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Williams and the Future

The customer car row continues to heat up, with Frank Williams pointing out that the concorde agreement for 2008 is not yet a done deal and Gerhard Berger promising to fight the matter in the courts if necessary. One can understand Frank’s point of view – as the last truly independent constructor in F1, he sees his future as threatened by the arrival of customer teams that will be, in effect, B teams for the manufacturers.

FW29

Williams FW29

It does seem that the FIA have chosen to take the B team route and abandon the independent constructor by doing so. This quote from a Reuters article is very telling:

“We’ve signed a Concorde Agreement for 2008 and while it hasn’t been clarified, we’d never been told that customer teams would be included in it,” said Williams.

“That was until (International Automobile Federation president) Max Mosley very charmingly said to me over lunch in December: ‘You do realise, Frank, that your business model is history now?’

“I said ‘What do you mean?’ and Max said: ‘From now on, it’s manufacturers and B teams’.

That makes it pretty clear where Max’s thoughts are heading and he usually gets what he wants. And Prodrive’s Dave Richards agrees that this must be the future:

“Frank is talking this up for one reason only,” the former Benetton and BAR boss told the magazine.

“He can see that his business model — employing 600 people to build a racing car without manufacturer assistance — won’t stack up in the future.

“The business is changing. We need teams at the back given the same cars as Ferrari and fielding promising young drivers. That’s the spectacle we want to see.”

It seems that Frank is swimming against the tide and can expect no help from the FIA in his argument with Toro Rosso and Super Aguri in 2007. Spyker are in a similar position in spite of being owned by a manufacturer; the company is small and has to buy in engines from Ferrari so it looks likely that they too will be defeated by the costs at some time and have to throw in their lot with one of the big boys.

Like it or not, we are seeing the last days of the independent constructor. Unless the FIA changes its mind, the manufacturers and their sidekicks will be the only teams in F1. Frank and Spyker’s Colin Kolles will fight to the last, no doubt, but, even if they win in the courts this year, in the long run they will lose.

It may well be that Williams’ best hope for survival is the one I suggested way back in July 2006 – to become Toyota’s B team. If the new Williams FW29 maintains its impressive form into the 2007 season and they continue to beat the Toyota factory team, it would make a lot of sense for the Japanese giant to merge the teams and save itself a lot of money and embarrassment.

What Spyker will do, however, is anybody’s guess.

4 Responses to “Williams and the Future”

  1. I can’t see Williams capitulating to run as a Toyota B-team, at least not with Williams and Head running the show. They’re too proud, surely, to see their independence lost like that. Spyker? Hmm. An interesting thought.

    Like the redesign by the way – a lot cleaner, clearer and easier to read.

  2. It’s true that Frank and Patrick are very independent-minded – but they can’t go on forever and the time must surely be approaching when they might actually appreciate a rest. And I’m sure they’d like to see the Williams name continue in some form or another after they leave. Toyota might be their best chance of ensuring that. It’s a few years into the future but financial pressures could bring it forward a bit.

    And thanks for the kind comments re the re-design, Rob!

  3. Oh God. 10 years ago when Jacques Villeneuve was on his way to Williams’ last world title, one could never have imagined even the suggestion of the proud Grove squad being effectively a b**** to a large manufacturer. With each passing day, I grow ever more sad at the state of this sport. And having read your latest article, I would imagine that one day when the manufacturers have all given up, as they inevitably will, it will effectively mean the end of grand prix racing. Or perhaps it shall morph into a state not unlike Champcars today, with spec cars and not much else. Long live Williams.

  4. Do not despair, Qwerty, somehow GP racing will survive the ultimate departure of the manufacturers, perhaps even by the rebirth of small constructors. The FIA would be forced to design a formula to encourage shoestring budget entrants if there are no giants left. I can remember being disgusted when advertising arrived and the cars stopped wearing national colors; then the advent of wings made the cars so ugly that I thought the sport was a goner. Yet somehow it struggled on and I became accustomed to the changes. Knowing myself better now, I feel sure that I will adjust to the apparent ruination of the greatest spectacle on earth and continue to watch. In time, I might even be forced to admit that it was all for the best.

    But that doesn’t mean I can’t have a bloody good moan about the way things are going at present. Doubters and detractors form a useful brake on those who would change the beast into something unrecognisable! ;)

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