Williams' chief executive Adam Parr has expressed his fears that the ongoing FIA/FOTA civil war will drive sponsors away from the sport, and make it difficult for teams to attract backing in the current worldwide economic climate – in either F1 or a manufacturer-spearheaded breakaway series.
The onset of the global credit crunch last year sent sponsors scurrying for the exit door, with ING, Credit Suisse and Williams' chief backer the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) amongst others all announcing their withdrawal in quick succession. That has left the independent outfits in particular – of which the Grove-based concern is one of a dying breed – desperately seeking funding. And Parr believes the fractious dispute between the Formula One Teams' Association and the governing body will only make matters harder still...
“I think that it is going to be very difficult to raise sponsorship revenues in the future,” Parr contended, “but it has always been difficult in the past. I think one of the reasons why we are doing what we are doing, which is trying to reduce costs in Formula 1, is because nobody can sustain the spending that we have had in the past few years. It is simply ridiculous and we have to stop it.
“Therefore, we have supported both as a member of FOTA and now outside, the measures that people want to take to reduce costs. That is essential. I don't think this situation is good in our discussions with sponsors, but I am hoping it will be resolved. I am hoping that nobody really intends to create a breakaway series, as I don't think it is going to be good for anybody if that happens.”
Parr did, however, point out that Williams had little choice but to split with FOTA given its reliance as a privateer upon commercial rights money – explaining that the decision to break ranks was a heavy-hearted one, but also one that was necessary to the future survival of one of the sport's most iconic and respected teams.
“Let's just be clear of one thing,” he urged. “We are the only team in Formula 1 this year that will raise money without asking its shareholders for one penny – the only team in Formula 1. I'm not saying that others don't depend on sponsorship because they do, but every other team in Formula 1 raises a significant proportion of their budget from their shareholder or shareholders. We can't do that.
“When I look at the future, the past few years that we've been through at Williams are just not sustainable; it cannot continue like that for us. Anyway, we are where we are. We've made some tough choices [and] we've lost friends as a result of that perhaps, but I don't think we could have done anything differently. We take no pleasure in it, but they're the facts. Williams is a Formula 1 team – that's all there is to say.
“We recognise what the manufacturers have brought to Formula 1 – tremendous status, fantastic, reliable engines and in many cases they've been very good friends to this team over decades – so it's awfully difficult to find ourselves on the other side of the fence and it's very difficult and very, very sad for us that we've drifted away from people that we like and respect and like racing against, [but] we have contracts in place with Bernie [Ecclestone] and Max [Mosley] and we enter the championship in light of those contracts.
“I'm impressed that Ross [Brawn], as an independent team next year, let's say, that actually has to raise money in the way that we do, feels that he has the ability to do that in another championship. We simply could not. There's no way that we could walk away from our contracts and raise the sort of money that we would need to compete with the manufacturers, the Red Bulls and so forth. We have a mutual dependence with the FIA and with FOM (Formula One Management) that is enshrined in contracts that we will honour.