This team bears her name and racing is in her blood. Now, in a special Q&A session, Claire Williams, daughter of Sir Frank and deputy team principal of Williams F1, takes a grilling from her paddock peers…
At the 2014 Bahrain GP we sat down with Claire Williams, deputy team principal of Williams F1, and put to her a range of reader questions. She loved it so much that when our allocated time was up, she made a point of returning later on to ensure every single question was answered ( F1 Racing, June 2014).
So we thought there was a good chance of her saying ‘yes’ to the same thing again this year. Although this time it’s a slightly different format: the questions are all from members of the F1 community – fellow team principals, pundits, drivers past and present, and the like. And yet again she thoroughly enjoys it, even going so far as to delay her arrival at an important sponsor’s lunch to make sure she responds to every single question – some cheeky, some serious.
Armed with the stack of question cards we follow Claire to the top oor of the Williams motorhome, dubbed the Martini Terrazza (although the recent announcement that she is expecting her rst child this autumn means she won’t be ordering a cocktail). We sit down and she eagerly takes the rst card. “I do remember doing this with your readers a few years ago,” she says. “I’m very excited again. Love this. Here we go, question one…”
What is your favourite memory of Ginny, your darling mother? Martin Brundle Sky pundit & ex-F1 racer
That’s a lovely question to start with. Ooh, tricky. So my favourite memory is of going on holiday with my mum. It’s boring, but we went to exactly the same place every year. It was a hotel that Bob Warren [of F1 travel and logistics agency Travel Places] found when Mum asked him to suggest somewhere relatively easy where she could take her children on holiday without her husband. He came up with the Don Pepe in Marbella, so we started going there when I was three and we kept going there right up until the last time she could travel. So I’d say we went around 35 times!
How does it feel to have an old man, a ‘grandfather’, as one of your drivers? Felipe Massa Williams F1 racer
There is absolutely no way I would describe Felipe like that. He is absolutely wonderful and I love having him in this team. I think everyone knows how important it is for me to have ‘Williams people’ here, and I was actually quite
THE ONE THING THAT WOULD HELP US MOST WOULD BE THE REDISTRIBUTION OF INCOME AND COST CONTROL IN F1. WE NEED A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
scared of having him in the team initially, because he was Felipe Massa. But having him and his family with us is just lovely. He’s a lovely ‘boy’.
When I was driving for Williams and you were in the comms department, did you ever believe that one day you would be running the team? Marc Gené Former Williams driver
No – you’re having a laugh, never! It wasn’t my ambition really. When I was in the comms team I always thought how lucky I was. Even when I rst started out in a press ofcer role, I just loved being a part of this team. And I don’t care what I do; if one day someone said to me “you can’t be deputy team principal any more but you have to sweep the oors”, I wouldn’t care! I would just do it. I love working here. F1R: We hope it doesn’t come to that… CW: Yes, I hope not too!
How do you deal with the pressure of having a legend for a dad – and when am I getting my next pay rise? Rob Smedley Williams’ head of vehicle performance
[Laughs] I Love that! Dad is a legend and he’s always been my hero. Sometimes there’s pressure, and I think the biggest pressure on me is to protect Mum and Dad’s legacy and everything they have sacriced for Williams and the hardships they have gone through to create this wonderful team. I feel pressure on me to protect that legacy, rather than the pressure of my dad being this amazing person. I’m my own person, I have to nd my own way and I feel okay doing that. I don’t feel every day: ‘Oh my god, I’m Frank Williams’ daughter, how am I going to cope?’ Rather my dad is an amazing inspiration and someone who I can learn from. F1R: And when’s Rob’s next pay rise? CW: When’s Rob’s next pay rise… I think he’s just had one, hasn’t he?
When you were growing up, who was your favourite Williams driver? Paul Hembery Pirelli motorsport director
Nigel. It was Nigel Mansell every day of the week and it still is. When we talk about drivers for the following year, I still say: “Nigel Mansell. Bring him back!” Easy question.
Describe your dream man (excluding me, of course)? Alex Wurz Former Williams driver
Alex, of course it’s you… No, I have two. My dad and my boyfriend. F1R: After that last question, I thought you’d say: “moustache, Birmingham accent…” CW: [Laughs] No! Thank goodness this isn’t on TV. [She moves swiftly on to the next question from Carlos Sainz and begins to read it out loud] “I’m really sorry I crashed into your driver [referring to his shunt with Lance Stroll after coming out of the Bahrain GP pitlane] – Where can I send the cheque to?” F1R: Does it really say that? CW: It does, so we’ll move on shall we?! [It doesn’t, so then Claire does move on to answer the real question from Mr Sainz]
Who has been the fastest driver over one lap at your team in the past ten years? Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso racer
Is he trying to question my knowledge? That’s one for my brother. Pass. What kind of a question is that? F1R: I think it’s more about, in equal machinery, who has been the quickest driver on talent? CW: Oh, okay. Since 2007? [Long pause] I think we’ll just stick to telling him where to send his cheque…
What one thing would you change to enable the Williams team to return to winning ways? Johnny Herbert Former GP winner
We’re doing it. We’re tweaking things every single day to help us move forward. But the one thing that would help us most would be the redistribution of income and cost control in F1. We need a level playing eld.
