21 July 2023

Like someone cut my heart out – Claire Williams on sale of father’s F1 team

21 July 2023

Claire Williams said selling the family’s Formula One team is a grief that has been difficult to come to terms with, admitting it has felt like someone cut her heart out and never gave it back.

Claire, 47, has been an F1 outsider for coming up to three years following the sale of the team founded by her father Sir Frank Williams to American investment firm Dorilton Capital for £136million.

She resigned as de facto boss at the 2020 Italian Grand Prix, while Frank – who extraordinarily took his motor racing team from an empty carpet warehouse to the summit of the sport – died a year later.

“When I left in Monza it felt like someone cut my heart out and it has never been returned,” said Claire, in an interview with the PA news agency ahead of Williams’ 800th race at this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

“You just have to find something to put in its place. But it was very difficult then and three years on, it is still really hard.

“It is just one of those griefs that is really difficult to get over, or to come to terms with. Now we have lost Dad, it sometimes feels as though it was just a dream. Did that period in our lives really happen?”

Sir Frank oversaw 114 victories, 16 drivers’ and constructors’ world championships and became the longest-serving team boss in the sport’s history.

His story is made all the more remarkable by a horrific car crash which left him with injuries so devastating doctors considered turning off his life-support machine.

Until his death in 2021, he was recognised as the world’s oldest surviving tetraplegic.

Frank, who lived at the team headquarters in Grove, Oxfordshire, handed over the managerial baton to daughter Claire in 2013.

She guided the team to a brilliant third in the constructors’ championship, behind the financial muscle of Mercedes and Ferrari over the following two years, before a lack of major investment contributed to Williams’ decline. A decade has passed since a Williams driver last won a race.

“There was so much that went on in those last few years, which to this day I will never be able to talk about,” continues Claire.

“But I saw the team through three very difficult seasons and I was able to hand over something that was still living and still breathing to someone with deeper pockets than us. We kept everyone in jobs, we didn’t go into administration and I am very proud of that.

“When I have challenging circumstances I bury my head in jobs and when we sold Williams, my next concern was, where did Dad go?

“As much as Dorilton were kind enough to say he could always live at the factory, I needed him close to me. And coincidentally the house next door to us came up for sale, so we moved Dad in.

“I managed his care team. I made sure he was happy and comfortable in his new home and we went off and did some nice stuff together. He would pick up my little one, Nate, from nursery.

“But then he got sicker, greater care was required to look after him and he passed away. But for the next six months, we organised this wonderful memorial service. We then decided to move house, renovating our old house in Ascot and our new home in South Downs.

“So, I am the master of distraction. Life carries on. And as much as I miss Williams, and I miss Formula One dreadfully, there is a whole other world out there. You have to go and find happy elsewhere. That is what I have done.”

However, Claire discovered her zen state is disrupted by watching the sport she loves.

She will not tune in on Sunday to see Alex Albon and rookie Logan Sargeant scramble for a point or two under the tutelage of new team principal James Vowles – an appointment Claire said her father would have approved of – in Williams’ landmark race.

“I turned on the TV to see Alex had scored a point in Australia earlier this year,” she continued with a broad smile.

“Ted’s Notebook was on and Ted [Kravitz] grabbed James and said, ‘mate, congratulations, you are only Williams’ third team principal and you have got a point. How does it feel?’

“And I was like, third team principal? That is Frank, that is Jost [Capito] and that is James, what about me? Ted has just cancelled me on national television!

“I may not have been called team principal but I operated that way and I have literally just been erased. I turned it straight off and vowed never to watch again.

“But I tried watching the last race at Silverstone. I thought to myself, ‘Right, I am going to do this. Come on’. But I watched the formation lap and that was that. I lasted five minutes.

“I don’t know what it is, but if you talk to any person who has worked, lived and breathed Formula One – no matter if that is for 20 years or 20 minutes – it does something to you. It absorbs you, and when you leave, particularly involuntary like I did, it is very difficult to watch it and not feel that loss.”

Claire dovetails speaking engagements and “top-secret television projects” with her role as brand ambassador for Williams Advanced Engineering.

Earlier this year, she launched the Frank Williams Academy in her father’s honour. The project aims to raise £1.5m to help educate and train those affected by spinal cord injuries. She also revealed Sky offered her the chance to return to the F1 paddock as a pundit.

“It was too soon,” said Claire. “It is better when you leave, you leave.

“Unless someone said to me, ‘Come back and be a team principal and you can have Williams back’, I don’t necessarily think there is a job I would want, but never say never.”

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