Overshadowed amid the past week’s flurry of 2023 Formula 1 car launches was news of a significant name from F1’s recent past reuniting with a company that bears her family name, but isn’t part of what used to be her family’s team anymore.
WAE Technologies – what was until last year Williams Advanced Engineering – announced this week that former Williams F1 deputy team principal Claire Williams was joining it as a brand ambassador.
“I am hugely honoured to be taking up this new role with WAE Technologies,” said Williams.
“What [CEO] Craig [Wilson] and the team have achieved in a relatively short time frame has been phenomenal; using race-bred technology to revolutionise industries across the world.”
WHAT IS WAE?
Williams Advanced Engineering was an offshoot of Williams F1 formed in 2011 with the objective of harnessing its expertise to diversify into other industries. It was originally a group within Williams before being set up as a subsidiary company.
The company worked on projects within the motorsport and automotive industry and beyond. Among its projects was supplying the batteries for the first generation of Formula E cars (pictured above) used from 2014-18.
A 75% stake was sold to EMK capital in 2019. Fortescue Metals Group then acquired 100% of the company in 2022 by buying out EMK and the remaining stake owned by Williams, leading to it being placed under Fortescue Future Industries. It was also rebranded as WAE Technologies.
The company currently has two locations, one on the Williams F1 factory site in Grove in Oxfordshire and the other in the town of Bad Durkheim near Kaiserslautern in Germany.
It lists its key sectors as motorsport, automotive, aerospace and defence, rail, off-highway vehicles and specialised industrial product design.
It also supplies the batteries for the new Gen3 Formula E car, having lost the supply deal for Gen2 to McLaren Applied Technologies.
HOW IS CLAIRE WILLIAMS’S F1 ERA REGARDED NOW?
It was not pre-ordained that Claire Williams would lead the F1 team her father created. In fact, it was made clear to her that this would not be her path. That led to her taking a press office job at Silverstone, but after being made redundant she spent some time at the F1 team “to fill my time” when she took a junior press officer job that came up.
Williams rose to become head of communications, subsequently stepping into the role of marketing and communications director. In 2013, she was appointed deputy team principal – a role that made her de facto team principal even though the legendary Frank Williams retained the title.
She took over Williams at a difficult time. While it had gone through tough financial times in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century after parting company with BMW – a period it characterised as financial retrenchment – the second decade also posed existential problems.
The commercial agreements governing F1 disproportionately rewarded the biggest teams (irrespective of results) and while Williams did have a $10million annual heritage bonus annually, the lack of an ownership with deep pockets meant Williams couldn’t keep pace with the spending.
There were promising moments in this era, finishing third in the constructors’ championship in 2014 and ’15 after a well-timed switch to Mercedes engines, but the team was unable to build on that. This was partly down to Williams’s financial situation and partly down to long-standing weaknesses on the aero side.
Williams was at the helm until 2021, when the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact meant the team had to be put up for sale. That led to its acquisition by Dorilton Capital.
Her time leading Williams was not easy, presenting some enormous challenges. On top of that, the team often failed to fulfil even its reduced potential – particularly in the final years.
But the fact Williams F1 survived and was passed on to new ownership intact was an achievement given the prevailing financial conditions.
Despite what Claire Williams herself described as “the kickings”, she played an integral role at a difficult time for one of F1’s most famous teams.