Is it ok to disagree with Claire Williams?

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Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China. Sunday 17 April 2016. Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal, Williams Martini Racing. World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic ref: Digital Image _W2Q9903

Is it okay to disagree with Claire Williams from time to time? I find myself in one of those situations at the moment concerning her pay-driver Lance Stroll. I defended the young man, and his father, when the mobocracy on social media had a go at them for paying their way into a top seat in F1 and lambasted the concept of paying drivers—which I said was a reality in today’s motorsport world.

Whether Lance’s wealthy father, Lawrence, contributed significantly to the budget of Williams F1 or not, many team’s seem bereft of the skill, desire or opportunity of landing big sponsorship deals these days and doing tactical keep-the-lights-on types of deals with young drivers and their wealthy backers is the new Vodafone, Marlboro, West, or HSBC sponsor deal. I don’t like it much but there’s very little that can be done about it at the moment because few sponsors are willing to funnel $30 million into a title sponsor deal in F1 these days.

I get the concept, I understand paying drivers have been around for decades and I understand Adam Cooper’s point in his article at Motorsport where he quotes Claire Williams as defending Stroll as a pay-driver.

“There are commercial considerations for any team principal when they put a driver in,” she says. “Alonso comes with financial backing, maybe not personal, but he attracts sponsors. Santander is there because of him. I don’t understand why in this sport that is such a business there is such negative connotation around a driver that brings backing.

“And not only in F1. Motorsport as a whole is such an expensive business, you don’t get into the upper echelons of motor sport unless you can find significant budgets to go racing.

“I don’t know why people criticise drivers when they have financial backing, because if they didn’t then so many teams in this sport wouldn’t necessarily survive, and then this sport wouldn’t survive.”

I agree with much of her statement it but when Adam Cooper asks:

“Rarely has the arrival of an F1 rookie prompted as much debate as that of European F3 Champion Lance Stroll, who turned 18 in October. Why the rush to put him straight into a Williams race seat?”

I think I know the answer to that question—Max Verstappen. Teams see the success of Max and think they have an equally fast, mature and champion-in-the-wings too and that perhaps youth is a better investment in the long term than a 25-year-old. At least their investment has some longevity to it presumably. That’s if the young driver delivers like Max does.

As for Claire, here is where I start to disagree, if you’ll indulge me.

“When it comes to Lance I think we out of a courtesy should reserve judgement,” says deputy team principal Claire Williams.

“I think that considering his age he’s achieved a huge amount. He’s won every championship he’s taken part in, particularly this year in the F3 championship.

“As everybody knows, Williams isn’t a team that would put their stake into a driver that they didn’t believe could deliver.

“We’re a serious team with serious ambitions, and I am not going to put a driver in a car that I don’t believe will deliver. I believe that Lance will. Yes, he’s going to be a rookie, yes, he’s going to make mistakes.

“But from everything we’ve seen in his test programme, he’s a really fast learner.”

Are they being a serious team with serious ambition and committed to placing only drivers who will deliver? Perhaps that’s all contextual. Deliver at what level, Claire? Losing 4th place in the championship was said to be no big deal by Rob Smedley and giving up your top driver, Valtteri Bottas, to Mercedes for what one can only assume is a cheaper engine supply contract isn’t exactly what I would consider serious ambition given Valtteri’s skills and penchant for being your primary points scorer in 2016.

Ambition to remain solvent if not slightly profitable? Then yes. Ambitious to win races or seek podiums and 3rd in the championship? I have my doubts. Bringing Massa back to sometimes finish with a few points and lead a youngster into a season with massive regulation changes? I’m not quite sure about putting your stake only on drivers who deliver.

I’ve no axe to grind with Claire, she knows her team, her business and her racing. I’m just not quite sure I agree with her statement about how Williams rolls when it comes to money over matter. I’m not berating her because I know team economics have to work and no matter what you would like to do, Williams have made solvency and sustainable employment for their employees the top priority and I respect that immensely. They are privateers who know that they are in F1 for the long-term and the team has to be a business first, racing team second because without the first part, there is no second part.

