Simon Roberts, recently appointed acting chief executive of Williams, gave the first formal interview in his new position, outlining the main challenges facing him and his colleagues at this stage..
Q: First of all, congratulations on your new appointment! You are now acting as Team Leader for Williams – what does that mean to you?
Simon Roberts: I am very pleased with this appointment, because this is a great team with a rich historical heritage, and I am looking forward to working with everyone in this team. We will work together to improve the results, because the team must progress.
Question from the outside it seems that events developed quite rapidly – were you surprised that Claire Williams left her post so quickly?
Simon Roberts: The speed with which the deal was made to sell the team surprised everyone, we had no feeling at all that this was about to happen. But after that I was no longer surprised when Claire left her post, rather I was upset. I would like her to stay, although I understand why she is confident in the correctness of such a decision. Everyone will miss her, but we just wish her and her family the best.
Claire took over all of the Accord negotiations, the sale of the team and other worries, but now we just want to get it right for her and for Frank Williams to preserve the team spirit when we start working with the new owners.
Question: What position did you take on this team? Did you expect that you will lead it in three months?
Simon Roberts: Certainly not expected. I came to the position of managing director, it suited me, and in general I was determined to cooperate with Claire, Mike O’Driscoll and other managers, but in Formula 1 changes are happening very quickly, and it is difficult to predict what lies ahead.
Given the level at which the team is now, we all understand that the work is just beginning.
Question: Now you are acting as the team leader, but can it all end up with the fact that you get rid of the abbreviation “acting”?
Simon Roberts: To be honest, we have not discussed this at all, although I have already met the new owners of the team. Now this is not the main thing, the most important thing is to maintain stability, work with all employees and start moving forward.
Question: In what state did you find the team? With 17 years at McLaren, you have something to compare to – does Williams have what it takes to be successful? What areas do you think are the most in need of improvement?
Simon Roberts: Good question! Williams is a completely independent team, it has everything, so it cannot be said that it lacks something. Excellent specialists work here, and the whole team has a fighting spirit. Everyone wants to return to the level at which we should be, although it is clear that this is a very difficult task.
This is not to say that it is necessary to achieve improvements in any one direction, but we just have to work on various nuances. Of course, in the process of preparing for the transition to the new regulations, we will change something, but for now we are at the stage when it is necessary to hold meetings, to establish a decision-making process, but this period began at the end of May, when I joined Williams.
So the normal day-to-day work is going on, we just have to lay the necessary foundation and then move forward.
Q: The new team owners have already set some specific tasks for you, what aspects should you give priority to?
Simon Roberts: They appeared at the Grove base just a couple of weeks ago, and together with them we try to delve into everything, they show great interest, because for them this is a completely new project. They are distinguished by their knowledge of the world of finance, which I personally do not understand well, they have a business mindset, they know how to see a strategic perspective, assess risks, etc. All these qualities are necessary in Formula 1.
But the work is only at the very initial stage, we are making plans, trying to understand what the sequence of actions should be in the period of preparation for the transition to limited budgets, which will happen in 2021. We just want to do everything right, but everyone understands that this is a long-term project, and the situation cannot be changed quickly. Therefore, the new owners strive to establish effective cooperation with us and understand how to act.
Question: How soon will we meet them, do you think? Are representatives of the new Williams board of directors planning to appear at the races anytime soon?
Simon Roberts: In fact, they plan to arrive in Mugello, but because of the situation with the coronavirus, everything has become much more difficult, they have to overcome various obstacles, which takes time, but let’s hope they are on their way. If everything goes according to plan, they should appear here closer to Friday night, and will arrive on the track tomorrow or Sunday to get to know the team better and see how we work here.