This time last year Williams had just won the Spanish Grand Prix. But 12 months is a long time in Formula One racing and last weekend in Barcelona the team suffered the ignominy of both drivers getting knocked out of qualifying in Q1. Deputy team principal Claire Williams may have been in the post less than two months, but her F1 experience far exceeds that of many of her peers and - as she explained exclusively to Formula1.com - she is determined to haul the squad back into the big time
Q: Claire, how are you getting along with your new role as deputy team principal?
Claire Williams: I love my new job. I am so lucky. Ive been saying that now for quite some time, but it is really true. To be part of this world is so special. There are so few team principals in F1 - and to be part of that is amazing. There is a lot to learn and there is a lot of responsibility, as we as a team are facing a lot of challenges, but I just cant wait to get on and hopefully make an impression and improve the team and help drive us forward. That is what I want to do.
Q: You have been your fathers apprentice for many years: what is the most crucial thing that youve learned from him?
CW: To work hard. Everyone knows the effort that Frank has put into making this team what it is. He has struggled, he has fought and he has sacrificed so many things in his life to achieve this dream. Great things dont happen unless you put in real effort - and he taught me that nothing comes easy unless you are willing to fight and sacrifice, and then one day you will be rewarded for your hard work.
Q: Frank is also known for his strong opinions and his outspokenness. Sometimes that has run completely against the trend and made his life even more difficult. Has he told you to go more with the flow?
CW: No, he hasnt ever commented on that. But Frank always had to protect his team and I will definitely follow his footsteps to see what is best in the interests of the team. Maybe you could say that different times require different tactics, but the aim is always the same.
Q: Presumably after the deputy team principal role you will one day become team principal? Was that always part of your plan? What were your dreams for your life?
CW: I went to an all-girl catholic boarding school, so I spent most of my time praying that I wasnt going to have a calling to become a nun. It didnt happen, but from my upbringing - in the world I grew up in - it was more usual for women to just marry and have children. That was really the expectation and I never thought that one day I would start working in the world of Formula One - and eventually one day run the team.
Q: What exactly is the scope of your duties? Youve previously been head of communications, then head of marketing. What is it now that occupies your thoughts?
CW: My role still covers all of that. Im still doing the commercial side of the business, seeing to get the money in so that the team can go on racing. Basically the sponsorship side - but then, of course, anything else that you would expect any other team principal in the paddock to do. I am working very closely with our technical director Mike Coughlin to ensure that the technical side has everything that they need in order to do the best job that they can. And then, of course, the governance side of the sport - positioning the team with the FIA, FOM and FOTA.
Q: How much of a technical understanding do you bring to the table?
CW: I am learning. It is tough because it is a new language. But it is fascinating - and I am lucky because I have grown up in this sport, so I have absorbed a lot of things, never knowing that I would need them one day. (laughs) I go into the aero meetings now, I join the race strategy meeting now and I find all that fascinating. The guys doing these jobs are so intelligent and so clever. I will probably never be able to communicate with them about these issues at the same level, but to be part of it and inhale more information every time is incredible.
Q: Is it you who is sitting at the team principals meetings for Williams?
CW: It depends. If Frank is at the race track then he will go. If he is not then I attend for him. So it all depends if Frank is around or not.
Q: Your joining the team principals meetings doubles the number of female participants - you and Saubers Monisha Kaltenborn. Is it easier now for you?
CW: To be honest, as Formula One has always been a part of my life I have become so desensitized to that male-female cliche that I have never thought about it. I am working in a very male-dominated industry, so you dont think about such things. I represent my team and it doesnt make any difference to me that there is another woman in the room.
Q: Your former executive director Toto Wolff - now at Mercedes - was expected to run the team. How much of a void has his departure created?
CW: One moment: Toto wasnt ever tipped to run the team - that wasnt the plan. We had a gap to fill, and Toto being an executive director, he was part of the team, so it was natural that he was taking up that role. It was never the plan that he would then step into Franks shoes when Frank left. I worked with Toto a lot last year and I learned a lot from him and it was lovely to have him around. He is still a shareholder and it would be great if he wanted to stay a shareholder, but I think he has other responsibilities.
Q: Technically the team is going through rough waters again. Why is that, after 2012 looked like a real renaissance?
CW: It really hurts. Losing is so painful. We havent had the start into the season that we had hoped. We thought that we d made some progress last year and we are really now evaluating what we have done over the winter that made us step back, because we are not going to step forward if we dont fully understand what went wrong. Otherwise it would just be putting a plaster on a problem.
Q: Your rookie Valtteri Bottas: what can you say about him so far?
CW: He is so great. Cool and calm. He is a typical Finn.
Q: Frank was always known to prefer a certain type of driver - a real racer who has all eyes on the track and not distracted by the politics. Is Valtteri his man?
CW: Yes, he is. I think we definitely have a future world champion at hand - but of course we have to give him the car to allow him to prove his talent. He has done a good job so far. He has finished every race, made up positions with great overtaking manoeuvres, and is giving strong feedback to the engineers in order to improve the car.
Q: Like the team, Pastor Maldonado no doubt expected more of the 2013 season. He has expressed some concerns about the development speed. Do you have concerns about him?
CW: I think it would be totally wrong to say that we are not happy with him. We are a team and we work very hard in proving that. We win and lose together. Of course Pastor is not too happy with the car we are giving him, but relationship, the bond, is very strong - actually with both our drivers. It is a good atmosphere in the team and theres a strong drive to solve our problems together and Pastor wants to be a part of the solution. Of course Pastor has expectations. He has tasted winning and of course wants more of it. I think it must be frustrating to see your peers winning and not having the equipment to demonstrate your talents. Pastor knows that we are fighting and that one day we will give him the car that he wants.
Q: For some of the teams, Barcelona - the start of the European campaign - was considered the real start into the 2013 season. How was it for Williams?
CW: Well, when we found out what the problem with the car is after Malaysia we knew that it wasnt going to be fixed quickly. So we didnt have the expectation that once we start the Europe campaign it would be the start of a new beginning. We still have a long road ahead of us to get back into regularly qualifying in Q3 and regularly scoring points.
Q: So when will you overcome your issues?
CW: Right now we are in the fixing process - but its not a quick fix, the problem that we have. Time frame? I couldnt tell you and I think it is dangerous to play with expectations. Weve got work to do as we know where the problem is.
Q: What criteria will you have in your rookie season as deputy team principal to judge whether it was a good year?
CW: The budget is always the most important thing - securing more revenue than I did last year. That is really important to me - getting as much money in for the team as I possibly can. The more money you have the better your race car can be, in effect. Secondly, making sure politically that the team is in the best position. And thirdly - and probably most importantly - results. Being at the top of the grid and fighting for world championships. Im not going to give up until were back again.
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