30 August 2014
F1: Exclusive Rob Smedley Q&A Part 1
In the first part of an exclusive interview with Crash.net, Rob Smedley assesses Williams' season so far and reveals just what attracted him to the team
The August break is probably the first chance you've had to take stock of how this year has gone; has it gone better or worse than expected?
I think that it's gone better than expected, hasn't it? If you look at Williams last year and you said that at a point at this stage of the season they're going to have as many points as we've got this season, podiums, a pole position, fourth in the championship and battling for third with Ferrari… I don't think anybody could have said that that was as we expected.
I think that people knew that there had to be an upturn and there was going to be some kind of upturn or even stabilising the position that the team was in at that point in time, but this much of an upturn I don't think anybody could have predicted that.
Does that make your job harder then? You're looking to improve all the time and push people on but others will turn around and say 'Look how much better we're doing than last year…'
No, it doesn't make it harder; the targets of the team are very clear. The targets of the team are eventually that it wants to win world championships again. It's something that I got involved in it for that reason, so it doesn't change that target it just possibly gives you a little bit more breathing space for that target. So I don't think it makes it harder, but I'm not sure it makes it easier, I don't think it really changes anything. It just means that we've got phase one – if you like – right, but there's still phase two, phase three and all the rest of it…
What was it that attracted you to the team in the first place? Was it that the team wanted to win world championships again, was it a great F1 name that was in trouble; what was the main attraction?
I think that I saw it personally as a challenge, both for me personally and to be involved in something that – if it works out as we've talked about – is going to be great. Formula One is full of optimists and anyone you talk to is going to say 'We're going to turn this group around, we're going to do this and we're going do that', and to be able to do that you do need a certain amount of resource and a number of people and a pool of talent.
I think that's what attracted me to Williams in the first place at the beginning of last year. It was to look at the pool of talent that was there and look at the resource that was there and say 'Yes, with the right management this could actually happen'. Then Pat [Symonds] got involved and it was Pat that convinced me really. To go and work with someone of the calibre of Pat was really, really attractive for me. I was at the stage of my career where I needed someone to learn off, not only as an engineer but how to manage, and probably with someone with 15 years of experience in Formula One that's quite hard to find. Where do you go? Who do you find as somebody you can learn off? There is very few people in the paddock and he was one of them.
I very much liked his style. I admired him from afar when they won championships with Renault which really wasn't the best car and beat the team that I was working for at the time [Ferrari] that did have the best car. He's very measured, a good engineer and then after speaking with him he just convinced me outright. I thought 'Yeah, let's go for it, it's going to be good'. And thankfully up to now it has been!
As you say, your role from Ferrari has changed, taking on more responsibility and someone more senior. Does it give you an added satisfaction then to be fighting against that team having moved on to show what you can do having perhaps not been elevated to that level previously?
I don't know whether it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to be honest, just because it's Ferrari that we're currently fighting closely with in the championship. I think it gives me an element of satisfaction every step that we make; whether that's Ferrari, whether it's Sauber or Red Bull or Toro Rosso, it really makes no difference to me. Absolutely none whatsoever.
I'm just happy that the team is progressing. That's my main aim and focus and I think that's the greatest thing about Williams. I was actually discussing this with Pat before the break and I said 'One of the great things we have at this team – and it's so difficult to find this – is that there's no egos'. There's nobody with their own personal agenda. Maybe it's because it's a family-run business but the absolute focus for everybody is the business, the team, Williams Grand Prix Engineering, Williams Formula One. That's the focus for everybody.
I think that synergy that we have between the people and the common purpose and the common goal to be involved in something from the start I think really, really helps. As long as we're moving forwards, ultimately that's what we need to do and I'm happy.
Part two of the interview will be published on Sunday
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