When did you decide that you wanted to run the team? Jonathan Palmer Former F1 driver
I didn’t really have much choice in the matter. [Former Williams CEO] Adam Parr decided and then it went to the board and I didn’t really feel I could say no. It was over the winter of 2012-13 and it was at the time when Toto Wolff was thinking of leaving the team to go to Mercedes. He said to me that he would only go if he knew I could do this role and so when I was offered the role I knew I couldn’t turn it down because it was so important. I love Williams so much, that I thought I would be able to help and so I decided to give it a go. And it isn’t going so badly…
Are you prepared for the life-changing moment of your baby’s arrival? Eric Boullier McLaren racing director
No [laughs] – I’ve never been more scared about anything in all my life; I don’t know how I’m going to do it! If anyone has any advice, please email me. No, honestly, I’m genuinely so excited about it and I’ve put it on hold for a long time because of what I wanted to achieve at Williams. And this is such a family-orientated team that it’s all going to be good. Everyone keeps asking me whether it’s going to be a new Williams racing driver one day, and I always say: “No, it will be a Williams team principal one day!”
How much money did Stroll pay for the seat? Otmar Szafnauer Force India COO
He should know better than to be asking questions like that! How much does Sergio Pérez pay for his Force India seat?
What can a woman see that a man can’t see in Formula 1? Damon Hill 1996 world champion
Wow. That’s a good question… We’ll have to come back to it; that’s tricky.
What was your favourite F1 memory from when you were growing up? Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 racer
F1R: I remember you said once it was the embarrassment of meeting Ayrton Senna in your owery pyjamas? CW: Yup, that’s up there. Do you know the story of when Nigel Mansell came to our house? Mum was excited about Nigel coming to visit and was always proud of her garden. She was very keen that it looked wonderful
AT ABU DHABI 2014 I FELT SO MUCH PRESSURE. IT WAS HORRENDOUS. THEN, AT THE FINISH, THE RELIEF FLOODED THROUGH ME ONCE WE SECURED THIRD
for Nigel, so in these big stone urns she had planted some very unusual black tulips, thinking Nigel would be someone who would notice them. Anyway, Nigel arrives in his chopper and blows the head off every single tulip. She was devastated: I don’t think she ever forgave him! There are so many brilliant stories…
Sadly we don’t have space for all of them here, but she also recalls with great fondness arriving with her parents at the British GP and their car being swamped by fans who wanted to get an autograph from her dad She then adds: “I’m loving this; so much fun.”
What’s been the most memorable moment of your life in F1 so far? Paul Di Resta Williams reserve driver
Easy, Abu Dhabi 2014. We eventually nished third in the constructors’ championship, but I was so nervous going into that weekend. We were ghting with Ferrari – and it was double points for that race. It was the biggest regret of my life, voting for a double points nale in that Strategy Group meeting! Just before the race I was really nervous, and I went into the garage to wish all the boys luck and they were like: “What’s wrong with you? Claire, calm down. We’ve got this, it’s ne.”
I spent the whole race dreaming of third. We’d done so much work and we hadn’t had that amount of success for so long. Mum wasn’t there, Dad wasn’t at that race either – and I felt so much pressure. It was horrendous.
Then, at the nish, the relief ooded through me once we’d secured third. We got both our drivers on the podium and it was a wonderful moment that I will never forget. We celebrated on top of the hospitality unit that night and sprayed champagne – it was so much fun.
At this point, it’s agreed between Claire and Williams’ head of comms Sophie Ogg that some of the juicier details of the evening must, sadly, remain a secret.
Will you hire me? Sergio Pérez Force India racer
Any day of the week. F1R: You should ask him how much money he’s bringing… CW: No!
Has Nigel Mansell ever shown you any of his magic tricks? Karun Chandhok Channel 4 F1 pundit
He’s shown my mum because, very sweetly, he used to visit her when she was very ill. He would turn up with his case of magic tricks and spend a lot of time with her, which was really nice. I don’t think he’s shown me; he owes me one. But every time he got in the car in 1992 was a magic trick, wasn’t it?
Claire is keen to continue and protect the legacy of her father, Frank Williams, and late mother Ginny, who created the Williams team
A dream come true: Williams finish P3 in the team standings in 2014