Claire Williams: ‘2015 should be a dress rehearsal for a championship challenge in 2016’

Deputy team principal Claire Williams speaks about the team’s stunning 2014 turnaround, their plans for a 2016 championship challenge, why talk of signing Fernando Alonso was wide of the mark, and why they could yet play ‘kingmaker’ at Yas Marina…

Q: Claire, Brazil was another podium weekend for Williams – this time through Felipe Massa, and in front of his home crowd. Can you really believe what has happened at Williams in the last 12 months? You have jumped from ninth in the constructors’ standings to third…
Claire Williams:
Ha, if you had said to any of us this time last year, when we had scored our first multiple points – four to be precise – in the United States Grand Prix, that we would be in P3 at this time next year, I don’t think we would have believed it. But the team has done a fantastic job to effect this turnaround and I am so proud of everybody involved. It is the reward of all our hard work. But as Frank [Williams] always says, ‘It is P3 – we have got to win!’ So it would be wonderful to end this year with a race win. With how it is now, I think people in the team will be disappointed if we don’t win a race – but everybody has to remember where we came from.

Q: There is only one race left…
…and we’ve shown that we have a car that is consistent at every race track, so I don’t see why there shouldn’t be an opportunity for us. Sure, it will depend on circumstances, as both Mercedes are hard to beat – but why not?

Q: A Williams victory, or a second place, in Abu Dhabi has the potential to influence who wins the 2014 title – and Nico Rosberg says he has to motivate Felipe…
Oh, that’s put the pressure on us. But when it happens it happens – that’s Formula One.

Q: Williams could be the ‘kingmaker’…
Funny… I haven’t thought about that.

Q: It’s true that Formula One racing is a team sport, but without some outstanding personalities to lead the team you don’t get anywhere. Who are the outstanding members of the 2014 Williams team?
I think it was Pat Symonds coming in last year that was the real key ingredient to our success. He is a great engineer – everybody knows that – but he is also a great man-manager as well. He has organised and restructured every area of our team. Then we’ve brought in a new level of senior management to work with Pat across each area. But it is not just about the management level – it’s about the 520 other people at Williams who have stayed with us and made this turnaround possible. It is a real team effort.

Q: You have said for quite a while that with Valtteri Bottas you have a future F1 world champion, but that was pretty hard to see last season with a car that was nowhere. What parameters did you apply to reach that conclusion back then?
His work ethic. Last year – when he didn’t have the equipment that he needed – he was still delivering. He was still extracting more from the car than perhaps he should have done. It was his consistency as well. And he is extremely calm – he will never repeat a mistake. He does everything that you need him to do – and on top of that he is a really lovely guy.

Q: There is only one point separating Valtteri from Fernando Alonso of Ferrari – Williams’ immediate opponents in the constructors’ championship. Is that a sign?
I like to think that it is a sign. And one has to remember that Valtteri is only in his second year in F1.

Q: Williams have announced their 2015 driver line-up quite early. What is the beauty of this?
Both drivers have worked together so well – there are no egos between Valtteri and Felipe. And this is how we are as a team: the constructors’ [championship] is the most important thing, and both drivers understand that. That is why the driver pairing works so perfectly for us.

Q: How much easier is it for Williams to attract sponsors now that you are on a successful path again?
It is never easy, but we had success before and had a good healthy budget prior to this year. We’ve been lucky that Martini joined us when we were ninth in the championship and that’s due to the fact that we have very strong credentials at Williams – whether it is our history or our other sponsors – and Formula One itself attracts. But yes, the interest has increased and we are looking forward to heading into next year with some new sponsors on board.

Q: If nothing goes terribly wrong, Williams should keep Ferrari at bay in the constructors’ fight. What will that mean for team prestige?
That is significant for us. To come ahead of Ferrari with the budget that we have in comparison to theirs – that is really significant for us. It’s a great talking point when we are talking to partners: we are Williams – with half the budget look where we are compared to some of our rivals!

Q: Did Williams ever contemplate the idea of taking on Fernando Alonso?
No. We are very happy with the drivers that we have – and we had them on contract anyway for next year. They have delivered – why would you change that? They are part of our future.

Q: If you were to risk making a prediction for 2015, what would it be? Valtteri has said that he would be ready to fight for the title. Is the team ready to follow him in that?
Formula One is unpredictable. A lot of it is about what your competitors can achieve over the winter in terms of development. But from where we are now, 2015 should almost be a dress rehearsal for a championship challenge in 2016. But everybody has their plans…

Q: Can you sum up your feelings on 2014 in a few words?
I am proud. There is a bit of me that is somewhat surprised, but another part is also relieved and grateful.

Q. And Frank?
Frank recognises the work that has gone in – and the achievements that we’ve effected this year. But Frank, being Frank, also says, ‘Why are you celebrating? You only came third…’