by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
GP Week : Issue 209
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Three or four years ago, after Frank Williams' long-standing business partner Patrick Head decided that 33 years of toil at the drawing board and on the pit wall had been enough for him, the two of them agreed to seek a stock market listing for the Williams group so that Patrick could cash in some of his chips. The most important purchaser of Williams stock was the German investor (and ex-racing driver) Toto Wolff, who took a 16 percent holding. Although Frank himself still has a controlling 52 percent interest in Team Willy (as he rejoices in calling it), its financial affairs are no longer secret. Under the rules of the listing, it must publish its trading results once every six months, which is how the world learned last week that in the first six months of 2014 the Williams F1 team sustained losses of £20.7m (US$33.4m), against an income of £37.2m (US$60m). Reviewing the implications of this ocean of red ink, the company's senior financial wallah insisted that there was no need for alarm as he revealed that the company was spending its way out of its difficulties: "We had a couple of options at the end of last year, which was save our way in to success – which I think was eventually death – and painful," he said. "The other was [to] spend, but spend sensibly." "Yeah," I can hear you saying, "a bit like Greece or Argentina." But actually, the spend-spend approach is the racer's way out, requiring faith in one's own ability and a willingness to take a bit of a risk in return for cash rewards. This is a team which has thrived on those qualities since the days in the 70s when the boss's most frequent visitors were not sponsors but debt-collectors. The Williams brand has gone horribly flat since the listing, possibly because all the faceless new accountant- type suits over there at the factory in Oxfordshire were acutely conscious that they had shareholders to keep sweet. That was plainly a mistake, and I'm amazed that the penny didn't drop earlier and that nobody, least of all Frank, failed to understand that the basis of any type of racing is risk. Maybe Toto Wolff wanted to protect his investment, although he's a racer too, as he has demonstrated by encouraging the team to make some brave decisions in selecting its test drivers. I am quite sure that this is unconnected with the fact that he happens to be married to one of them. It's good to be able to report that the policy of spending one's way out of trouble seems to be paying off for Frank and his crew. I guess that Felipe Massa didn't come cheap, but Valtteri Bottas did, thanks to some astute talent-spotting when the lad was in GP3. On the engineering side, Pat Symonds is filling Patrick's shoes very nicely and the acquisition of Rob Smedley from Ferrari to take charge of race management is paying off. It's a bit awkward that Toto's loyalties moved away from Williams when he bought an even bigger share of Mercedes F1, but his legacy to his former team is the incomparable Mercedes engine that he negotiated for 2014 and beyond. If things go on as they are, the team could be in line to pick up a monster sponsor. With Felipe's third place at Monza making it five podiums for the team in six races, the cash could be rolling in any time soon. The one obvious cloud on the horizon for Team Willy is the question of its future overall management. Frank, now past 70, tells me that will never retire, but neither is he immortal. Right now, the outfit's corporate face is that of his daughter, Claire (right). She's a no-nonsense operator, much liked in the paddock, but something of a novice in F1 terms and yet to be tried in battle. If there were to be a gloves-off scuffle between drivers at Williams like the one that's currently being waged at Mercedes, then we would find what Claire is made of. With no disrespect to the lady, it's intriguing to reflect on how few racing bosses have passed on their management genes to their offspring. Enzo Ferrari had high hopes for his son Alfredo ('Dino'), who died tragically young, whereupon Enzo had the not terribly brilliant idea of sending the missus, Lara Ferrari, the lad's mum no less, to keep an eye on things at the races. More recently, both Ken Tyrrell and Peter Sauber had (or have) sons who evinced an interest in joining the family firm, but they occupied themselves with marketing rather than management. Then there was Jackie Stewart's son Paul, who did a decent enough job of supervising the 'stair way of talent' junior teams which formed the basis of Stewart GP when Ford agreed to finance the family's step up to the big time. Alas for Paul, it would be Jackie who stole the show in the short period before Ford/Jaguar stepped in with yet another bunch of money that allowed them both to retire comfortably. Claire Williams' official title at Grove is Deputy Team Principal, which suggests that she's just a heartbeat away from the top job. Would she be up to it? A mere hack like me cannot possibly answer that one, because (as I say) she has yet to meet any kind of character-building test. Only Frank can really say, and I would be feeling much more reassured about that if he backed up his support for Claire by allocating some shares in the company to her. To do this, he would have to break the habit of a lifetime. Throughout their business partnership, he and Patrick Head steadfastly refused to allow anyone else to have more than a handful of shares in the organisation. It would cost them dear, not least in 1996, when Adrian Newey, having been refused the holding in the company which would possibly have kept him on board as chief designer until the end of his life, jumped ship to McLaren. Williams, inevitably, went into another of the declines which have diminished its history. If Claire Williams deserves a share in the company, I reckon that there are other employees who are equally worthy, not least among them Pat Symonds. It isn't 1979 anymore, Frank, and I would politely suggest that you give the matter some thought. You never know, but it might speed along the arrival of the big sponsor who's being tempted by the rather good results which are starting to come your way again. team willY: a familY affair ... Or is it? OPINION OPINION MIKE DOODSON