When Dorilton Capital bought the Williams Formula 1 team in summer last year, it was met with a great deal of sadness that Sir Frank Williams – the team’s founder, owner and manager for all of its 40+ years in Formula 1 – and his family would no longer be involved in the sport he loves and helped shape.
But of comfort to a lot of Williams fans was that Dorilton Capital made it known that they respected the team’s history, heritage and its place in Formula 1.
Rather than using Williams’ F1 entry as a gateway to Grand Prix racing for what would be to all intents and purposes a new team, they wanted to keep the soul of the team, nurture it, and invest in it (financially and otherwise) to make THE Williams great again.
And a year later, that’s just what they’ve done, and we’re seeing just some of the fruits of their labour, with a reinvigorated Williams scoring points in four out of the last six Grands Prix, and well clear of the bottom of both championship tables (small mercies!).
However, while we’re all celebrating the dawn of a new era for Williams Racing, there’s one thing that none of us Williams fans should forget:
Dorilton Capital are an investment firm.
Their raison d’être is to buy something, grow its value, and then sell it on. That’s what they do, and none of us should be surprised when Dorliton Capital sell Williams Racing. Because sooner or later, that’s going to happen.
And when it happens, it will be to be to the highest bidder, and sentiment is very unlikely to play any part in it.
It is rumoured that several major car brands (including VW/Audi/Porsche) sought assurances from F1 about the direction of the next generation of Formula 1 power units regarding design, fuels and cost that would otherwise prevent them from entering.
With talk that the MGU-H (the bit of the modern F1 power unit that recovers energy, and one of the most complex and costly parts) will be dropped in 2026 it would appear that they have those assurances.
So will that mean that Porsche and or Audi will be seeking F1 involvement in the next few years? Perhaps. And if they do (and assuming they’re looking at a manufacturer team rather than an engine supplier deal) are they likely to start a team from scratch and apply for an F1 entry that up until recently would cost them $200m?
Or are they more likely to buy an existing team and use that as a base for their new F1 outfit, a-la Benetton/Renault, Tyrrell/Honda, Brawn/Mercedes or Stewart/Jaguar?
And if I’m Mr Volkswagen, and I’m looking to buy an F1 team, which ones are likely to be for sale? Not Mercedes or Ferrari, or either of the Red Bull teams. Nope, I probably have just three options (as it stands) – Alfa Romeo, Haas and Williams.
One of those has a team principal with strong ties to VW’s motorsport’s program (Jost Capito) and it just so happens that it’s the team owned by venture capitalists who are always in the market for a sale providing the price is right.
And Williams Racing has a brand value to Dorilton Capital – completely unconnected to Formula 1 – that it doesn’t have to VW.
So I’m Mr Volkswagen owner of the Williams Formula 1 team, and I’m coming to Formula 1 in a blaze of glory with my new engine and my massive, prestigious brand. But I have a quandary – do I lean on the heritage of the team I now own that had nothing to do with me, or do I transplant my own prestigious, historic, motorsport-rich brand on the team, lock-stock-and barrel?
Of course, I’m consigning Williams to the history books, and my new team is Porsche. Full stop. It’s not Williams-Porsche, it’s just Porsche.
So when that happens, let’s not be caught unawares.
Let’s enjoy Williams’ resurgence while it lasts, and let’s none of us forget that it could – and most likely will – end in the not too distant future.