With the expression "Can't stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen” in the Netflix series Drive to Survive, F1 team principals are referring to the sport’s exhausting character. There is no place for people who prefer not to be in the spotlight when things are not going so well. Claire Williams, daughter of Sir Frank Williams, has shown in recent years that she really can handle all the pressure that comes with F1, but the question is how long she and the once so dominant Williams can survive in their current state.
Like father, like daughter
Frank Williams founded his own team in the ‘60s with which he drove in the equivalent of Formula 2 and Formula 3. At that time, young Claire was already fascinated by race cars (as can be seen in the documentary ‘Williams’, also on Netflix), but it would still take years before Claire would actually take an active place at the team which carries her name.
By that time, the Formula 1 team would have been created by father Frank and Patrick Head and more titles would have been added to the portfolio of the Grove-based side.
Big shoes to fill after Frank Williams’ accident
Although Williams has struggled to make ends meet over the years, Frank Williams has always managed to get money from somewhere to keep the team afloat. Even after the Brit ended up in a wheelchair after a massive accident in 1986, in which he became largely paralyzed. Frank remained in charge of his own team for years to come before Claire would eventually take over.
Initially, Frank's daughter worked at Silverstone before overseeing Williams' communications department from 2002. In 2010 she took another step up the ladder within Williams followed by another promotion a year later. She was now the director of the communication and marketing departments of Williams. Again, she filled this role for a relatively short time before she took over from her father Frank Williams.
A woman on the grid as team principal isn't unique anymore (Susie Wolff, wife of Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff runs Mercedes’ team in Formula E), but at the moment Claire was put forward there were question marks. Wasn't brother Jonathan more suitable, who he had also been involved at the team from an early age?
Through thick and thin
From 2013, it was Claire Williams in charge of Williams as team principal, despite her official title still being Deputy Team Principal. Her first year was immediately a tough one, mainly because the recent switch to Renault engines wasn’t paying off as hoped. Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas only manage to secure ninth place in the championship, before another engine change in 2014. From the beginning of the hybrid V6 era, Williams has been running Mercedes engines.
In 2014 and 2015 Williams seemed to be able to turn the tide thanks to that switch. Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas were on the podium several times as they finished both seasons in third among the constructors. However, this success was short-lived, with Ferrari and Red Bull overtaking Williams and pushing them back to P5 in 2016.
Claire Williams has proven to be a tough cookie in the following years of frustration. In the last seasons, the Brit regularly faces the question of whether she ever thinks about stepping down, but every time the answer is the same: she thinks about it but never does. Despite fierce criticism from former Williams drivers (and world champions) that something is going completely wrong at the team (the focus would be on money and not on results), Claire keeps going. From 2022 onwards there will be new opportunities when the regulations are overhauled: just two more years before (for Williams) hopefully there will be a change!