ended badly. Same for Williams, Benetton, Renault, even Red Bull will end like this. Don’t know about McLaren but it looks like Mercedes just took McLaren’s place in people’s minds so again who cares about McLaren, this team doesn’t have winning mentality anymore.

    12. Sonny Crockett
      29th May 2020, 16:20

      I was at the Circuit de Catalunya for Williams’ last F1 win.

      By complete chance my mate was wearing a Williams baseball cap, probably the only Williams clothing anybody at the circuit was wearing!

      Sad to see such a great time hit skid-row.

      I don’t like pointing fingers but Claire Williams’ tenure has been poor. It goes to prove that you should choose the best person for a job. Nepotism has been the downfall of many businesses. It’s not going too well at the White House either!

    13. Doug Webster
      29th May 2020, 16:26

      I realize it’s an edited piece, but if you watch the Drive to Survive episode this year that features Williams you see a team and a leader in Claire Williams that is tolerant of failure. They joke about it, they are amused by their own incompetence. It’s painful to watch. I cannot imagine that type of failure tolerance from other team leadership. Can you imagine someone joking about failure in front of Ron Dennis?

      This is all recent, though. Their decline from world class, to contenders, or erratic performers, to losers has been gradual. Money is surely a big part of it. I’ve read over the years that Williams had a long standing policy of not poaching sponsors from other teams…a policy not shared buy McLaren or others who have bled sponsors from Williams. They famously failed to gel with BMW and lost BMW’s engines and all that goes with a works deal.

      Belgium said in the WC last time that they would rather play beutiful football than win like France…and they got their way. They lost and France are champs. Perhaps the ethos and culture of the Williams team isn’t compatable with success in this era. Lots of great teams have come and gone, perhaps it’s time for Williams to join them. I hope not, but it does not look good unless huge change comes fast.

      1. Nicely written, Doug.

    14. Let’s look at 20 years of results to see if we have steady decline or whether it was simply “2 bad years”

      2000: 3rd Place – 36 Points
      2001: 3rd lace – 80 Points
      2002: 2nd Place – 92 Points
      2003: 2nd Place – 144 Points
      2004: 4th Place – 88 Points
      2005: 5th Place – 66 Points
      2006: 8th Place – 11 Points
      2007: 4th place – 33 Points
      2008: 8th Place – 26 points

      There is a clear downward trend prior to the 2009 rule change. They improved initially but then tailed off from being a team that fights near the front to a team that makes up the numbers by the end.

      2009: 7th Place – 34.5 Points
      2010: 6th Place – 69 Points
      2011: 9th Place – 5 Points
      2012: 8th Place – 76 Points
      2013: 9th place – 5 points

      They remained in a relatively similar position throughout this era although again, there are signs of a slight decline overall. They didn’t use the significant rule changes to improve their position and started the era off as they finished the last.

      2014: 3rd Place – 320 Points
      2015: 3rd Place – 257 Points
      2016: 5th Place – 138 Points
      2017: 5th Place – 83 Points
      2018: Last Place – 59 Points
      2019: Last Place – 1 Point

      They had a great start helped by having the only competent engine in the field but it would be unfair to attribute their success solely down to the engine. Unfortunately, despite this great start, they had an incredibly rapid decline from being right near the front to only scoring 1 point in just over half a decade!

      Overall, whilst there have been some improvements a long the way at times, the general trend is one of long-term steady decline. The trend continues even further back than the 20 years as in the 90s, they won titles…

      Sorry Claire, as much as you want to put a positive spin on things, I don’t think you can call a steady decline over a period of more than 20 years anything but “long-term decline.”

    15. So it’s a 2 year decline that started since 2014 then?

      1. It’s a two year decline since the baby (Oct 17)

    16. While keeping Claire, the person, and Claire, the professional manager, separate, she is incapable of seeing outside of her bubble. The corporate culture at Williams has always been one where anyone but Sir Frank Williams are disposable. Their attempts of being “frugal” in an industry that demands massive amounts of cash have always been pathetic.
      Claire will never see the forest, but the corporate culture of the organization she represents is incompatible with modern F1. The results are not anomalous; they are directly linked with the decades-long poor decisions made by the teams principals. Everything has a lifecycle. Williams F1 is close to it’s sad end.

      And I am not sure if the WHOLE F1 circus is not close to it’s demise, either.

    17. Well by same token, when did McLaren last win a race, Toro Rosso, Alfa Romeo, Renault, Racing Point, when did Ferrari last win a title, when did… Etc.

      Williams are a sympthom of the times, where only one team can win a championship and only two-three teams can fight for wins.

      There are no bad teams in F1 for years. They all died off. So Williams is in terminal decline, but only by their standards of being good in the past.

      Who wants to bet Red Bull will be more than midfield in 20 years? Mercedes can be gonne tomorrow.

      And Williams might still be racing for P14.

      1. @jonlyureo Well Williams were a team that was the only one that could win the championship for years.

        In fact even as recent as 2014 Williams ended up as third in the constructors championship. They have been steadily going down the order. Last two seasons they ended up dead last. So how is that not a decline?

        Mercedes might stop sponsoring the team, but that doesn’t mean the team which once started as Tyrell will automatically be gone.

    18. Since Williams are listed on the Stock Exchange, why is it they want to sell the company instead of offering Frank’s shares to their existing shareholders?

    19. Has there ever been a female F1 team manager that did not manage to steer the team into the ground?

      1. William Jones
        30th May 2020, 11:30

        78 team principles have never scored a point in f1. As both Monisha and Claire have scored points in F1, their performance is elevated to average the moment they scored their first point. Feel free to exclude as many years as you want in the beginning of their careers, they both scored points and so are completely average in their field.

        I rate only 15 team principles as having not run their teams into the ground. I’m generously including Eddie Jordan in that number. That’s less than 5%. Once we’ve had 20 female team principles, and if not one of them didn’t leave at a low point of their team, then you may have a point. Until then, you don’t have the data to make your statement anything but cringeworthy.

    20. I have utmost respect for Claire, but whenever she talks I immediately get flashbacks of my PR Speak class in the 90s. Someone should tell her this media-power-ballad thing does not work any more.

    21. Given the parlous state of Williams’ finances any prospective partner/investor/new owner would also have to take into account the Latifi loan funds that were, i believe, secured by lien over most of the teams assets for an amount of 50M English pounds. The Williams family also are seemingly cashed up and are worth somewhere around US$180m i believe, so if things do get even more drastic surely they could ante up some of what they’ve taken out of the business over the years. Patrick Head is also a very wealthy individual and in fact, i believe that the float on the Frankfurt exchange was initially instigated as a means to free up enough cash to pay him out when he retired from the Company and he still owns 9% according to reports.

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