The deputy team principal and daughter of Sir Frank on keeping Williams in the family, encouraging more women into F1 – and why winners never make their own beds…
When we rst enquired whether Claire Williams would like to be interviewed by the readers of F1 Racing, her immediate response was: “What on earth will they want to ask me?”
But as Claire was to discover when we sat down with her at the Bahrain Grand Prix, you’re a curious lot – and certainly not backwards about coming forwards. Hence in among queries about the Williams family ruthless streak and those wince-inducing team orders to Felipe Massa in Malaysia, there were a number of marriage proposals – adroitly handled, incidentally, with a “Yes – but only if you ask my dad for permission.”
In fact, so much did the Williams deputy team principal relish her interrogation-by-reader, that when our allotted time was up and she was called away to give an interview for Brazilian television, she returned later, to ensure every question was answered. And this, dear reader, is how they started…
Are your family’s connections within the team a help or a hindrance?
Paul Hayes, UK I can’t believe this is the rst one – that’s so tricky! It’s twofold. I think it’s very important that we are seen as a family team. It’s important that there are different generations within that and to make sure the DNA of the Williams family continues. But, personally, it is sometimes a hindrance because there have been accusations that I’m only in the job because of my surname. When I rst started, it wasn’t like that. Frank didn’t want me working at Williams so he gave me a hard time. But I love my job and I’m lucky to work here, so I won’t complain either way.
Do you possess the same ruthless streak as your father?
Jonathan Reynolds, UK No, I don’t think so. But I don’t think Dad was particularly ruthless either. He just always did whatever was in the best interests of his team. And that’s what I will always do. Whether that’s regarded as ruthless… well, it’s a ruthless, cutthroat sport, isn’t it? You sometimes have to make hard decisions. For example, you build a relationship with a driver and for whatever reason it doesn’t always work out. I was close to Pastor Maldonado last year and it was difcult for me to see him go but, at the end of the day, that’s what we are paid to do: our jobs.
Pastor Maldonado. Discuss.
Paul Cox, UK He’s a lovely guy and I think he gets a bad rap in Formula 1. I have a soft spot for him, maybe because I was his press ofcer when he joined Williams in 2011, but I see the challenges he faces that a lot of people don’t, because he tends to keep quiet about them. He’s protective of his situation, but that guy has the weight of his nation [Venezuela] resting on his shoulders and he carries it really well. All he wants to do is win. He has that single-minded focus and I have a
huge amount of respect for how he deals with that. And I personally wouldn’t have a bad word to say about him.
Did you ever get to meet Ayrton Senna?
Nick Warner, UK I was a teenage girl when Ayrton was around and I remember talk of him coming to Williams. I’ve heard from Dad what he was like and how he was always one step ahead in things like salary negotiation. I had huge admiration for the way he went about things. He was so dedicated, so determined, so single-mindedly focused on everything. I was lucky to have memories of drivers like Ayrton coming to the house and stuff like that. Although it’s a little embarrassing when you’re 14, you meet your childhood hero for the rst time and you’re in your pyjamas.
This season, Susie Wolff will be driving in two practice sessions for Williams. Can you see women racers competing in F1 within the next ve years?
Liam Higgs, UK I don’t know. I think it’s up to women to come out and show us what they can do. It’s all about coming up through the ranks in the junior formulae. I don’t think there are a huge number out there who are doing that, but the more who do it, the higher the likelihood of them getting into F1. We need to encourage them to come up through racing as then we’ll be more likely to see one of them in Formula 1. It would be great to see a female driver in F1, it’s been too long. [The last woman to qualify for and start a world championship grand prix was Lella Lombardi in Austria 1976 – she nished 12th.]
What part of “Valtteri is faster than you” did Felipe Massa not understand in the Malaysian Grand Prix?
Paulo Felix, Portugal I think he did understand it, but I don’t think he understood why he was given that message because it wasn’t explained to him and that’s where we let our drivers down. So I love the fact that Felipe came on the radio and said: “I am going faster.” The only thing I want to say about it is that we did hold our hands up after the event. We said we’d made a mistake. We rectied it and we’ll move forward from there. F1R: Were you surprised at the negative reaction to the call? CW: Not really. I’m disappointed that we created a situation that generated negativity towards us, because we’re lucky to have such great fans. To make a mistake like that so early on in the season when people want to see Williams do well, I’m disappointed we did that to our fans. I hope they will forgive us and continue to support us.
Have you ever wanted to drive an F1 car? You’re the boss – you can!
Jakub Kurowski, Poland It’s really weird, and I don’t think I should say this, but I’ve never wanted to. They are so complicated, so expensive and so valuable – you don’t just get in and drive it. The guys who do, blow me away. I’ve always been in awe of racing drivers and I’ve never felt that I could do what they do. I also know that if I crashed it, my dad would never talk to me again. Could you imagine the headlines… it would be mortifying. It’s bad enough worrying about crashing my own car.
