As the 2009 Formula One World Championship season will finally get underway this weekend, Williams F1 Team Principal Frank Williams talks about his hopes for this year and talks about the long-term future of the team with the global crisis.
How are you feeling about the season ahead? "The car is looking good. You might see a few surprises, but it won’t be anything too dramatic once we get it down to the grid at Melbourne."
Are you optimistic? "Cautiously so because we haven’t really seen what anyone else has done yet."
And what about your drivers for this year? "We have Nico Rosberg for the fourth season, which is good, and Kazuki Nakajima for the second year. Kazuki is very quiet and the best mannered young man I have ever met but, in a racing car, he’s very aggressive and I think he could have a terrific future. We have two very ambitious drivers. If the car’s good enough, they’ll be good enough."
Nico has been saying that he needs to be in a top car by next year and the team have to show him that the Williams is a top car. How concerned are you that you are going to lose him? "That’s something that we’ve thought about, of course. We can only convince him to stay if he wants to stay. Nico deserves a top car and would be giving guys like Hamilton and Vettel a hard time if he had a front running car."
Recent press speculation would lead people to believe that Formula One is in dire straights, particularly following the recent news surrounding RBS. What are your thoughts on the situation? "Certain news outlets have been reporting that it is all doom and gloom and that it is the end of the world for Formula One but that is utterly incorrect. They were also reporting that RBS were going to pull out of their partnership with the team and that was going to leave us with problems. However, as we know, they are fulfilling their contractual agreement with us and that is for another two years."
So what is Williams’ short term future looking like? "We have carried forward a lot of sponsors from last season and we are in the usual discussions with new partners. We know we have enough money with which to go racing this year and for 2010. We are planning, looking, thinking and talking about our deals which we know we need to secure for the two years subsequent to that."
And long term? "We’ve been in this business a long time and we know the business very well, it’s the only thing we do. Everyone here is motivated to win. Because we don’t have manufacturer backing and the shareholding is entirely within the team, we have to be nimble. We have our budgets in place for this season and for 2010, but greed pervades so we would always welcome more money. We are, however, confident that we will be around for a long time to come."
How is the situation now, compared to other periods of struggle that Formula One has encountered in the past? Is it any worse? Or is it just the natural ebb and flow? "Formula One is always hard work. When there are rich times, there are rich times and we have to just get on and deal with the other times. In any situation, we always work very hard for all of our deals."
Looking back at the sponsorship deals that Williams has done, you’ve managed to pull money out of some pretty unlikely places, and out of new places that other people haven’t necessarily thought of. Do you see that happening again? "Most of the names on our car are well known, but there is so much more potential out there. There are thousands of companies that could come into Formula One. It is our job to find them."
Do you think the financial sector’s time in Formula One is coming to an end, like it did for tobacco and oil? "I think that if it is, it’s the natural ebb and flow of commerce."
What are your thoughts on the new cost cutting initiatives? "The FIA have pushed out a series of cost cutting requirements. The teams have accepted them and worked together with the FIA. The measures will save the teams a considerable amount on their annual budgets and I have the greatest confidence that more teams will be in a better position at the end of this year than they normally find themselves in so I think that they are a good thing."
To what extent is your business plan for the short term based on cost cutting? "Our plans are not based on cost cutting. As the rules change, we will adapt what we do to take advantage of that. So far, the biggest cut has been on the engine side but we don’t make our engines so we’ve been very lucky and enjoyed the benefit of that without taking the pain. We will match our costs against the changes in the rules."
It will have been 30 years this season since the team’s first win at Silverstone in 1979. Anniversaries may not mean anything to you, but it’s been five years since the team won their last race. Is that significant to you? "That anniversary is the one that matters and that’s what we have to keep in the back of our minds. It’s been too long."
How big is the mountain you have to climb to get that next win? "I think it’s the same for all the teams on the grid. Every race is a milestone. I don’t mean that as a cheap show of words, but everyone on grid is competitive. That level of competition in Formula One is what we want, what we all want, but it does make winning harder!"
So winning a race will be a relief? "Absolutely, but I don’t want to just win one, I want to win and keep on winning."
Will the new rules help with that ambition? "The new regulations for this year will see a lot of change to the aerodynamics of the car and the way teams have adapted to those changes will play a pivotal role in one’s success. This year provides a fresh start for everyone and it’s a big opportunity for us in particular as we have languished over the past few seasons. We will see how we’ve done once the first few races are out of the way. If we haven’t done enough, we will work even harder for the remaining races."
You said you were cautiously optimistic looking forward to the season ahead. What performance level would you be satisfied with this year? "I think that if we look back at the end of the year and find ourselves in the top five; that would be a big step forward. I don’t think it’s impossible having seen what we’ve done this winter." Source Williams
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