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Williams Sale Could Lead To Saudi Squad

So, the last of the Enzo Ferrari’s hated ‘garagistes’ is up for sale.

Mounting financial losses and the impact of COVID-19 have forced Sir Frank Williams to put his eponymous team on the block.

It’s looking like a sad exit for Williams, who was one of those taunted by Ferrari because they only built a chassis and did not, like his team and the other F1 ‘grandees’, build everything including the engine and gearbox.

Garagistes was a term he coined to belittle independent British squads like Williams, Lotus, Brabham, Cooper and Tyrrell, who were up against the European heavyweights of Ferrari, Maserati, Renault and Mercedes-Benz.

Williams is the last surviving Garagiste and the final family-run team to bear its own name.

It has a huge history that includes the desperate days when Williams was so cash-strapped that he ran his team from a public telephone box.

The announcement that Williams Grand Prix Holdings is on the market comes despite the most recent measures by the FIA to keep the smaller F1 teams alive with just-announced cost-caps.

That boost could be too little and far too late for the nine-time World Constructors’ and seven-time World Drivers’ Championship team, which has finished convincingly at the bottom of the table for the past two seasons.

Even so, Claire Williams, Sir Frank’s daughter and deputy team principal, is still adamant that the team will be on the grid with George Russell and Nicholas Latifi in its cars when grand prix racing resumes in Austria.

There remains some hope that the team will morph and survive beyond 2020, even if it carries a new name, with potential interest from investors in the Middle East, where Williams first tapped big-money sponsorship in the days when Alan Jones won his world championship.

Jones was the first of seven drivers to claim the world title, although the last was Jacques Villeneuve back in 1997.

“F1 has put a marker in the sand to start on the fifth of July and we will unveil our new livery before we hit the track,” Claire Williams told a small media briefing at the team’s Grove headquarters in England.

The new livery refers to the loss of naming rights sponsor ROKiT, though Williams will not be drawn into any of the details regarding the sponsor split.

“What I can say is that we met all of our contractual obligations to ROKiT but obviously the livery is something we’ve got to look at before we go racing again.”

Moments earlier, the team had issued this statement:

“As part of a new strategic direction, the WGPH [Williams Grand Prix Holdings] board is undertaking a review of all the various strategic options available to the Company. Options being considered include, but are not limited to, raising new capital for the business, a divestment of a minority stake in WGPH, or a divestment of a majority stake in WGPH including a potential sale of the whole Company.

“Whilst no decisions have been made regarding the optimal outcome yet, to facilitate discussions with interested parties, the Company announces the commencement of a ‘formal sale process’.

“The Company is not in receipt of any approaches at the time of this announcement and confirms that it is in preliminary discussions with a small number of parties regarding a potential investment in the Company.

“While the Company has faced a number of challenges, Williams currently remains funded and ready to resume racing when the calendar allows in 2020.”

Williams also released its financial results for last year, reporting a loss of $24 million, down from a profit of $30 million the previous year.

Group revenue declined to $298.2 million from $328.4 million in 2018 as the race team’s revenues dropped to $177.5 million from $243.2 million in 2018 and suffered $18.8 million in losses compared to a profit of $29.7 million in 2018.

While Claire Williams says she is confident a partner can be found to replace ROKiT this season, potential winners from a sale includes a group of investors headed by Nicholas Latifi’s father, Michael.

The Canadian billionaire, who previously invested in a 10 per cent stake of McLaren, loaned Williams $93 million on April 10.

Leaked documents show Latifii’s loan is secured against more than 100 historic Williams F1 cars, which are valued at $37.2 million, in addition to the land and buildings at Grove with an estimated value of a further $57.1 million.

Latifi Snr could scoop the pool with his investment consortium if a suitable buyer is not found.

But other potential bidders for the team could come from either Saudi Arabia or Qatar. The leaked documents in the Latifi bid include a Williams FW30 Monocoque chassis that’s currently being held by Qatar Customs.

Sir Frank Williams opened the Williams Technology Center in Doha in Qatar in 2009 to develop a magnetic composite flywheel which stores and releases electrical energy for hybrid vehicles and for mass public transport. It has been raced by Porsche and is being used on London buses.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has a long history with Williams after funding the team’s earlier days through national airline, Saudia, and nine other local businesses in 1978.

It led to the team being officially entered as Saudia-Williams before the team’s named changed to the Saudia-Williams Racing Team, run by Williams Grand Prix Engineering’, as the Fly Saudia carried Jones to his 1980 World Drivers’ Championship.

Williams Grand Prix remains a respected name in the Kingdom with Sir Frank and Prince Mohammed Bin-Fahd, the second son of King Fahd, the fifth King of Saudi Arabia, developing a close and amicable relationship at the time.

Today, Saudi is returning to Formula One with plans to host a race in 2023 in Qiddiyah, a new entertainment and sports complex outside the capital of Riyadh, on a track designed by ex-F1 driver and Grand Prix Drivers Association President, Alexander Wurz.

In preparation for this, the Kingdom signed a long-term global partnership last March with Formula One through its state-owned energy company, Saudi Aramco.

Aramco has become Formula One’s sixth global partner alongside DHL, Emirates, Heineken, Pirelli and Rolex from this year as the country is divesting its interest in a weakened oil market, buying into major sports including a $558 million deal to purchase Newcastle United football club in Britain, also in March.

It is investing $62 million a year for the next decade for the global partnership, which includes the naming rights to future US, Spanish and Hungarian Grands Prix as well as financing a greenfield F1 track.

So the incentive to pick up a fire-sale F1 team from an old friend could be a good deal for the Middle East and a logical step that Sir Frank would welcome to secure his family team’s future.

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