Claire Williams: They maybe give me a rougher time because I am a woman
Claire Williams has taken aim at the “disgraceful 19th century” accusations from within Formula One’s male-dominated world that becoming a mother has contributed to her team’s decline.
In a powerful and candid interview ahead of the new season, the de facto boss of Britain’s second most successful F1 team, hinted at an undercurrent of sexism in the sport, and claimed that online abuse she was subjected to following Williams’ worst ever season could have destroyed her.
Williams, 43, assumed the day-to-day running of her father Sir Frank Williams’ team in 2013, overseeing an impressive third-placed constructors’ finish the following season.
She gave birth to her first child, Nate, in October 2017. Last year, Williams finished rooted to the foot of the table having scored just one point.
“As soon as you are not successful, some people put that down to the fact I am a woman,” Williams told the PA news agency. “They maybe give me a rougher time because I am a woman.
“I have actually had someone say to me that a lot of people in the Formula One paddock think that the team started doing badly when I fell pregnant and had a baby. How dare they.
“There are nine other team principals in F1 and I am sure the majority of them have children. Would you ever level that criticism at them? Am I not allowed a child because I am a woman running a Formula One team? It is a disgraceful attitude and a very 19th century attitude.
“I work seven days a week, pretty much all-year round, and if I didn’t bring Nate to a handful of races then I would rarely see him. But I am criticised for that as well. You cannot win.
“Woe betide me if I walk down the paddock holding my child. I actually have to hide the fact that I am a mother who is trying to run a Formula One team. The fact that Williams are not doing well at the moment is not because I have a child.”
Williams’ comments come in the same month six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton used his Laureus Sportsman of the Year speech to highlight the lack of diversity in F1.
Williams, the sport’s sole female team boss, hopes that her recent experiences will send a strong message, not just to those in the paddock, but beyond Formula One’s privileged gates, too.
She continued: “I want to use the fact that I am a woman in this male-dominated world.
“I would love to walk down the paddock this year having taken the team to a better place, not just to show all those people that they were wrong, but also to show that a woman can take a huge amount of criticism, still hold her head up high and keep fighting; to prove that I can be a woman, I can be a wife, I can be a mother and still run a Formula One team in a successful way.
“In turn, hopefully it will send a very powerful message to those who are having a rough time or struggling. There are so many fundamental changes that need to take place within society as to how we address women in the work place because it is so far behind the times.”
Williams have won 16 combined drivers’ and team championships, but the British team head into the new season, which starts in a fortnight’s time, without a victory in eight years.
Following a series of operational changes made by Williams over the last 12 months, the early signs from testing point towards an improved campaign.
“Being the leader and figurehead, I obviously came in for the abuse of the team’s poor performance last year and rightly so,” said Williams.
“Occasionally, I stupidly made the mistake of reading online comments and people are vicious. It is like seriously? If I ever allowed it to pervade my psyche it could potentially do a huge amount of harm and destroy me.
“But I am not on social media, I don’t engage, and I don’t read the coverage as to whether people are saying Claire Williams should go. Whatever. I don’t care.
“People are entitled to their opinion, but I very much feel unless you walk a day in someone else’s shoes you don’t have a right to criticise. I live by that philosophy.
“I am a Williams and Williams are fighters. It is about what you do as a human being when you are on your knees that counts. It is having people kick you while you are down, rising up through that, and going ‘bugger you’.
“I learned that if can take those knocks, those punches, and I can still get up every day and face my team, walk around Waitrose where people come up to me and say ‘are you Claire Williams?’ And I have to say ‘yes, I am really sorry’, then I know I can look myself in the mirror at night. I know the job that I do and the value I bring to this team.”