There has been troubling news from Williams that comes as no surprise to much of the F1 world. The second most successful constructor on the grid may cease to exist, in their current form, very soon. Deputy team principal Claire Williams announced a host of detailed options to secure the future of the team. One of these is to sell the team. In a double-whammy of bad news for the team’s supporters, Williams also announced the immediate departure of title sponsor, ROKiT.
It’s a lot to digest, in particular when considering the timing of the announcement. The new financial budget cap and aero development restrictions were divulged publicly for the first time just days beforehand. The reduction in development time and budget be good news for a private team like Williams. The new regulations will benefit constructors, like them, who are further down the order. Sadly, it could be good intentions coming too late.
Claire Williams wouldn’t divulge all the information regarding the split with ROKiT, presumably due to contract agreements. She did, however, indicate that her team fulfilled their duties with the sponsor. We may find out more in due course, but it’s not unfathomable to consider that the COVID-19 crisis would’ve impacted the financial capabilities of the low-cost smartphone company. If so, the knock-on effect seems to have triggered Williams to look for new sources of financing.
The lack of a title sponsor coupled with two consecutive seasons finishing plum last has come at a time when top F1 teams are spending more money than ever. It’s a recipe for disaster. Bringing up the rear isn’t what Williams has historically done, yet here we have two years of the worst championship finishes since the teams’ inception in the ’70s. It’s a negative feedback loop that results in worse and worse results. These last place results now look likely to culminate with the end of Williams as we know them.
Team co-founder and team principal Frank Williams always insisted he would not sell the team. And perhaps he still won’t. A full sale is just one option on the table, according to Frank’s daughter, Claire. A minority shareholding is also under consideration, as is raising further capital. However, I feel Williams will be at the mercy of whichever interested parties have the deepest wallets. After all, more important than the Williams name surviving in the sport, are team staff and the supply chain remaining employed.
If the Williams family have to swallow their pride for their outfit to continue in some way, without the Williams name, so be it. A full sale may not be their preferred option. Paying high prices for F1 tickets isn’t mine, yet I have no other choice if I wish to attend a race. Other long-standing privateer teams have sold up before. Alpha Tauri used to be Minardi until the ’00s, and Alfa Romeo were once Sauber. Teams evolve, and, unfortunately for Williams, they are still just a team, but with a longer and more illustrious history than most.
However, it’s anything but certain what will become of them. The Williams name does mean something in F1. Any long-term fan will have a soft spot for Williams, even if they’re not their favorite team. They have won titles with legends at the wheel of their cars; Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, and Keke Rosberg all piloted a Williams to a championship. Perhaps any interested party would be wise to continue the Williams legacy. Supporters would be quicker to buy a Williams branded cap than merchandise for ‘NewTeamLtd Racing.’
It’s that sort of racing and celebrated heritage that makes me believe Williams won’t struggle for backers, in whatever form they may come. They advertised their need for financial input when the governing body declared the future of the sport to be fairer for all. Any stakeholder, majority or otherwise, should feel they could actually compete for podiums, maybe even wins without breaking the bank within a few years. With the departure of ROKiT, there is a 200mph billboard with no pre-existing arrangements too. A well-diversified business may see the benefits of a subsidiary brand logo adorned on an F1 car.
Perhaps a longer shot may be the arrival of another manufacturer. The headquarters of the team at Grove, Oxfordshire, offers a fully operational Formula One outfit complete with wind-tunnel, personnel, and on-site production. BMW had a reasonably fruitful partnership with the team in the early ’00s, twice finishing second to the dominant Ferrari-Schumacher pairing. Could the German manufacturer be tempted to return? Perhaps Toyota, VW, or Ford? Williams represents a relatively low-cost entry to the sport when costs can be forecast years into the future for the first time in F1 history.
The story is sure to evolve in the coming weeks. Claire Williams has indicated that she hopes for new investment or new owners to be in place within four months. For now, the only certainty we have to look forward to is a new livery. Racing will be underway next month, and Williams no longer need to adhere to the cyan, white and red color paint job unveiled during winter testing. Even if they do end up selling a significant portion of the team, at least Williams won’t go out the sport with their cars looking like an Aquafresh factory incident on wheels.
Originally published at https://www.fortloc.com.