I guess someone has to ask the awkward question, so here goes: Is it time for Claire Williams to step down as deputy team principal?
Because under her tenure the once mightiest team in Formula 1 is limping to the grid for the opening round of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship, engulfed in a crisis that threatens its future.
A week ago amid a disastrously late start to the new season the daughter of team founder Sir Frank Williams declared that there was no crisis and no turmoil at Grove.
Fast forward to yesterday and finally, Paddy Lowe got his marching orders after steering the team into an iceberg with a hopeless 2018 race car and followed that by grossly missing the deadline for the new car.
The FW42 was not only late it was hardly ready, while spare parts were also scarce which even further compromised their testing. And most troubling it was nearly three seconds off the top pace and 1.2 seconds shy of their nearest rivals.
Adding to their woes is the fact that the car they put out in the final F1 pre-season test in Spain was reportedly not fully legal and raised the eyebrows of rival engineers who got word to the FIA who, in turn, mandated changes.
In other words, Paddy’s second car for the team is also rubbish.
No matter how you look at it this IS a crisis for the team, and there IS turmoil at Grove, this is obvious but apparently, not according to Claire who denied the reports, which triggers the inevitable questions:
Was she lying? Or was she not aware it was a crisis?
Of course, I seriously doubt she lied but rather was unaware of the pandemonium, which is where the problem lies. That she played down and even denied the upheaval suggests she had her head-in-the-sand as mayhem wreaked havoc with their 2019 programme.
Rewinding back to March 2013, Claire was appointed deputy team principal responsible for marketing, communications and the commercial aspects of the family business.
Early on in her charge, Williams team were third in the F1 constructors’ pecking order, but since then they have slid to where they are now – last – but most alarming, without an end in sight to their plight.
In 2017, under Claire’s watch, the team lured Paddy back as Chief Technical Officer for a substantial wedge and great expectations.
His shares were way up, he was fresh from a four-year stint with Mercedes and thus he was part of the Goliath that the Siver Arrows became.
Hence he arrived at Grove as the new messiah, the man with a plan which for some reason the team lacked at that point and arrived lamenting the “loser culture” he found in the trenches of the third most successful Formula 1 team in history.
History now shows that Paddy failed miserably at the helm of the technical office but (perhaps his biggest crime) before jumping ship he first forced his guys to walk the plank. Remember Dirk de Beer?
By being allowed to wield the axe himself (by Claire?) he saved his ass from the 2018 fail fallout and bought himself another year, only to ‘deliver’ an even bigger disaster which now threatens to sink this great team.
Adding insult to injury, with the team going under, Paddy has taken or forced to take a “leave of absence” which means: He won’t be back, just some paperwork to sort out
How did Claire allow it to get to this?
Maybe she had no control, after all, she admitted she never saw it coming!
Indeed, this lack of vision means her team begins the season with no technical director, a half-finished and maybe illegal car, with only a week to go to the first race weekend in Melbourne.
If I am shaking my head, imagine Robert Kubica and his backers, or young George Russell and his minders, they must be livid. Innocent bystanders with so much to lose in this saga.
As a family team, the subject of succession is different from the corporate entities that all the other F1 teams have become. The corporates fire people, family dynasties don’t.
Claire won’t get fired but maybe it is time for her to step aside or at least plan to do so, perhaps take on a commercial or ambassadorial role within the organisation.
In July last year I wrote: “Claire’s management skills are being severely tested but perhaps the two big questions keeping her awake at night are, one: whether Lowe is the man for the job, or two: maybe it is time for her to step aside and allow her marginalised brother Jonathan Williams take over the reigns of Daddy’s business.”
Question one is answered with a resounding: Paddy is not the right guy.
But number two, whether F1 admits it or not, is the question everyone should be asking, not least Williams shareholders.
Big Question: Is it time for Claire Williams to step aside?