For more than 20 years, Claire Williams packed her suitcase and went to the Grand Prix almost every weekend. But when she returned home after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in September, she unpacked her gear for the last time and said goodbye to Formula One after deciding to step down as boss of her family’s famous team, Williams.
Williams couldn’t bring himself to watch the remaining nine races, a sport his family helped found and which has governed his life for decades; it would be strange to watch other people race.
Formula 1 has lost its great lady who liked to keep a low profile.
I wasn’t looking. I made a conscious decision not to follow [F1] at all, Williams said in an exclusive interview with ESPN. I couldn’t bring myself to look at it, I needed some distance. It would be too complicated, you know?
Claire Williams left her family’s Formula One team when it was sold to Dorylton Capital in 2020. ANDREI ISAKOVIK/AFP via Getty Images
I grew up with Williams my whole life and I’ve been with the team for over 20 years. Suddenly turning on the TV like at Mugello after Monza, it would be too crazy not to watch other people driving their cars there….. quite strange.
There hasn’t been a woman in a Grand Prix race for nearly half a century. The 20 drivers on the grid are all men, 18 are white, defending champion Lewis Hamilton is black and Alpha Tauri rookie Yuki Tsonoda is Asian.
But just weeks after Formula 1 launched its We Race As One diversity campaign last year, and lost its only female team boss, Williams has been hit hard.
Leaving as the sole boss of the team] was one of the things that really upset me when I left, she said. I felt like I had done a lot of work at that point, and I was just beginning to accept it. I had a lot more to contribute after I got into the swing of things, so to speak. It really pissed me off that I couldn’t go on.
Claire Williams is a stalker? Actually, yes, one of them. In the 70-year history of Formula 1, Monisha Kaltenborn, who was at the helm of Sauber from 2010 to 2017, is the only other team boss who is a woman. Her position in a sport traditionally dominated by men has proven to the world that women have a place in sport and can lead and excel.
Terms like pioneer and role model don’t fit Williams. She sees her role as doing the best she can with the position she holds.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if people see me in this position, and if I can use my position to do something good and give the next generation of women a boost, support or whatever you want to call it, in their career, whether they’re in F1 or not, then that’s a really great thing to do, and if I can do that for just one girl, then that’s a great achievement.
I talk to so many girls and it’s wonderful to see them fighting for what they want to do and to be able to contribute to that is a real privilege and I wish I could still do that.
Or Steph Carlin, who as commercial director of the Formula 2 team Carlin followed the same path as Williams and was rightly applauded for it.
If Claire resigns, I think from a women’s perspective that’s a brave move on her part, Carlin said. She has put a lot of energy into saving the team and securing the future of all the staff at Williams, which is no small undertaking in that respect, and into trying to keep her place on the grid while being a young mother. It’s a big commitment.
If we want to give women opportunities, we also need to acknowledge that this woman gave birth to a baby while trying to save the race team, which is no small feat, and I don’t think it’s a weakness to admit that. What she has done for the women, showing what is possible when you reach the highest level to secure an investment for a team that can be the envy of many other teams on the field, should be applauded.
And it’s certainly inspiring for me to see another woman at the highest level of Formula One, as I’m sure others are, and we should see it more often. It won’t happen overnight, but she has shown what women can do in sport and there are still many attempts to follow in her footsteps.
Williams is one of the most successful teams in Formula 1 history, with 114 race wins, nine constructors’ titles and seven drivers’ titles. Anton Vant/ALSPORT
Despite the obvious gender gap, especially in community roles, Williams says she didn’t realize it until her final years in office. I never noticed my gender when I walked into the room on Williams, I was always very well supported….. I don’t think that’s the point… I don’t think my gender got much attention in F1, because this sport is really about being good at what you do.
People are almost blind to whether you’re male or female, but I guess that’s what I mean, that’s how I was treated at Williams, and I know it’s not the same everywhere, because that’s just my experience. The only negativity I’ve experienced has come from people outside the sport and from people watching and posting on social media, which I was never interested in anyway.
Williams, now 44, attended an all-girls Catholic school. The nuns said you become a nun by a call from God. She remembers sitting at the end of her bed at night praying she wouldn’t be called up. Instead, in 2002, she joined her father Frank’s F1 team, which he had founded in 1969, as an information officer.
After working as a sales manager for a year, she took over the day-to-day management of her father’s team as assistant team leader in 2013. The team is legendary: nine constructors’ championships (second to Ferrari), seven drivers’ championships and 114 race wins.
In her first four years, Williams led the team to two third-place finishes and two fifth-place finishes at the Builders’ Championship. Three lower places in the standings followed, underscoring the team’s struggle against rivals with huge budgets – according to RaceFans, 2019 world champion Mercedes spent $450 million, compared to $150 million for Williams.
Last year, the fiercely independent team was left with no other options – the Williams family sold Dorilton Capital in September and exited the sport.
