If, prior to the start of the 2020 F1 season, you’d taken 100 people with some knowledge of Williams Racing at random and asked them to name three potential buyers for the team should it be put up up for sale, you’d have heard the same names crop up time and time again.
Michael Latifi would top most people’s list. The mega-wealthy Canadian has invested heavily in both the team, via sponsorship deals for his numerous global brands, and in his son and current Williams #2 Nicholas Latifi‘s racing career to date.
When Williams sought to raise some capital ahead of the 2020 season they secured a loan, rumoured to be in the region of £50m, from Latifi using cars from the team’s Heritage collection as collateral.
Latifi also owns a $200m (or thereabouts) share in the McLaren F1 team, and so he clearly has an interest in team ownership).
Latifi will undoubtedly be wary of another super-rich dad buying Williams build a team around his son, thus whipping the carpet out from under the feet of the Latifis, effectively ousting them from not just the team but potentially Formula 1 with so few drives up for grabs. This brings us to the obvious #2 on most lists: Dmitry Mazepin.
It was reported in April of last year that Mazepin – owner of fertiliser manufacturer Uralchem with a net worth of roughly $2bn – was in talks with Williams Racing about buying a controlling stake in the team.
Mazepin, whose son Nikita has steadily climbed the racing ladder in recent years reaching F2 in 2019, also sought to buy Force India before eventually missing out to Lance Stroll’s father Lawrence.
Should the Belarusian find himself in control of the team, expect Mazepin jnr to be announced as driver shortly afterwards, hastening the departure of one or both of Williams’ current drivers from ‘Team Mazepin’.
Third place on the ‘most likely to buy Williams’ list is less clear cut.
You could make a case for a number of interested parties to front up a load of cash to secure control of one of F1’s most iconic teams, including (but not limited to) Toto Wolff: often rumoured to be at odds with Mercedes-Benz’ top brass, and once part-owner of Williams; Bernie Ecclestone: former F1 supremo who seems to be at least involved in brokering any deal and Chanoch Nissany: successful Hungary based businessman – seemingly with the weight of Israel behind him – whose son Roy was only recently announced as development driver for Williams.
Williams rarely conduct any business in public, and so it’s hardly surprising that, when an article about potential buyers appears, such as the one featured in La Gazetta Dello Sport this week, it’s based purely on speculation, and doesn’t really give us much insight as to how negotiations for the sale of the team are actually progressing.
But as I see it, there’s one possibility that isn’t being mentioned much: ‘Emerging giants’ – Middle East investment groups consisting of super wealthy states and their heads whose drive to hoover up high profile sports teams, organisations and events, many people say as an attempt to ‘sports-wash’ seems unrelenting.
Sportswashing is a recently coined term used to describe to process of deflecting from a nation’s human rights record by associating it with sporting success elsewhere – the 2022 Qatar Football World Cup, Paris St. Germain and Manchester City Football Teams, and Grand Prix in Azerbaijan and Bahrain being examples of this.
Saudi Arabia recently unveiled plans to host a Grand Prix in 2023 and the oil-rich Kingdom might consider the purchase of a controlling stake in Williams – a team with a history of Saudi Investment – as the perfect way of strengthening its relationship with the sport ahead of its maiden F1 event.