INTERVIEW: Claire Williams on turning around the family business

Image by Glenn Dunbar/LAT

INTERVIEW: Claire Williams on turning around the family business

Insights & Analysis

INTERVIEW: Claire Williams on turning around the family business


The driver line-up has had a complete overhaul and a new title partner will be announced on Monday, but a cultural change is not easy for any team boss to influence, let alone one who has so much as Williams has invested personally. Yet rather than see that as a negative pressure, she sees it as a driving force, and draws parallels with times her father Frank had to steady the ship.

“This is our family’s team, so there is a lot riding on that. One of the reasons why I took this job was to protect not just my dad’s but my mom’s legacy in this sport. It’s a legacy that we’re enormously proud of. So there’s that pressure.

“And I care very deeply about the reputation of this team, I care very deeply about the people that work for us and I want to make sure that they have a team that they can be proud of and that this team survives for many, many, many years to come in our sport.

Claire Williams and Sir Frank Williams (Image by Glenn Dunbar/LAT)

“So I have a huge personal investment, but I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I love what I do, I’m very lucky to do what I do, and I actually find the challenge probably more invigorating than if we were just happily cruising around in P4 and grabbing the occasional podium.

“For me, I very much actually almost liken my journey to that when Frank started the team. We’re on our uppers from a performance perspective and you have to fight hard if you’re going to be successful in any sport. Because success is so incredibly rewarding, that success isn’t easy to come by. Just ask Toto (Wolff), it takes an enormous amount of hard work — luck doesn’t necessarily come into it.

“I’m prepared for that and I’ve got my sleeves rolled up and I’m going to fight with every inch of my being in order to achieve what I want Williams to achieve and I won’t give up until I do. I’ll go down fighting if I have to, but I will continue to fight for this team because I believe in it. I believe it has a place in this sport, I believe it still has a very great relevance and it shouldn’t be where it is at the moment.”

It’s clear that the Williams history is something that Claire is keen to protect, but at the same time recent changes have been made to try and make the whole business more successful in modern F1. You might expect that would lead to some extremely tough decisions as the influences of Frank and Patrick Head remain so obvious, but the deputy team principal says their combined ethos largely marries up with her own.

“I’d say there’s never any conflict in my mind because I have Williams so deeply entrenched in my every fiber! I’ve been brought up around it. Frank was never a person to leave his work at the office. It came home with him and we were all very much a part and had an insight into what was going on. So it’s kind of part of who I am, and I know therefore how Dad had operated and I suppose I follow his way very much because it’s what I’ve learned over the years.

“But I also have my way, and I also want to put my stamp on Williams. So a lot of the work we’re doing around cultural transformation, business transformation, I’m leading and I’m driving that through the business so that I put my stamp on it. But I would never want to lose Frank and Patrick’s legacy either. So it’s important for me to protect the past but also to carve out and protect the future.”

Claire Williams and Mike O’Driscoll (Image by Glenn Dunbar/LAT)

It’s a fine line to tread, made all the more difficult by the personal ties. But the thought of failure provides an additional edge that Williams says fuels her desire to lead the recovery effort.

“I’m not in I suppose Christian (Horner)’s shoes or Toto’s shoes. Every team principal has got an enormous amount of pressure on their shoulders — they’ve got pressure from shareholders. Effectively, I’m the family representative, it’s my shareholding. So my decision, I don’t have to worry, it’s only going to cost my family’s future, it’s not going to cost someone else’s family’s future.

“So I think they’re really different pressures. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the person that brings Williams down to its knees, that would be horrific, and I suppose that certainly spurs me on to fight even harder.”