We’ve had a very different economic climate, especially in the last three to five years that I’ve been running the team, which has made it very difficult, quite apart from the fact that costs in F1 have gone through the roof, she explains. It made everything very difficult, and the complicated rules didn’t help either. So many things have conspired to create the situation we now find ourselves in, and yet we have always held our hands up.
You can build a very good race car without a lot of that, but we unfortunately couldn’t do that for various reasons, and that’s clearly not what we wanted. But it happens, and sometimes life deals with what you have, and you just have to deal with it.
There were two female team bosses in Formula 1 until 2017, before Monisha Kaltenborn (back row, left) gave up her role at Sauber. Drew Gibson/Getty Images
Williams reminds us that Formula One is a meritocracy, and as the pinnacle of motorsport, finding the best person for the job is the key to success. The stereotype of boys and toys has persisted in sport longer than it should have – for generations, and as a result most candidates for the roles are men, but this is slowly changing.
I think if you walk around the paddock you can see that there are a lot more women in F1 than 3-5 years ago, you can see that. Lucia [Conconi] is on the pit wall for Alfa Romeo, you see Bernadette [Collins] on the pit wall for Racing Point and you see the numbers improving.
At Williams, we have had female ambassadors from different departments go into primary and secondary schools to talk about the work they do to promote women in the workplace, promote engineering and encourage children to study STEM subjects so they can go to university and get the qualifications they need to work in Formula One. It takes a lot of work to get the right traction, but I think the traction is there and there are a lot more women who aspire to a role in Formula One.
However, the promotion of women in Formula 1 is nothing new, at least not within the Williams team. In 2014, Susie Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to participate in a Formula One race weekend, driving four practice sessions for Williams. She now leads the Venturi Formula E team and has launched Dare To Be Different, an organization that seeks to inspire and increase women’s participation in motorsports. For 2019, Williams has contracted W series champion Jamie Chadwick as development driver (a role that will continue into 2020); previously, Colombian Tatiana Calderon was development driver for Alfa Romeo.
What does it mean to bring a female driver to the start of a race?
We’ve all seen the influence and impact Susie Wolf has had in her time, she says. We’ve seen the great work that the W Series has done to bring attention to women, and of course the female driver is an important and very visible part of the team. So having a woman behind the wheel sends a strong message to the world: Hey, everyone thought Formula 1 drivers were men, but now there’s a woman participating – that’s very powerful and will help the movement to get more women into our sport.
But Wolf and others might not have had this opportunity without Claire’s mother, Ginny, who kept the business going in the early days and supported her financially during the tough times.
My mother was an amazing woman, she was always very determined, kind and had that typical British upper lip, she never had anything poetic about her, she never complained, she managed, and she fell in love with my father who was a struggling F1 team owner and she put everything she had into the team.
Over the years, my mother was very vocal behind the scenes about the decisions that were made, and she was really the founding member of my father’s board of directors. Dad would always bring his work home and discuss it with my mother, and she would set her sights on it if it wasn’t for the numbers. It was my mom who made sure everything was fantastic, and I think the Williams aesthetic always came from my mom.
She played a very important role in the team….. It is talked about to this day, and it really has been part of the fabric of Formula 1 for many years, and it has not been forgotten.
Claire Williams led her family team until last September. Dan Eastiten/Getty Images
Part of the reason Mr. Williams decided to sell was to spend more time at home with his family.
She says she’s very good at it. This is great because I missed a lot of time with my little boy in his early childhood. He’s three now, but for most of last year, aside from the seven times we ran, I was always with him. I picked him up from daycare, made him dinner and got up every morning. I couldn’t before, so it’s great for me and I hope it’s great for him. The plan was also to travel with the family, but the pandemic of the coronavirus took its toll and left the suitcases empty for a while.
For me, it’s a gap, she adds. I am no longer so absorbed and let F1 encompass my life and my world that it is very strange to think of a new path. I need to recover from my F1 life, forget it and see what the future holds, but I’m really excited.
You don’t realize how bad it is until you walk away from it, and how tense your body is until you have a chance to relax, and it’s a pretty eye-opening sight. I miss it and I still do.
Will she follow Formula 1 like the 28. March, the new season starts in Bahrain?
I don’t know, I think it might take a while. I hope to be traveling the world by then, we’ll see.
frequently asked questions
How much is Claire Williams worth?
Claire Williams’ Net Worth | Celebrity Net Worth
Is Williams F1 ready?
Formula 1 2020: The Williams family is ending a 43-year relationship with Formula One after deciding to retire from managing the team. … Co-founded by Frank Williams, his father, the team has won seven drivers’ championships and nine constructors’ titles since it entered the sport in 1977.
Who will be the best Formula One driver in 2020?
Top 10 F1 drivers of 2020 (list) | GRR – Goodwood
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