It’s no secret that when Ralf Schumacher left Williams for Toyota in 2004, he did so under somewhat of a cloud.
Schumacher jnr had been asked to take a pay cut of £5m by Sir Frank Williams and Sir Patrick Head after being routinely outclassed by team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya over the course of 2003 and 2004 having, up to then, looked like he was developing into a world-beater.
“He’s not always aggressive enough,” Sir Frank Williams said of Ralf. “I’d imagine Ralf’s so pissed off having a brother who’s that successful, he’d practically kill to beat him.”
But nobody has ever accused Ralf Schumacher of lacking in confidence, and unwavering in the belief he was a top-class driver – not one who’d fast-tracked his way to Formula 1 on the back of his surname, and certainly not a #2 – he refused Williams’ offer, and left for Toyota, who were ready to spend big on drivers with winning pedigree to progress their big-budget Formula 1 project after a couple of years in F1’s midfield.
The project fell flat, and when Ralf finally said goodbye to Formula 1 at the end of 2007, the truth is that there seemed to be very few people who were too sad to see him go.
But his fall from grace at Williams clearly isn’t something he’s forgotten, and he’s taken the team’s current predicament as an opportunity to remind us what he thinks is wrong at his former employer.
“It looks like neither Frank Williams nor his daughter were able to lead the team in a modern style” Schumacher told Speedweek.
“The path should have been cleared there years ago for young management personnel. I experienced this myself – times have simply changed.”
“The Frank Williams system was always about exerting a lot of pressure from above.”
“[It’s] a style of leadership from the 70s and 80s, a bit of a reign of fear and terror. It’s a shame because I think people need to be motivated.”
He goes on to say that – in his opinion – the team can survive and thrive “but only if Frank and Claire withdraw completely and a good investor comes on board”.
Schumacher left Williams 16 years ago, and the Williams Team of 2004 is a completely different beast to the outfit it was announced is up for sale late last week.
So quite why the German thinks he has the solution to Williams’ current predicament (not – according to Schumacher – as a result of F1’s crazy financial & regulatory makeup, of COVID nixing the first half of a crucial season, or the team’s title sponsor breaking its contract leaving Williams £10m in the hole*, but because of Sir Frank Williams’ continued involvement), and that the answer is for Sir Frank to step down, I’m not really very sure.