Claire Williams on why 2020 races are ‘critical’, and F1 cost-cap regret

Claire Williams has admitted to Sky Sports that a return to racing this year is “critical” for an independent team like Williams to survive, while also urging F1 to speed up a change to its “unsustainable” model.

The coronavirus crisis has ravaged the planned F1 2020 calendar, with all nine of the opening rounds either cancelled or postponed. While F1 still plan to stage an 18-race season, that relies on various factors – even if Grands Prix take place without fans in attendance.

  • Silverstone open to two F1 races without fans

As races create a significant amount of income for teams, concern has risen about many outfits’ financial security. Concerns that Williams, whose father founded and built up one of F1’s most iconic and successful teams, shares.

“It is an incredibly difficult environment that Formula 1 finds itself in right now.” Williams told Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater.

“That is why we have spent so much time locked away in so many team principals’ meetings to do everything we need, to make sure all of us come out of this, at the end of this year, unscathed.

“A big part of that is when we can go racing again, particularly for a team like ours – one of the few true independents left. We don’t have the backing the majority of our competitors have.

“For us, going racing is actually critical this year, but as I have said, only when it’s safe to do so.”

‘We could have 15 races, eight races or zero races’

The Williams deputy team principal spoke to Slater about a range of topics, providing an insight into F1’s latest crunch meetings while also revealing her cost-cap regret and debating how many races could take place in 2020.

The season is currently stated to start on June 28 in France, although that race is expected to be the 10th to be called off.

A meeting last Thursday of team bosses with F1’s commercial rights holder and the FIA agreed an outline plan to start the season in Austria in July behind closed doors followed by potentially two races at Silverstone also without fans. Williams is confident her team would be on the start line, should those July races happen. But will they happen?

“It’s not easy,” she said. “It is incredibly worrying at the moment regarding what is going to happen, because the situation is so fluid. We just don’t know whether we will have 15 races, eight races or zero races. Clearly we hope it is more, rather than less.

“I certainly don’t envy Chase Carey [F1 chairman] and F1’s job at the moment trying to work out how, from an original 22-race schedule, they can put in as many races as they can when we are in the situation we are in.

“We do not know when lockdowns are going to be lifted and even if they are lifted in one country, are they going to be lifted in another country? How do you move what is in effect an entire sport that comprises an awful lot of people? That is a lot of people crossing borders.”

While Williams cannot forecast how many Grand Prix might be delivered, she is sure that the current crisis has “exposed” F1.

Why F1 is ‘exposed’ due to current model

Ross Brawn, F1’s managing director of motorsports, recently told Sky Sports that the current crisis highlighted F1’s need for financial reform. He spoke of the current round of meetings being an opportunity to agree a cost-cap that provided long-term sustainability. Williams agrees.

“I think this an opportunity and as I said, I think Formula 1 and the model within which we operate has been exposed as probably an unsustainable model when something like this happens.

“This is unprecedented and this is crisis mode and it is incredibly difficult to navigate your way through. Survival is critical, and we have to put the work in now, so that should a similar situation arise, god forbid, we are all much better protected, rather than having to scramble like we are having to do now.

“We are working incredibly hard not just within Williams but within the sport as a whole. Formula 1 really does come together in these circumstances. The bigger teams understand the work they need to do to ensure the smaller teams’ survival. The smaller teams understand and sympathise with what we are asking of the bigger teams.

“What is disappointing is that [we don’t have] the new regulations that were coming in for 2021 which we’d got to a really good place with and which were going to really set a great future for all of our teams. I think if we had those regulations implemented two years ago, we might not all be as concerned as we are now. We are a little exposed at the moment. But I trust that we will get through this. I am eternally optimistic.”

An update on Sir Frank

Williams also gave a positive account of how her father, Sir Frank Williams, who turned 78 last Thursday, was coping amid the current lockdown.

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