Claire Williams: 'I won't give up, I'm trying to create a legacy'

On numerous occasions over the past 18 months, Claire Williams could easily have walked away from the Formula 1 team that bears her family name.

During what she has described as "a long dark tunnel" that has stretched through two seasons in which the car and results have been horrifying, deputy team principal Williams had thoughts of giving up.

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There was certainly enough motivation to do so as she has conceded to being abused on social media, while her son, now two years old, was also tugging at her heartstrings.

Williams, though, is nothing if not resilient, possessing what she claims is "a thick skin". The social media snipers, in particular, have merely made her "dig my heels in more", while she is driven by a fierce determination to turn the tide of defeat, for herself, the team, and for her son Nate.

In an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sport, asked whether she had considered giving up in the team's darkest moments, Williams said: "Yeah, of course I have. Anyone that doesn't have those moments of self-reflection and introspection should be accused of being totally arrogant.

"The situation has been horrifically challenging and very difficult but I'm always motivated by the people we have in this team, and they've never shown any signs of giving up, so I wasn't going to either.

"And what would it look like if I gave up? I wasn't prepared to give up because I would only be accused of being the daughter that brought her dad's iconic team down to the ground, and there was no way I was going to have that resting on my back for the rest of my life."

Claire Williams with her father, Sir Frank Williams (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)
Claire Williams with her father, Sir Frank Williams (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images)

After finishing last in the constructors' championship last year with just seven points, Williams hit rock bottom at the start of this season when it embarrassingly failed to complete its new car in time for the start of pre-season testing.

With drivers George Russell and Robert Kubica consistently bringing up the rear in both qualifying and the races, Williams appears destined to finish the campaign with only one point, which would represent the worst season in its history.

Williams at least has the support of her father Sir Frank as she said: "A lot of my motivation comes from him. He never gave up, and he went through hard times.

"Yes, it was different for him because social media wasn't around. But Frank was still given 10 years of grief when his team wasn't doing well.

"He's given me this responsibility to look after the team, and in every conversation I've had with him, he's fully supportive.

"He knows how tough this business is, one that is a whole lot tougher in this day and age, with social media and people calling you an a***hole left, right and centre. That just makes me dig my heels in more.

"When people turn around and say I should give it up, that just makes me fight even harder, and I've always been a firm believer that if you work hard, fight hard, then one day you will get your just rewards."

Williams and the team during winter testing in Spain. (Credit: Getty Images)
Williams and the team during winter testing in Spain. (Credit: Getty Images)

It is one reason why Williams was never going to throw in the towel and pursue a homely life.

While she concedes that "I miss Nate terribly when I'm away from him", she added: "As much as I could stay at home and be a wife and mum, which would be a lot easier, I've never taken the easy road.

"I don't want Nate growing up saying his grandfather was one of the most successful Formula 1 team principals, but his mum killed the team. Brilliant! A great legacy for him.

"I'm trying to create a legacy and a world for him that I was fortunate enough myself to grow up in, and that's a hugely motivating force for me.

"I want Nate to be proud of me and proud of what I've achieved, not to be a kid at school that's embarrassed by what his mum didn't achieve."

Over what has been a tumultuous two seasons, and through the introspection she has spoken of, Williams has naturally discovered a lot about herself, and learned in particular that her role "is a lot harder than I imagined and dreamed it could possibly be". Just as she says her mum, Lady Virginia, warned before her death in March 2013.

"I think I knew I was pretty stubborn, fairly resilient and had quite a thick skin before all this drama kicked off but I don't think anyone should underestimate how difficult it has been for everybody at Williams, and when you're the one having the mud thrown at you, it's really tough," assessed Williams.

"But I'm surrounded by really lovely people, and it's those people who have my back and I listen to. I don't give a stuff about what other people think that don't know me or don't see what I do for this team.

"They can think what they like, and if they'd like to come and give it a go, to walk a day in my shoes then they're more than welcome to do so.

Williams signs autographs ahead of the Australia GP (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Williams signs autographs ahead of the Australia GP (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

"So I surround myself with good people in my team, and they are the people who motivate me and inspire me because they don't give up, so why would I.

"But I like the challenge, I thrive on it, and I like fixing things. It's always been my thing, I like making things better. I like to go home knowing I've worked my socks off to do the best I possibly can."

Such diligence means she can finally see light at the end of the tunnel, with the first shafts materialising at the German Grand Prix in July following a major upgrade to the car.

Behind the scenes, the business has been dramatically transformed, with the implementation of a variety of policies and procedures aimed, she says, at bringing Williams "into a state that's now fit for purpose" as it was previously operating "on the good old days". 

She said: "We have literally left no stone unturned in order to address the operational issues but also the culture of the team, to then hopefully marry those two together in order to create the most high-performing team that we can.

"It's going to take time to go through, but I'm certainly seeing the green shoots starting to come through.

"So as much as this year is really difficult, I still have that smile on my face, and I know we are moving in the right direction. I have confidence we are definitely in the right place going in the right way."

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