Claire Williams has talked about her time as Williams deputy team principal which included the criticism she received from social media caused by the team's recent struggles.
Williams who relinquished her position at the Italian Grand Prix after selling the team to Dorilton Capital spoke to The Spectator about the financial inequality on the Formula 1 grid as well as the need to source parts from elsewhere which has seen teams such as Haas jump Williams in the constructor's championship.
“The top end of the grid was spending half a billion versus our budget of 120 million, and that’s just not a level playing field from the outset, and therefore it’s very difficult to try and compete. When you’re in that situation it’s difficult to claw your way back.”
“The list of listed parts, which are the parts you have to make yourself, which are what define you as an independent team, had become much more diluted”.
“So other teams that had only been in the sport a shorter time than us, that didn’t have the resource, was able to buy those parts from a team much higher up the grid, thereby making them a whole lot more successful a whole lot more quickly and almost shortcutting the process.
“All this kind of stuff just conspired to send Williams down to the back end of the grid. And once you’re there, you’re obviously receiving less prize money, you have less interest from sponsors, and so you get an even more reduced budget and then you can’t spend your way out of it. And in Formula 1, if you’re in trouble, you’ve got to be able to spend your way out of it. And then 2020 happened.”
At the beginning of 2020, Williams looked to have turned around their fortunes with the new FW43 looking promising in testing, however, the coronavirus pandemic, as well as ROKIT mobiles pulling out of its sponsorship of the team, caused Williams to have no choice but to sell the team.
“At the start of last year, we thought we’d kind of turned a corner, then we had the issues that we had with our title sponsorship, which stripped a load of money out of our budget. And then the pandemic hit."
“It was just like, oh my God, seriously, we’ve just got through these two very difficult years, we think we’ve turned a corner, we’ve got the team back where we want it to be, we feel like we’re making progress – and we were, we were a second, one and a half seconds quicker at a load of circuits in 2020 off the back of a huge amount of hard work and that shows that we were taking steps forward – but then those two last kind of nails in the coffin really just killed us.”
“We ran out of road basically at the end of 2020 as a family. And it was like, we’ve got to let this go now and hand it over to people that are able to invest in it because they’ve already got the money and they don’t have to go out and seek sponsorship for it or whatever and they can buy some time to plough their way up the ladder in Formula 1.”
As a result of Williams's struggles in the last three years, Williams received abuse on social media as well as criticism of her management despite her arrival at the team causing an upturn of fortunes which saw the team finish third in the constructor's championship for two consecutive years.
“Actually they forget that when I took it on, I inherited a team that for the past three consecutive seasons had finished ninth, eighth and ninth. I had the team for nine months and I managed to take it within less than a year to third place in the championship, two years in a row. And then we had two fifths."
“We got a lot of support and we retained that support through the early years of our demise. But then I think people started to turn a little bit and particularly, I think, against me. Quite rightly so: I was the leader, I was the boss and the buck stops with me."
“But you make decisions at the time because you think that they’re the right decisions and sometimes those decisions don’t go your way and that’s what happened in my case. But of course, I got a lot of flak for it. I got a lot of scrutiny for it. I’ve got a whole load of abuse, apparently, on social media. But, for me, I couldn’t listen to that noise. That for me would have taken up a huge amount of negative energy and I needed to focus my attention on the team and to prove everybody that I could do it."
Williams was also accused of nepotism after taking charge of the team as well as sexist attacks on her being suitability for the job.
‘Oh, it’s because she’s a woman’ and I also got ‘she’s only in the job anyway because she’s Frank’s daughter, get her out’. I know that I got that a lot.|
“I don’t care what people think or write about stuff like that when they’ve never walked a day in my shoes and they don’t know the truth. You can sling as much mud as you like, but it doesn’t stick on me. If that’s what you want to accuse me of, then that’s fine."
“I was my dad’s daughter and that was one of the reasons why I was in the job, for goodness’ sake, because we’re a family team and people at Williams wanted the next generation of Williamses to come in and run the team and for the family to still be involved. That was the whole point. So anyone that criticises the fact that I took over from my dad just misses the point completely about the importance of family and next generations.”