There was a point in time when plenty of Formula One teams were owned by either families or single people. Brabham, Tyrrell, Hesketh, Hill, Jordan, Surtees—all were teams that were once owned or run by either one person or their family unit. Even McLaren has long since been owned by anyone with the eponymous last name. With Frank and Claire Williams stepping down from their team after being bought out by Dorilton Capital, the end of an era is upon us.
If you haven’t caught the news, Frank and Claire Williams will no longer be involved with its namesake team after the Italian Grand Prix now that it has been bought out by someone else. Dorilton reportedly wanted the family to remain involved, but Claire Williams “felt it was the right choice for me to step away.”
She went on to add:
There will be a period of transition. This is obviously going to be my last race weekend, but I am going to be working a few days per week over the course of the next few weeks in order to hand over in order to talk to Dorilton about the team, the inner workings of the team, and the expertise they need to come in.
They’re in the business already, they’re doing their due diligence, they’re reviewing the capabilities, and they’re looking at what they can do in order to invest into the business.
I will be helping them with that to advise that over the coming weeks.
Williams have remained a firmly independent F1 team since it was founded over 40 years ago, and it has remained a relic of an era where family ownership was wholly possible. Now, it’s simply impossible for a handful of people to rival the funding that can be put up by a company like Mercedes-Benz or Red Bull. It simply isn’t feasible.
Claire Williams remained a staunch defender of her family’s ownership of the team, noting in the Netflix Drive to Survive docuseries that the team would never be someone else’s B-team, that it would retain its integrity as an independent constructor.
Over the last five years, though, things have spiralled out of control. Where the team could once contend for race wins, it began to produce slower or even fundamentally flawed cars. Talented drivers left the team for bigger, better opportunities. Big-money sponsorships like Martini abdicated. The team courted potential title sponsors in the likes of Rich Energy. Then, in May of this year, ROKiT, the team’s title sponsor, backed out of a three to five year deal just months into its campaign.
The brand reportedly owed Williams millions of pounds and hadn’t paid before trying to spin the blame onto the Williams team itself: somehow, Williams had not met its contractual obligations to the team.
The team desperately needed investment at that point, and it just didn’t look to be coming. At this moment, Williams sits at the bottom of the World Constructors’ Championship with zero points—even the pained Haas F1 team has managed to bring a single point to the table. Williams drivers Nicholas Latifi and George Russell sit 19th and 20th in the World Drivers’ Championship. The only driver lower than them is Romain Grosjean at Haas, who has a lower finishing average.
The Williams family just couldn’t do it on its own anymore. Claire and Frank felt they would need to step back to allow someone else to take over.
If you haven’t watched Williams, the documentary that tracks the family’s longstanding involvement in the team, then make sure you find the time. It’s a heartbreaking film, one that highlights the way a race team could be both a divisive and a unifying force for the Williams family.
In short, Frank Williams suffered a paralyzing road accident after going to the airport after a testing session in 1986, nine years after founding the team. Despite that, the team won the World Constructors’ Champion that year—and the year that followed—and saw Ginny Williams, Frank’s wife, becoming the first woman to stand on the F1 podium in any capacity. Claire, a child at the time, recounts the impact the team had on her parents’ relationship and, in turn, how it impacted her upbringing.
I’ve never been a big Williams fan, but there is admittedly something romantic about a racing team that runs in the family. It’s a relic of a bygone era, and, knowing the way the team was embedded in the very biology of its owning family, it’s especially poignant to see that era end so abruptly. Whatever your opinion of Claire or Frank, it’s clear that they both held a deep affection for the team.
This weekend’s Italian Grand Prix will be the last with the Williams family at the helm. While there will very likely be no surprise podium for the team’s drivers, make sure to tune in for what will likely be a series of poignant tributes to F1's final family.