ANALYSIS: With the family leaving, who will take charge of Williams and what does the future hold?
In many ways Sir Frank Williams and his daughter Claire are the Williams Formula 1 team, so their departure, following the sale of the squad to a private investment firm, marks a sad day for the sport. Claire will remain in charge for the remainder of the Italian Grand Prix weekend, but what will happen after that?
Why has this happened now?
There was a real sense that it’s the end of an era – a huge moment in F1’s history - in the Monza paddock when the news broke that the Williams family were leaving the team they have proudly run for the best part of 40 years.
From their origins in an old carpet warehouse to the dizzy heights of nine constructors’ championship and seven drivers’ titles, the family have always been front and centre, helping them become firm favourites with fans.
They’ve battled through adversity, from Sir Frank’s life-changing accident to huge financial challenges placed on the team in recent years, but it came to a point where the team could no longer survive in their current form.
So the family and board opened the doors to investors and sold the team – with Sir Frank relinquishing his controlling shareholding. The new owners wanted Claire, who has run the team for the last seven years, to stay on. But the immense pressure she has had on her shoulders over the last couple of years trying to keep the team afloat has taken its toll.
Claire’s life has been Formula 1, from coming to a race track as a kid, to starting as a communications officer, rising up to Deputy Team Principal running the team on a day-to-day basis.
With the team now in safe hands, and her having played a key role in pushing for a fairer Concorde Agreement to level the playing field, Claire felt now was the right time to step away. Running the team simply wouldn’t have been the same without her father as Team Principal and the family calling the ultimate shots.
What will happen in the short term?
Claire will remain in charge of her family’s team for one last weekend – the Italian Grand Prix – before they step away for good on Monday after the race at Monza.
From there, an interim solution will be put in place ahead of next week’s Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello. It is believed that will likely be someone internal, such as Simon Roberts, who joined recently as Managing Director from McLaren.
That would allow the new owners at Dorilton Capital, whose board was announced on Thursday, to take their time to define the new structure and find the right person for the job.
It will be no easy feat.
The new owners will make the big decisions, but it is believed they have no interest in running the team on a day-to-day basis, instead preferring to employ someone with experience and giving them the opportunity to shape the future.
What does the longer-term future hold?
Williams are now at a crossroads. The new owners have said the Williams name will remain in Formula 1 for the long-term, but the departure of the family is significant, so ingrained have they been throughout their illustrious history.
The challenge for the new owners is to maintain that heritage going forward, while adapting the model to cope with the financial challenges and help the team grow back into the dominant force it once was.
They've had their ups and downs, but Ferrari managed to continue to thrive after the loss of their founder, as did McLaren, so it can be done. The latter is a model Williams would do well to follow.
Ron Dennis was instrumental in turning McLaren into the team they are today, and the Woking-based team went through growing pains following his departure. But following the arrival of Zak Brown as Chairman and Andreas Seidl from Porsche as Team Principal, they appear to have turned a corner and have a structure to get back to the glory days.
Their success is down to Brown giving Seidl the freedom and resources to reshape the team from the bottom up, tweaking the structure and breathing new life into the outfit through his extraordinary management style.
Doing the same at Williams will take some time, but if the American company wants to make good on their investment, they will not rush their next move. Williams has enough good people that they can run under an interim in the short term.
Who might head up the team?
There will be no shortage of options, either from inside or outside Formula 1. Over the last seven years, a number of big names have had discussions with the team about a move, but ultimately fallen through.
With significant investment now available, Williams are now a much more attractive proposition.
Dorilton's next move is as important as it gets, as selecting the right new boss will be critical. It could make or break the future of one of Formula 1’s most famous teams.