I hope Lance delivers and given his past performance history, perhaps he will. I hope Felipe Massa can turn his head around from a retired driver to a driver re-committed to winning races. I do not believe youth is the secret ingredient to F1 success as I feel Max Verstappen is an anomaly that only comes around once in a while.

Will lightning strike twice in the course of a couple of years? Can Lance achieve what Max has? Perhaps unlike Claire, I’m not inclined to think so as I believe Max is something quite unique but like Claire, I think we owe it to Lance to give him a chance to prove his skills and then see where we are. In the mean time, Claire will be down at the bank cashing those Lawrence Stroll checks and cleaning out Valtteri’s office to make room for a retired driver and taking delivery of those cheap/free Mercedes engines.

Hat Tip: Motorsport

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Rapierman
Member
Rapierman

It’s a dangerous fallacy that the entire world entertains in sports: They see one kid make it to the big time, they all want their kids to have a shot at it, and the people who own professional organizations think that’s their money-maker. Problem is that kids like Max (and, in basketball, Kobe Bryant) are a rarity. We need to stop seeking glory so much, be it personally or through others. “Vainglory is a deadly sin”. Assume the normal and be patient. Glory will come on its own and not at someone else’s bidding. People like Max are God’s examples… Read more »

Member
Dr T

What makes Max different from Lance? Look at their career summaries on wikipedia. Max finished third in the FIA F3 in his first year of cars. Lance went 1st in Italian F4, 1st in Toyota Racing Series and 5th in FIA F3 in the same year, then 1st in FIA F3 the next year. He’s won 3 series in three years to Max’s zero. How is that any different? Daddy’s money might get him to the best teams but he still has to get the car around the circuit in one piece and first.

Dave Domenicano
Guest
Dave Domenicano

You missed the whole point of what she said… She’s trying to save money. Yes, take a chance and bring in Stroll and his money, which in my opinion is a great deal. Bottas is not championship material, so dump the kid and get a discount on the most powerful power-unit on the grid. Massa’s back on a 1 year deal to help with development and stability. She’s just saving money, it’s so simple to understand. I think you were looking for a fight where there wasn’t one to be.

Negative Camber
Guest

I think I understand her point just fine, my friend. Bottas is not championship material? Ok, but he was 8th in championship last year (Massa 11th), he was 5th the year before (Massa 6th) and the year before that he was 4th (Massa 7th). Clearly he’s the points-scoring person at the team and they are, if rumors are true, giving him to Merc. They’re left with Massa (11th last year in points) to lead an 18-year-old who may or may not thrive in F1. I also understand, perfectly well, the concept of saving money and team economics. You have to… Read more »

Member
Dr T

As Paul said on the recent podcast, sometimes you have to decide whether or not getting the better part is worth the financial investment… Surely they’ve done their sums…

I think the world has moved on alot from the Williams of the 1990s. I don’t think anyone seriously would think they have a hope of getting ahead of RBR or Ferrari at the moment. Will have to see what 2017 brings with the new regs

Negative Camber
Guest

I’m sure they have done the math(s) and truth be told, I would make the same decision if I were running the team but I wouldn’t say my actions were in the spirit of serious ambition and only accepting the best drivers. I would have leaned on the fact that Williams is a business that needs to balance the budgets and sometimes that means strategic partnerships and driver options that achieve those goals.

ShocksAndAwe
Member
ShocksAndAwe

I know I’m late to the party but… Talking about balanced budgets isn’t how you get sponsors interested. In public, it’s all about the racing spirit and ambitions. It’s only when you get to the contract stage that you start talking penny-pinching with the accountants. Besides the fact that, opinions not withstanding, Lance is better on paper than Max having won 3 junior championships to Max’s 0. While Max did win 10 races to come in third to Esteban Ocon’s 9 wins in the 2014 Euro F3 series, Lance won 14 races to take the championship in 2016. In other… Read more »

Holym4n
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Holym4n

Totally agree, running a team is a balancing act. Then scrutinizing past comments to make a point is just too easy.

