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GP Week : Issue 216
F1 >>> BUsinEss By Christian sylt and Kate Hewitt Claire Williams, deputy team boss of the Williams Formula One team, has revealed that its sponsorship budget has been boosted by brands choosing the series as a result of the more environmentally-friendly engines it introduced last year. The 2.4 litre V8s, which have been standard since 2006, were replaced with 1.6 -litre V6 turbos. Gone was the distinctive howling sound that F1 had become famous for and along with it went F1’s status quo. Red Bull Racing, which had won the title for four years on the run with Renault-powered cars, was dethroned by Mercedes with Britain’s Lewis Hamilton at the wheel. The other big beneficiary was Williams which raced up the standings from ninth in 2013 to third last year thanks in part to its choice of Mercedes engines. The new regulations levelled the playing field as no teams had experience of the new engines. It wasn’t the only benefit they brought. “The changes were made for the right reasons,” says Williams. “From my perspective as a commercial director, the change in the engine regulations has definitely alleviated pressure talking to companies that look at Formula One as a sport and are put off by the environmental questions around it.” Testimony to this, Williams has secured more new sponsorship than any other F1 team over the past year. Its tally of new partners comes to an estimated $54.5m and is crowned by drinks brand Martini which became the team’s title sponsor in 2014. It is joined by Brazilian oil company Petrobras, Unilever’s deodorant brand Rexona and British Telecom which signed up earlier this month as a strategic technology partner. Williams says the new engines still hold even more potential. “I think we need to tell the story around these new engines. I think we still need to be telling that story. I don’t think it is a story that has been told enough yet and I think that would do us more favour if we did. But I do believe that from an environmental perspective it was the right way to go,” she explained. In all likelihood, Williams is the best-positioned team in F1 at the moment both on track and off. Founded in 1977 by former engineering director Patrick Head and Williams’ father and boss of the team, Sir Frank Williams, it went on to become F1’s second-most successful outfit. The team has collected nine titles but last won the championship in 1997, taking both titles with Jacques Villeneuve. Since then it has dropped down the standings reaching a joint record low in 2013 when it finished in ninth place with just five points. Williams knows the team better than almost anyone else and has come into her own since she was promoted from marketing director into the role of deputy team boss in 2013. She has overseen the recent return to its glory days and was instrumental in putting the pieces in place for it over the past five years. After a disappointing 2013, Williams and her team reassembled the following year to become the dark horse of the season. A measly five points in the previous year turned into 320 in the next, including multiple appearances on the podium. New engines and sponsors are some of the most recent steps, but the foundations for them began back in 2011 when the team was floated on Frankfurt’s junior exchange. It gave Williams something which no other team has to this day: financial transparency on an open market. “It’s the transparency piece that works for us,” says Williams. “I was always quite doubtful about floating the business. I was thinking ‘how is this going to work after years of Frank and Patrick?’ Actually it works so much better for us because Formula One doesn’t necessarily have that transparency across the board.” It has a market capitalisation of $144.6m and a total of 20% of the shares are listed whilst 3% are held by an employee trust, 5% are in the hands of former director Toto Wolff and 20% are split equally between Head and American investor Brad Hollinger. The remaining 52% is owned by Sir Frank so it is still essentially a family business. It gives sponsors comfort that their money is not being absorbed by a multi-national owner which doesn’t really need it. Adding to this halo effect is the fact that, unlike 26 GPWEEK.com // 26 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: