JULY 13, 2011
Interview: Adam Parr
Williams chairman Adam Parr spoke out about exhaust blown diffusers, the team's new Renault deal and its hopes for the future. Tony Dodgins listened to him.
Q: So, Williams supported the Technical Working Group move to revert back to Valencia spec exhaust blown diffusers?
Q: Yes, apparently...
No we didn't.
Q: But you signed the letter?
On Sunday you mean? Oh, I see. Sam (Michael) may have done something.
Q: The Silverstone regs appeared to help your form?
I think it's a hugely complicated issue because even if we know what it does to us, we don't know what it does to everyone else. The whole thing came up because people had developed this hot-blowing technique. We sat down with Cosworth and asked if they could do it. They said yes, this is how many engines you're going to need, this is how much it's going to cost, and then Patrick (Head) said, 'hang on a minute, is this even legal?' So we sat down and said well, actually, there's three different rules under which this is probably illegal, and two of them appear under Article 3:15, one to do with parts that influence the aerodynamic performance of the car being rigidly secured to the chassis, and another is a new rule for this year which says that any system that relies upon driver movement to influence aerodynamic performance is illegal. I don't think we were the only ones but we asked for a clarification from Charlie, which is normal procedure, and very rapidly we got the answer back saying no, this is not legal, which has been his consistent position. Using the throttle, during braking, to get aerodynamic performance, is not legal. It's using a thing that is moving rather fast and is not rigidly secured to anything. And it's the driver as well. We said whoopee, we don't have to spend gazzilions developing a system.
Q: What sort of money are we talking about?
A lot. And that was only at first. You set out a programme to see if you can do it but there's no guarantee that will be the end of it. It was significant money. It was not a case of trying to optimize our position, simply a case of finding out whether something is legal or not before you spend loads of money that you don't really have. Anyway, if they've all found a solution, I'm thrilled!
Q: Is this kind of rule instability good for the sport?
Yes, it's fantastic... I hate when everyone says it's really bad for the sport. A couple of years ago a really serious journalist sat in front of me talking about something else, and said, 'this is really bad stuff...' I said yes, it's really bad stuff, so why aren't you covering darts in Wales? The fact is, it's the intensity of the competition, the brutality of it, and the fact that it's across so many dimensions, including the rules, the money, the politics, as well as the little bit that happens on the track. That's what makes Formula 1 so compelling. Whether it's good or not I don't know, it's just the way that it is. Nobody's ever said to me, Adam, we'd like to interview you but please don't say anything controversial.
Q: Controversy is interesting, sure, but is this too complicated?
It's very complicated and what's changed in F1 over the last 30 years is that engineers learn and, as they do, they don't forget, so every year everything gets more complex and more difficult. Charlie mentioned the banning of active ride in 1993 and that's not a bad example. It was a very complex system, it took us a long time to develop it and then it was banned. So what's new?
Q: But to change in the middle of the year when everyone has planned development strategies and so forth...?
It's irrelevant. I have no sympathy. It really annoys me that I sat in Paris, in the Court of Appeal (over the '09 double diffusers), with certain teams saying 'these cars are dangerously fast.' Some plonker put in his affidavit, 'this car is dangerously fast.' This is a person who is famous for making fast cars, continued to make fast cars and I've never heard such drivel. Anyway, my point is this: do they say well, poor old Williams and Toyota and Brawn, they've spent all this money developing the double diffuser, their whole car is built around it, we must let them have it for 2009 and then we'll change it. Like hell they did. They protested in Melbourne, they protested us in Malaysia and then they went to court in Paris. So it's bullshit. There's a couple of things that really irritate me and rank hypocrisy is one of them!
Q: How is Williams doing financially?
