Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Existing solely to race? // Williams expand their focus outside of Formula One

Published by Mr. C

2009 was a busy year for the Williams F1 team, almost as busy off track as it was on. The start of the season saw Williams caught in the middle of a "diffuser row". In May the team managed to get themselves expelled from the Formula One Teams Association, for a full four months and to close the year off, they dropped both drivers and their engine partner.

It seems no F1 season is complete without a "Williams are Struggling to Survive" headline to round the year off, and given all that has happened, plus the fact Royal Bank of Scotland announced it would end its partnership with the team after 2010, the story almost writes itself.

Williams F1

Except this year is different. The past 12 months have seen no less than three well-heeled manufacturer teams exit the sport, whilst the boys and girls from Oxford remain steadfast and strong. New smaller teams are entering the sport (or at least they're trying) and they likely have less money to throw around than anyone. In the meantime Williams appears to be siding with both the sport's commercial rights holder CVC and the sport's governing body the FIA. I don't believe anyone from the headquarters in Grove ever sent out a press release confirming the re-admittance to FOTA, while the decision to select independent Cosworth power over a Toyota engine won't have hurt their cause in any way.

It has been pointed out several times this year, that Williams are a team who solely exist to race. In fact the team's own facts and stats page quotes this very mantra and they're rightly proud of it. They don't have tins of energy drink to shift, neither do they have a range of high-performance vehicles to promote. They race in Formula One and that is pretty much all they do.

Admittedly there was the small matter of designing an F2 car for the FIA's (them again) pet feeder series project but everything else is essentially Formula One related. Or is it?

I get the impression Sir Frank may have taken a longing look over at the success of the McLaren Group. An F1 team that expanded its horizons to include catering, marketing, technology, and who recently spun out the automotive arm to launch their own range of elite road cars. McLaren once solely existed to race too.

Williams Hybrid Power, the recently rebranded energy storage technology company looks for all the world like it has ambitions beyond Formula One. Let's be honest, if you looked at the backwards way KERS was implemented in the sport, you'd have to have bigger aspirations than that. A couple of weeks back Williams also announced a deal with Qatar Science and Technology Park, and this project has plans to extend current research even further. I believe if you look closely the press release mentions "road cars" too.

At some point the FIA may decide that F1 needs a standardised KERS system, and it would be quite handy if there were a team out there with readymade flywheel system (arguably the more ecologically sound solution), who also had experience with a Cosworth engine. Additionally, it's worth keeping in mind that McLaren's exclusive standard engine control unit deal expires at the end of 2010. Given the success of the system, it makes sense that the SECU concept be retained beyond 2010, but one wonders if a new tender will be put out to interested parties? Integration with a standard KERS system might reduce costs considerably.

Clearly all of the above is nothing more than pure speculation, but it's worth keeping in mind that next year Williams likely won't be the only team existing solely to race. There will be smaller and more needy teams present too. Is it time for Williams to step up and break out beyond Formula 1? I think the F2 project went too well to waste that amount of talent on Formula One.