Frank was our Enzo but time is right for fam­ily to step aside

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Formula One - Da­mon Hill

Frank Wil­liams was our Enzo Ferrari. He was as wed­ded to his desk and to his team’s fac­tory as Enzo was to his beloved cars and team. Frank was a self-ed­u­cated guy, very sharp when it came to do­ing the deals. If ever I was hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with him about any­thing else, it quickly came back to mo­tor rac­ing again. I ab­so­lutely loved work­ing there, and yet I think, on bal­ance, it is prob­a­bly a wise move for the fam­ily to be say­ing good­bye.

There has to be a de­gree of sad­ness for them, given For­mula One was their life for so long, but what was sad­der was watch­ing the team strug­gle. I count my­self for­tu­nate to have been there at their height, but the past eight years have been a tor­rid episode in the his­tory of Wil­liams. It was wor­ry­ing hear­ing the story of how they strug­gled last year even to have a car ready for the first test.

The fear was that they would go bank­rupt. But it seems, for now, they have found solid in­vestors in Do­ril­ton Cap­i­tal, and they have been handed over to safe hands for their fu­ture well-be­ing.

To find the pre­cise point at which they lost di­rec­tion, I be­lieve you have to go back to their move to Grove in 1996, and their switch to BMW en­gines four years later. It all just ex­panded too quickly. When I raced at Wil­liams, there were 150 peo­ple. You could lit­er­ally go to the fac­tory and say hello to ev­ery­one in­di­vid­u­ally

I hope Claire feels that a hefty weight has been lifted from her shoul­ders

with­out it tak­ing too long. But then it be­came too un­wieldy, the work­force grow­ing to 600 peo­ple at some point. The nu­cleus of the team found it­self over­whelmed by the in­flux of ex­tra staff, and it started to show signs of los­ing di­rec­tion.

Wil­liams were a quintessen­tially Bri­tish team. Frank loved be­ing the flag-flier and lead­ing the Bri­tish team, in a way that McLaren never re­ally could be. So did Pa­trick Head, as the engi­neer­ing ge­nius of it all. But there was a loss of iden­tity, and a lack of clear lead­er­ship from the top.

Af­ter the team floated on the Ger­man stock ex­change in 2011 to help pay back their debts, the board of direc­tors watched ev­ery penny spent. It be­came a case of the com­pany sim­ply try­ing to sur­vive and to hon­our its obli­ga­tions to share­hold­ers.

As for Claire Wil­liams, I hope she feels that a hefty weight has been lifted from her shoul­ders. It was a pretty in­vid­i­ous role she had: all the stress and not much op­por­tu­nity to ex­ert con­trol over the sit­u­a­tion. It al­ways looked to me like the ship was be­ing blown around on the wind.

As a con­se­quence of out­side forces and the na­ture of the team she in­her­ited, she did not seem able to take com­mand. It started to ap­pear that it was tak­ing its toll. Given a bit of clear­ance, she might re­flect on this sale as the best de­ci­sion she ever made.

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