Well, as a team and a company, we can do better. How have we done financially? When I started at the end of 2006, because of losing our partnership with BMW and what went with that, losing what was close to a title partnership with Hewlett-Packard, going from free engines to being a customer, which in those days was a lot of money, at a time when some of the teams were spending £300-400m per year, we took the decision to build up debt to around £35m. Which was a lot of money to us. Since then we have paid off 90% of that debt, we have recorded a profit in 2008-09-10, we've brought the company to the stock market and we've got 500 people working for us. We're supporting 3000 British businesses and a lot outside Britain, so I'd like anyone who wants to criticise what I've done and what we've done in the last few years, to just compare their record with ours.
Q: Can you elaborate on your Renault engine announcement. The people there - Nigel, Damon, Jacques - don't get out of bed for nothing, so do we assume there is some Renault budget and assistance behind it? Is it more than a supply deal?
To deal with the first part: Nigel asked for some help with an air fare, Jacques didn't even ask for an air fare, Damon didn't need an air fare and Alain unfortunately couldn't be with us, but I would have organised an air fare for him. Just to be clear, none of those guys asked for anything or was paid anything for coming along. We were very grateful to them and that's a tribute to the team. In fact, Ginny Williams was saying that it was like a family reunion.
Q: But looking ahead, you've got Williams Hybrid Power and a tie-up with as many road car outlets as possible makes sense, so is the aim a five-year works turbo deal for instance?
The Holy Grail for us is a deep partnership with Renault supplying us with great technology, potentially integrating some of our technology with theirs at the rear end of the car. It's a great marketing platform for them and it's a great bonus for our partners, to be associated with a car company. They are an independent car manufacturer nowadays and, interestingly, the other three teams that they are currently supplying are all associated with another car maker, whether it's Infiniti, Lotus or Lotus/Caterham in the future, because Tony Fernandes has some serious ambitions for that brand. So you could look at this and say, well, maybe we're in a way, the odd one out.
Q: But you could still do special edition Renault Williams road cars?
We certainly could. And what a great thing to do. For me there's huge potential in that partnership.
Q: Any chance of Renault working with Williams Hybrid Power?
Hybrid Power does flywheels and, in the short term, they are probably not right for that kind of vehicle. Unfortunately they don't own the truck company anymore, because that would be a natural partner, but trucks, buses, and then going into bigger systems, subways and trains. That's where we see that technology going.
Q: Are they keen to have a French driver with a Renault engine? Maybe Grosjean or Bianchi?
Well the Silverstone GP2 races were pretty exciting and there's clearly some very talented young guys coming through - Pic, Grosjean, Bianchi. It would be great to have a French driver.
Q: Was that part of the Renault discussion?
No. You have to keep things separate or otherwise it's too complicated.
Q: Jean-Francois Caubet said that Renault wants to pick one or two teams to be preferred partners to make the most of the V6 era. Is that a target to get you back to the front?
I think from a technology point of view Renault is scrupulous in providing the same kit to everybody. And even if we were beneficiaries, that equity between teams is so important. I would never want preference. But in terms of how we develop the commercial relationship, as I said, the advantage we have is that we are not in F1 promoting another car brand. And I kind of feel that Williams-Renault, because of the history, is actually almost synonymous with Renault in Formula 1 in a way that... I'm not being derogatory but I don't think that's quite true of Red Bull. Red Bull is Red Bull. They have a fantastic engine in the back and clearly a Renault presence, but it's perhaps not achieving the marketing impact that it might.
Q: Is the sponsorship situation falling into place?
My philosophy on sponsors earlier this year was that our on-track performance was just so obviously inadequate that to be talking with sponsors just wouldn't have worked, whether it was our current sponsors or future sponsors. You can't seriously sit down with them and say, come on guys, when we were where we were, with no plan. So I said let's just back off and keep things ticking over for the moment because we need to put in place a vision for the future very different from the present. So the technical leadership changes for the future, the partnership with Renault, the partnership with Jaguar, and doing a more respectable job now, were prerequisites for sitting down, which we did last week, and saying right, let's go for it. And we have some fantastic conversations going on and I'm very optimistic we'll bring in some stunning new partnerships.