“It’s up to women to come out and show us what they can do. It’s all about coming up through the ranks in the junior formulae”
Has a Formula 1 driver ever asked you out on a date, or have they all been too scared of your father?
Matt Lloyd, UK [Laughs] Brilliant! I love this one. No. No F1 driver has ever asked me out on a date. I’m going to say that it’s because they’re all scared of FW rather than them having no interest in me!
Do you nd it stressful or enjoyable to watch the races?
Robert Wood, USA I was at a wedding once when someone asked me what I did and I told them I worked at Williams. They said: “My God, is Frank as much of an arsehole in real life as he looks on the TV? Why does he pull those grumpy expressions?” And I had to say: “I’m so embarrassed to tell you this, but that arsehole is my dad!” And he’s not, it’s just that he’s doing his job. When anyone else is at work, they don’t sit at their computer screens with a happy, jovial look on their face, do they? So I know I might look a bit panicked on the TV, but we are ghting for points and ghting for our team. If we don’t do well on the racetrack, we might not get the budget for next year, so of course I’m stressed when I watch a race.
Were you sad to see Dickie Stanford [a Williams stalwart since 1985] leave?
Steve Bates, UK I really was, but he hasn’t left altogether. He’s going to be doing something else within the team. He can never leave – he’s too much a part of the furniture. I’ve always considered Dickie to be a surrogate dad. He’s always looked after me, especially when I came to races as a kid. In so many ways he has done so much for Williams – he’s a part of our history.
Did you pass your driving test rst time?
Bruce Nutter, UK [Laughs] I didn’t. I went round a roundabout without due care and attention and got a big red cross on my form. I was really annoyed. But I passed second time. I used to be a much more condent and speedy driver than I am now, but as you get a little bit older you become more sedate. Actually I’d like to do an advanced driving course. That would be good fun.
Not a question, a request: Please never sell the team. Keep Williams forever.
Alejandro Jorge Ortu, Argentina Well it’s not mine to sell, it’s Frank’s. But as everyone knows, Frank has been racing for 45 years. Williams is in our family and I hope it’s always going to stay in our family – the team is like another brother or sister. We are the majority shareholders in the company and I always want Williams DNA in our team. F1R: What is the current make-up of the shareholding? CW: Toto Wolff has 16 per cent, Patrick has about nine per cent, 21 per cent is on the stock exchange. Frank has 52 per cent and there are a few minor shareholders who own the remainder.
If you could choose two Williams drivers from any era and run them together as team-mates, who would they be and why?
Anna Hunt, UK Easy. Juan Pablo Montoya and Nigel Mansell. I absolutely love them both. F1R: Wouldn’t that be a nightmare? CW: It would be fantastic fun! It would be two racing drivers who were brutes in the car. They’re bullish, they do want they want to do, and, yes, it would be difcult to manage – but that’s part of the fun, right? I’m still in touch with both of them: they were brilliant characters and archetypal Williams drivers through and through. They were fantastic drivers in their era and to see them as a pairing in equal machinery would be fantastic. It wouldn’t be an easy life, but I like a challenge.
How do you unwind in your spare time?
Jayson Cahill, UK I watch the Sky F1 channel… I’m such a loser! [Laughs] Formula 1 is an addiction isn’t it? You think you can’t wait to come home from a weekend but, actually, when you get home you just want to go back. But I love being at home and in my house and closing the door on the world and just chilling out and watching crap TV. I love reality shows like Made in Chelsea and I have a bad habit of watching game shows like Supermarket Sweep and Family Fortunes. I did ask Vernon Kay if I we could go on Family Fortunes – although I don’t think Dad would agree to it. Paul Culp, USA Michael Schumacher. I’ve met him only a few times, and every time he has been so generous and so considerate. We went to an event at his Kerpen kart track in 2000, and he spent the whole afternoon looking after us.
We’ve had a lot of lovely guys racing for us at Williams. My mother used to be quite instrumental in some of the driver decisions. She overhead one conversation between Dad and Patrick over a certain driver they were going to hire. They had agreed to phone him the next morning and offer him a contract.
A few weeks earlier, he had stayed over at our house to discuss the drive. Mum said to Frank: “You cannot employ that driver!” Dad said: “Why not?” and Mum replied: “Because he made his own bed when he came to stay. Winners don’t make their own beds!” Dad ignored her, employed him anyway and he wasn’t that good. I can’t remember who it was, it may have been Thierry Boutsen…
Among the F1 drivers you’ve known, who was the most humble?
Felipe Massa leads the allegedly “faster than you” Valtteri Bottas in Malaysia