Zachary Noepe
Guest
Zachary Noepe

I think in fairness to Claire you’re treating, essentially, Rosberg’s retirement as if it were a part of her plan. I think your assessment of Williams with Bottas and Stroll in place wouldn’t have been that harsh. Yet that’s the team she had when she made the choice for Stroll. An experienced serious driver and a rookie with money and tons of potential for speed and excitement and relevance with a new generation of fans – that’s the pairing every team basically wants if they’re thinking of the future, it just makes all kinds of sense. Then her engine supplier… Read more »

Tom Firth
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Tom Firth

I’ve a lot of time for Williams and I’m happy Stroll is getting a chance. He proved he could learn from mistakes in F3 so i’m hoping he converts well to F1. I believe the potential is certainly there but you never really know till in a race situation. I think in Stroll’s case, Williams like many pundits and commenters in the F1 world do think he could deliver. I did find Williams comments about – “As everybody knows, Williams isn’t a team that would put their stake into a driver that they didn’t believe could deliver” slightly disingenuous though,… Read more »

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

Welcome back Tom.
I agree with you and NC, I think Claire Williams must still have been in ‘negotiating with Mercedes’ mode when she made these comments. For that, sure Williams are a team with serious intent, and want a fantastic deal to hand over ‘wdc in waiting’ Bottas. But in reality, they’re the team that introduced Pastor Maldonado to F1 in 2011…..
On the otherhand, they used the PDVSA money to go from backmarkers in 2011 to third in the WCC in 2014.
So I give Claire – ‘serious intent, a long term focus, and a touch of bravado’

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

Probably not Todd, she’s now endorsed by the British Government. An OBE (for services to motor sport) for Christmas. If that’s not a badge of ‘irrefutable serious intent’ I don’t know what is.

MIE
Editor

Claire got her OBE in the Birthday honours list in June, not the new year honours list.
The only motorsport honour was for Susie Wolff this time around.

I think Williams has a member of staff whose role includes writing honours nominations (Sir Frank, Sir Patrick, Claire, Susie etc.) I’m not sure, but did Sir Jackie get his knighthood while he was working with Williams as a sponsor representative for RBS?

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

News takes time to reach the colonies!
Susie Wolff too, how very affirmative.
You might be right about the Williams nominations department, I see that Mansell, Button and Coultard all have awards, though oddly not Brundle (is he some kind of Republican?).

MIE
Editor

Most of the British World Drivers Champions have been awarded an OBE as a result of their championship, although Button and Hamilton only received the lessor MBE, while Hawthorn, Surtees and Hunt didn’t receive any award. Coulthard is the exception, being a racing driver given an award as a non world champion.

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

A jaw like Coultard’s probably deserves a knighthood. I can visualise him in a suit of armour, brave Sir David….
How do the engineers and designers do?
I see Adrian Newey and Ross Brawn have letters after their names, but Mike Costin and Keith Duckworth (Cosworth) don’t.

MIE
Editor

Motorsport does very poorly compared to other sports. Look at the awards given to Olympians or Tennis players (where becoming the world number one once is good enough for a knighthood). I’m not saying that these individuals do not deserve their awards, just that those participating in motorsport need to achieve much more to get the same recognition.

MIE
Editor

Stroll is on the FIA’s list of the most promising twenty drivers under twenty years old.

http://www.fia.com/news/auto-17-20-under-20

While he may be paying for his drive, he certainly shows talent to deserve to be in F1. He has had three seasons in cars despite his young age. Both Raikkonen and Button only had two years car racing experience while Verstappen only had a single season.
Massa May well be past his peak performance, but his experience should help the team with car development given Stroll’s limited experience.

ETM
Member
ETM

Another angle. While Williams’ goal is to once again become a top tier team maybe Claire understands that the current team is seen as a stepping stone for drivers looking to join teams with championship potential. If she wants to attract up and coming driving talent she has to be seen as supportive when they get the opportunity to move up.