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