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Formula 1

Verdict: Is Williams family’s exit a sad day for F1?

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

The Italian Grand Prix at Monza will mark an end to the Williams family’s 50-plus years of involvement in grand prix racing, with Frank and Claire Williams stepping down from their respective roles following their team’s sale to Dorilton Capital.

The news was met with an outpouring of emotion, and sadness in particular, as fans and paddock insiders lamented the end of the era that the Williams family came to represent in F1.

But with the team remaining intact and the Williams name staying on the grid, will September 3, 2020 go down in F1 history as a sad day for the championship, or can it be viewed from a different prism?

McLaren example shows the Williams story will continue

– Scott Mitchell

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Belgian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spa Francorchamps, BelgiumYou don’t have to look too far for an emotional reaction to the news the Williams family is leaving Formula 1. It’s easy to understand. The name is iconic, the team’s enjoyed enormous success, the longevity is ultra-impressive – even more so given how many teams and owners have come and gone during Williams’s existence.

Part of the reason Williams is so loved is because it’s a tether to a past F1 has mostly left behind. However, that’s exactly why this sort of change is needed because while F1 has moved on for many reasons, in some ways Williams hasn’t.

A team like McLaren is wonderful proof of how owners can change but the heritage remains, and the name doesn’t lose value. If the next generation of Williams can do for Frank what the Ron Dennis era did for Bruce, for example, nobody will be complaining.

Inevitability softens the blow

– Edd Straw

Canadian Grand Prix Montreal (cdn) 12 14 06 1992Every empire crumbles, and realistically the days when a single entrepreneurial family could own a grand prix team have long since passed. Even the ownership of Williams – initially 70% in Frank Williams’s hands with Patrick Head the minority partner when the team was created in 1977 – has been whittled away at over time with the family trust down to the slenderest of majority stakes at 52% prior to the sale.

While there is inevitably a slight sense of sadness at the end of an era, the real story is that it’s remarkable the team made it through the potentially destructive commercial environment it has been fighting to stay afloat through. The 2013 Concorde Agreement – really a collection of bilateral commercial deals – made life extremely difficult for any team trying to stand on its own two feet.

At times, Williams has stood alone as a fully commercial entity among F1 teams without shareholders either willing or able to pour money in, and as such it was competing on an uneven playing field.

While the struggles of the last two years aren’t solely down to that and there’s no question the team has underachieved, the fact it has survived into this new era with the famous name intact is good news.

The time had passed for ‘old’ Williams – probably some years ago. While it must be gut-wrenching for the family to leave the team, which Claire Williams once likened to a family member in its own right, the time is right for a new kind of Williams.

A fair price to pay for poor performance

– Gary Anderson

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Mexican Grand Prix Qualifying Day Mexico City, MexicoThe writing was always on the wall that if anyone took over the Williams operation, the first thing they would do was replace the upper management – especially those with the name Williams.

The team has been in a downhill slide for quite a few years now and the reality of that is that the upper management should have done something about it rather than stand back hoping that it would all sort itself out. That never happens, so in effect they are responsible for the demise.

I suppose the big question is, does it matter if Williams exists or not? As a team, F1 needs it and for nostalgic reasons it’s probably nice if the name continues. But other team names with heritage have come and gone, and F1 still exists. It’s more important to see the team get itself to a competitive level.

What the name is over the door, personally I don’t think it matters too much. The team will always be remembered because of the achievements of Frank Williams and Patrick Head. The last few years detracted from that and it might have been better to leave the name Williams with the achievements of that pair and now move on with the new owners and don’t let them drag the Williams name any further down the rankings!

A better ending than the alternatives

– Glenn Freeman

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Spanish Grand Prix Race Day Barcelona, SpainThis is a time to reflect on the end of an era at Williams, but not a time to be sad. What Frank Williams’s family, and of course Patrick Head, have achieved over several decades is something to be celebrated.

We should also take heart from the new owners retaining the Williams name. With the exception of McLaren that’s rare in F1 during ownership changes – otherwise we’d still have names like Jordan, Tyrrell, Minardi and Benetton (or Toleman!) on the grid today.

We don’t yet know for certain that Williams’s new owners are capable of taking the team back up the grid. But for now let’s hope the team has moved from family ownership into good, ambitious, safe hands.

The Williams family stepping away, leaving behind a fantastic legacy that should forever be treasured, and hopefully setting the team up for a brighter future under the same identity, is a much better ending to their time in F1 than fighting against the odds for too long and only walking away F1 because their team has closed.

A sad but hopeful day

– Mark Hughes

Xpb 1029381 HiresUltimately, it’s the breaking of the lineage from Frank’s family and that was above all a team intensely identified with the personality of its founder (and also that of Frank’s partner Patrick Head). Four decades of that history has come to an end and Claire has dealt with that de-coupling with grace and has ensured the team’s survival.

But it’s what comes in its place that offers hope. It’s time for a clean break and that can be more easily accomplished with new ownership. We don’t know who the ultimate owners are but I suspect they have enlisted some very good people to lead the project.

In the meantime, I guess tech director Simon Roberts will be running the show – and he’s a very safe pair of hands. We await future developments with great intrigue.

It’s the circle of life

– Valentin Khorounzhiy

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship British Grand Prix Race Day Silverstone, EnglandF1 teams aren’t really like most sporting organisations – unlike something like football clubs, they’re kind of meant to come and go. That doesn’t make them less valuable or less important, it’s just the way things are. And in this case, the team isn’t really going – the dynasty is, and history tells us dynasties always come to an end.

It’s trite, but nothing lasts forever. F1 isn’t a quest for sticking around, but one for glory and a place in history. The Williams family’s place in history is assured, the accolades are numerous, but the last few years have made a pretty conclusive case that their era has peaked a while ago.

Many F1 races are somebody’s last in the paddock, whether it be drivers or personnel. Frank and Claire have definitely left a mark, and appear to be bowing out on their own terms. It’s cause for nostalgia – but hardly for sadness.

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