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How behind-the-scenes changes aim to spark a Williams revival

The once-proud Williams team have endured a difficult few years in both performance and financial terms. But following Dorilton Capital's takeover in 2020, they have been bolstered by the arrival of a new senior management team. Can the new partnership help Williams rise back up the grid? RacingNews365.com speaks to those involved.

The recent history of Williams Racing makes for depressing reading for anyone who remembers the squad's championship-winning heydays, with the team relegated to scrapping for occasional points in the lower reaches of the F1 grid. But while the team's very existence seemed under threat just a couple of years ago, a takeover by Dorilton Capital has put Williams on surer financial and organisational footing, and with a dynamic new senior management team in place, Williams may soon be capable of fighting at the front in F1 once again.

A short view back to the past

Founded in 1978 by Sir Frank Williams and Patrick Head, Williams enjoyed considerable success in the 1980s and 1990s, winning seven Drivers' Championships and nine Constructors' titles, and producing some of the most dominant and cutting-edge cars ever seen in F1. However, the team's last title came in 1997, and after a six-year partnership with BMW failed to produce a championship win, Williams gradually slipped down F1's pecking order. The Grove-based squad did enjoy a brief renaissance in the 2010s, with Pastor Maldonado winning Williams' first Grand Prix in eight years in 2012. Aided by the dominance of the Mercedes power unit at the beginning of F1's turbo-hybrid era, Williams also finished a strong third in the Constructors' standings in 2014 and 2015, taking 13 podium places. But Williams would soon tumble down the order again, and 2018 began an embarrassing run of three consecutive years in which the team propped up the Constructors' standings – a sad state of affairs for such a storied outfit. By this time, Sir Frank had long since handed control of the day-to-day running of the team to daughter Claire, and as they struggled in both financial and performance terms, Williams Racing were acquired by investment firm Dorilton Capital in August 2020, with Sir Frank and Claire stepping away from the operation the following month.

Green shoots of recovery for Williams

As Dorilton cleared debts and helped to secure the team's future in F1, Williams' senior management team has undergone major changes over the past 18 months, with Jost Capito joining as CEO before later becoming Team Principal, Francois-Xavier Demaison signing on as Technical Director, and Sven Smeets taking up the role of Sporting Director. All three had previously worked together on Volkswagen's WRC programme. The 2021 season was Williams' first full campaign under Dorilton's ownership and saw green shoots of recovery for the team, which improved from 10th to eighth in the Constructors' Championship, with George Russell scoring their first podium finish since 2017 at the rain-interrupted Belgian Grand Prix. Despite a considerable degree of upheaval at Williams in recent years, Capito says the team are now following a more organic model of growth and evolution following the appointment of Smeets as Sporting Director in November 2021. "The big changes were really at the beginning [of Dorilton's ownership], and now it's more just adaptations," Capito, who joined Williams initially as CEO in December 2020, tells RacingNews365.com in an exclusive interview. "With Sven Smeets coming in as Sporting Director, it's the first time the race team is really represented in a management committee, and you have a stronger link between the race team and the engineering team. "That is the main change, I would say. Otherwise, it's a continuous process."

New management, new culture

A key part of said process was the signing of Demaison as Technical Director – a position that had been vacant since Paddy Lowe stepped down from the role in June 2019, after that year's FW42 had proved disastrously slow. Though Demaison brings a wealth of motorsport experience, this is his first job in F1, and the Frenchman is keen to diversify the talent pool at Williams to include more people with experience outside the sport. "I'm a big fan of a polyculture," Demaison explains, as he talks through his plans for the technical department. "We take people from different experiences, different origins, different nationalities, different backgrounds, because we believe that's the key. "The monoculture killed all the civilisations in the past, so we really want to push for the polyculture model."

Lack of funds still affecting recovery

Though Williams' acquisition by Dorilton helped clear the organisation's debts, the team are still suffering the hangover of more cash-strapped times. Williams were the only team to take part in 2022's pre-season test sessions without having already sampled the new 18-inch tyres, as they did not have the resources to make an appropriate 'mule' car to try the new wheels in 2021. Additionally, rather than build their own gearbox, Williams are using Mercedes' transmission this year, as part of a closer technical tie-up with their power unit supplier. "The choice was made to go to the Mercedes gearbox because in some areas we were lacking experience, and no investment was done for some years, so it's part of the company improvement," says Demaison. "Last year, I had three projects: [working on] the FW44, building a team, and modernising the factory. "The wind tunnel was lacking a lot of investment. It's a great facility, but any tool needs investment."

From rallying to the F1 paddock

In switching from rallying to F1, Capito, Smeets and Demaison are following in a long line of prominent F1 personalities with rally backgrounds, such as ex-Ferrari Team Principal and FIA president Jean Todt, former Ferrari chairman Luca Di Montezemolo, and ex-BAR and Benetton Team Principal David Richards. But why are there so many ex-rally personnel in F1? "That's a good question!" Smeets comments in response. "Maybe because rallying has always been something where you have to adapt to the circumstances very quickly. "You're very flexible, which means you can live with lots of different circumstances. "The [previous] generation [of co-drivers], they were not just reading, they were organising logistics and doing everything." The road back to the sharp end of the grid will be a long and difficult one for Williams, with the team enduring a fallow few years. But if Capito, Demaison and Smeets can replicate their VW successes and get everyone in the squad pulling in the same direction, Williams may shine once again in F1.

RESULTS 2024 F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix - Free Practice 3