F1 is what Williams do - Exclusive Q&A with Adam Parr 12 Dec 2008
In the current economic climate, Williams have one big advantage. When their cooperation with BMW ended a few years back they went through a reprivatisation process and quickly learnt how to attract sufficient finance to fund their entire racing budget. In these times of cost cutting and budget restraints its a vital skill - and one that CEO Adam Parr believes puts Williams in a different position to all the other teams on the grid
Q: Adam, whats Williams take on the withdrawal of Honda? Were you surprised that it happened so suddenly?
Adam Parr: No, in fact I was not surprised that the withdrawal came so abruptly. A board can decide from Friday to Monday that they will stop when the cost-benefit ratio suggests that the situation demands such an action. History has shown that when shareholders make such a move it is always an immediate pull-out and obviously one week ago the economic climate suggested that a withdrawal was unavoidable.
For us as a private team the situation is a fundamentally different one, as we only exist to go racing - we dont have a choice about being in Formula One. Thats what we do. And in the end I think that the Honda decision was just bad luck on timing. Maybe if we were six months down the road and the cost savings initiatives all in place, and maybe if Ross (Brawn) and his team had come out with a better car next year and there was a clear line of saving costs, then maybe Honda would have said we will stay in. But probably there were simply too many maybes.
Q: The global financial climate has become very difficult. What impact does this have on a private team?
AP: Shareholders are in Formula One primarily for marketing reasons and if a company like Honda decides to pull out from a marketing platform that is the perfect place to connect their consumer product to consumers then obviously it is in light of ongoing unlimited and unrestrained spending, but the last FOTA meeting some days ago showed that the problem is finally addressed and that we have come to sustainable measures that will have the potential to mitigate the situation.
Q: What feedback do you have from your sponsors? Allianz recently confirmed their continued Williams backing, but what about the others? AT&T for example - the US economy is among the hardest hit...
AP: We have the tendency to always lose one or two sponsors at the end of a season so this is nothing new for us. Fact is that none of our core sponsors has changed their marketing strategy - they are committed to the team, with some even increasing their pledge as in a difficult economic climate you concentrate your marketing activities around the platforms with the highest visibility - like Formula One.
Q: After years of people paying lip service to cost cutting, it seems reality is now catching up. Where do you see potential in the team to save money? Obviously you dont want it to come at the expense of the cars performance
AP: I would say that we have learned very well to build our team around the funds available and Frank (Williams) is not known for sacrificing our performance. But yes, if we have to tailor what we spend to a lower income, then we'll do that.
Q: With Honda up for sale - and hence set to revert into a private team - we will have a 50-50 split between private and manufacturer teams. Do you foresee a trend for more teams going back to privateer status?
AP: Thats an interesting thought. We have now 10 teams on the grid from 12 possible slots. My guess is that whoever new joins the club will very likely be a private team. But I also see in the future that other car manufacturers will join again.
Q: Will we see the end of the engineers reigning supreme? Sometimes their microscopic improvements cost a fortune while having little impact
AP: Formula One was always about pushing the technical development to the edge - this is what makes it so exciting. So this will never stop as it is one of the core elements of the sport. Probably the way you go about those developments is fundamentally different between teams. In big teams engineers define their development strategy and then go for the funding. We collect our funding first and then discuss with our engineers what development can be bought with that funding. So we do it from top to bottom whereas other teams follow a bottom-to-top strategy. There is always the risk of following the wrong development road, but then you stop and look for other solutions. And you do this without looking back in regret, as pushing the limits always implies the risk of failure.
Q: What about beyond 2009? The budgets for next season have already been approved, but how do you see 2010, given the crises that are filtering down to all aspects of the economy? How difficult will it be to find the necessary funding?
AP: I can only speak for us and what is emerging is that I do not see a decline of our sponsor commitment for 2010.