• ESPNF1 interview: Sir Frank Williams

The road to recovery

Fraser Masefield
August 10, 2011
Sir Frank Williams was talking exclusively to ESPNF1 © Sutton Images

It was back in 1978 when Frank Williams first entered a Formula One season with a team bearing his own name. Then, an Australian world champion in the making by the name of Alan Jones delivered the team its first points with a fourth place finish in only the team's third grand prix outing at Kyalami, South Africa.

Much has changed since then, but the stark reality of the situation in 2011 is that Williams has made its worst start to a Formula One season in its long and distinguished history, which has yielded nine constructors' championships and seven drivers' titles. Such is the current predicament at the team that an urgent technical reshuffle has ensued to try to revive its fortunes. The recent announcement that Williams will once again team up with Renault in 2012 also gives renewed optimism and a sense that there is light is at the end of the tunnel. Sir Frank Williams talked to ESPNF1 about the struggle that lies ahead.

It's been one of the more difficult first halves of a season for Williams in recent memory. Can you put your finger on exactly why the team hasn't been more competitive?
Well the cheeky answer is that Ron Dennis and Christian Horner have also had difficult first half of the season! It isn't easy, whether you're winning or losing, this game is very, very hard. But yes, we've had quite a struggle technically for a number of years and there's no escaping or running away from that. We're trying as hard as possible to reinvent ourselves and somewhere soon it will come together.

Part of that re-inventing process, as you say, will come from the technical re-structuring of the team with Sam Michael stepping down and Mark Gillan coming in. What effect do you hope this will have going forward?
Well we've got a few new people in the team now in Mike Coughlan who takes on the role of Chief Engineer, Mark Gillan who will take the role of Chief Operations Engineer and Jason Somerville as Head of Aerodynamics, so it's full steam ahead. I would guess it will be six months until we have another product coming out of the design office, wind tunnel etc and we hope it will be markedly better. Anyway, that's step one of the rebuilding process. Sam Michael was rather put in a difficult position. The depth and experience of technical back-up we've now put together for the future and which took us a little while to realise were not available to him and he should have been better supported. But I'm a huge fan of Sam, he's a major, major racer and just lives for it seven days a week and most weeks of the year he was in the factory at Grove and was totally dedicated. I couldn't ask for more than that and an extremely grateful for all his hard work.

Most significantly you'll be linking up with Renault again next season in a partnership that re-kindles memories of former glories. How excited are you about the deal?
Well that's pre-empting a little bit but that's what I hope is going to happen in terms of re-kindling former glories! Every race and championship win with Renault was special but it really is a process of blood, sweat and tears as they say and recovering your mental and physical health in the winter in time for the following season. But Renault are wonderful people to work with and more than competent. Their engine has been dubbed the 'red bullet' and it never fails. It's powerful, it's competitive and certainly comparable to Mercedes. It's a wonderful, wonderful engine!

Pastor Maldonado is midway through his debut season but has yet to score a point © Getty Images
How is the new driver pairing working and are you impressed with Pastor Maldonado's start to his F1 career?
It's very helpful to have Rubens with us because of his vast experience and he makes quite a contribution to the team. He impressed us spending quite a bit of time chatting away with Pastor in an almost common language, a bit of Portuguese and a bit of Spanish and that helped Pastor settle well into the team. Pastor is a very cheerful chap, loves his racing and is very popular within the team and he tries to learn all the time, non-stop and Rubens is there to help him. It's unfortunate we haven't managed more points so far this year but it's a question of us giving them a car that's capable of getting into the points! There's no doubt about their ability to deliver points, the doubt is our ability to deliver a points-scoring car. We're trying, we're pressing the various buttons and we're taking a well thought through approach to rectifying our technical weaknesses and improving ourselves.

What have the new regulations done to spice up proceedings this year in your opinion? Are you a fan of the way the DRS system and Pirelli tyres have improved the spectacle or has it made things too much of a lottery?
Well in terms of the DRS, our drivers have said it is helpful and I've not heard any drivers or any of the press having anything negative at all to say about the new regulations. When you consider Pirelli's total lack of experience before they came into Formula One and the tyres that were required, they almost never made a mistake or had any major tyre failures that I can remember. It's as if they've been doing it for 15 years rather than two years. It's a remarkable technical performance.

What about the future of the sport and Murdoch's links with a takeover of the sport? Is the future of F1 healthy?
Formula One has a massive global following and is full of dedicated mentally and physically active people. It's a world class, world event sport and it's in a strong position. I think Murdoch has enough on his plate and the CVC Capital figures are very successful. It's a very successful financial company and I think its ownership is very quietly, very delicately and very well overseen and it's in the right hands with Bernie so they know what it's about.

What challenges will the 2013 6 cylinder turbo introduction bring? Are too many changes made for fans to keep up with?
I would imagine that around 20% of Formula One fans enjoy it for its technological advancement as much as they do for the racing, but most people just want to see good racing and this year's changes have certainly promoted that aspect. I like the six-cylinder turbo idea because of the technical way the sport is moving technologically as far as smaller, more fuel-efficient engines.

Williams would like more testing to take the pressure off race weekends © Getty Images
Would you like to see a relaxation of test ban for 2012?
Well I think I would support that, yes. We just need to have a little more knowledge of our craft. You're under so much pressure to deliver a lap time for qualifying then you hope it all stays together in the race, which we've done for the most part and our car has been remarkably reliable, but there's always a healthy appetite for a little more testing.

What are your thoughts about the championship in general regarding the second half of the season, both for your team and the teams fighting it out for the drivers' and constructors' titles?
It looks like it could now be a close-run thing and that's healthy for the sport. We want excitement right through to the last race regarding the outcome. Personally I think it will be over before that but in an ideal world, it won't be! For us it's about providing a better performance and having a little more pride in ourselves and hopefully getting enough points. We finished sixth in the constructors' standings last year and it would be a great achievement if we could replicate that.