The legendary Williams name continues on unchanged in Formula 1 beyond Sunday’s Italian GP, but the family behind one of the sport’s most recognised and successful teams bows out of the sport after five decades at Monza.
Sitting down to discuss the past, present and future with Sky Sports F1′s David Croft in a candid and reflective interview, Claire Williams spoke glowingly about her father’s unprecedented achievements and the highs and lows of her own time in charge.
Sir Frank’s ‘extraordinary legacy’
114 wins, nine constructors’ championships (the most for one team boss) and seven drivers’ championships are the headline numbers for Sir Frank Williams across 43 as a Formula 1 team owner/principal, but the achievement and legacy spans far wider than just statistics for the most archetypical of F1 independents.
“What my dad has achieved in this sport is monumental. It’s extraordinary. He came from nothing. I think a lot of people have forgotten where this team came from. My dad literally came from nowhere with a small dream and he fought and fought to get this team to where it is.
“He won 16 world championships despite having a horrific car accident and he didn’t care about that, he kept fighting. For me my dad is one of the most inspirational individuals that this sport has ever produced.
“He has an extraordinary legacy.”
Claire reflects on her time in charge
First joining the team in an official working capacity in 2002 in communications, Williams took her father’s place on the board in 2012 and in March of the following year became deputy team principal with effective responsibility for the team’s day-to-day running. It has been quite the rollercoaster ride since.
“His shoes have always been incredibly hard to fill, I’ve never tried to do that. I’ve tried to protect that legacy to the best that I can.
“I know people out there will say ‘well, no, you haven’t’ and all the rest of it but I’d like people not to forget that I took on the team when it had had three really bad years and over the following four years we secured third, third, fifth and fifth [in the Constructors’ Championship].
“Then some things happened, and we had two terrible years.
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“But I’m very pleased and proud of the work we’ve done to turn this team around coming into this year, because that’s the promise we made. I knew we could do it, and we have, and it’s laid the foundations for Dorilton [the new owners] to come in, take it on and hopefully keep making the forward progress that we’ve already instigated.”
Summing up her eight-year tenure, Williams added: “I’ve loved my role. I grew up in this sport but it was never destined that I would work in the team let alone run it. And I know what people say: ‘well, she’s only in the job because she’s Frank’s daughter’ – of course I’m only in the job because I’m Frank’s daughter, that’s the whole point!
“But I’ve loved it because I thought that I would never get this opportunity. I still can’t quite believe I’ve ever run my dad’s Formula 1 team. It has been an enormous privilege.”
On her own F1 legacy
In a sport that has traditionally been male-dominated, Williams is the only female currently in her position in F1 and hopes she has played a role in helping encourage more women to join the sport, with further change on the horizon.
“[Since the news] I’ve received a lot of messages from a lot of women who watch our sport, and a lot of women who work in it, saying that having a women in such a high-profile position in our Formula 1 has inspired them.
“I never really thought about that a lot, but I’ve thought about it a whole lot more over the past few years and tried to embrace that and do what I can to promote more women into this sport because it should be a sport that has got a much greater gender diversity.
“If I’ve inspired one woman to come into this sport, that makes me incredibly happy. I hope that women do keep coming to work in this sport because it is a great sport and it is very welcoming to females. We just need more women to come in and take part because having that gender diversity creates such a different environment for everybody working in Formula 1.
“I feel doing that a little bit to promote greater gender diversity is something I hope I can leave behind for other people to take the mantle on and continue moving forward.”
What does the future hold out of F1?
Born 10 months before the launch of Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977, the 44-year-old Claire says the team “has defined me – it has been my whole identity my whole life”. While she will help the new owners during a transition period into the new era over the coming weeks, she admits she is looking forward to time away from the sport to spend with her husband and young son.
“It’s going to be a big change because obviously I’ve been running around, like a bit of an idiot really, for the past 18 years of my life that I’ve been working for this team, in whatever capacity I’ve been working for it.
“When you’re running the team, you’re working 24/7 and you’re doing it week in, week out. I don’t think I’ve had one holiday in my whole time as DTP [deputy team principal] or in my whole time working for Williams that hasn’t been interrupted by some drama or other. Just to look forward and to not have that stress – to not have to worry.
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