Simon Roberts - Man in the hot seat


By Andrew Hooper
October 7 2020

 
 Simon Roberts - Man in the hot seat
 
Simon Roberts
 

As the Williams Racing Team adapts to their new owners Dorilton Capital Acting Team Principal Simon Roberts has spoken of his views of what the future will bring to the still struggling team. Roberts had been employed by the team prior to the sale to the new owners but with the rapid departure of the then Deputy Team Principal Claire Williams he was moved into the Acting Team Principal role in order to move the team forward.

Before his appointment in June 2020, Roberts had spent nearly 17 years at McLaren as Operations Director and Chief Operating Officer combined with a time with the then Force India Team

Based on his comments for Roberts his main focus, as the team moves through the last races of the 2020 Formula One season, has been to ensure that the plans and processes are put in place to move the team forward in a positive way that will see the team move up the ladder as well as ensuring that any future investment is directed into those areas of the business that will produce the greatest results.

With Roberts originally brought into fill the role of Managing Director the new owners have given him the opportunity to take the team forward in this acting Team Principal role. When asked about whether there was any chance of him taking on this role permanently Roberts would say: “We haven’t even discussed it. The only discussion was, would I come and do it? I’m very happy and delighted and very proud to be asked.”

He added: “I’m really, really pleased to be asked to step-up, I really enjoy it and hopefully I can continue to do it for longer – but we haven’t even discussed it. It’s not the top of my list, and it’s not the top of theirs.

“We’re just too busy and literally haven’t had a chance to sit down and think about that yet – and why should I?

“Our focus is on the here and now, our focus is on moving forward positively and making the right decisions. What we don’t want to do is rush into something and make any mistakes.

“We’re about to go into the cost cap so we’re in a great financial position, they paid all the debt off within a week of owning us and we are looking to invest, but we want to invest in the right things, we don’t just want to invest in anything because we can it’s performance driven, it’s all targeted and it is all part of a long-term strategy.”

“There is no timeline,” Roberts told Sky Sports F1. “It’s all happened quickly and Dorilton didn’t expect Claire to step down. We all really appreciate what she has done and we all understand why she might want to do that.

“The most important thing is continuity. I can provide that for them and the team. Although I’ve not been at the team long I was there as the MD anyway.

“So I am really honoured to be asked to take on this role. It’s important we just do the right thing, make sure the team are well supported and the Dorilton team understand what we are doing and why.”

But even though the new owners are evaluating the future directions for the Williams team they have made it also clear that they are also committed to the remaining races of 2020 as well into the 2021 season. Obviously they are aiming to use the changes that are are coming with the 2022 season in particular the technical changes as a time to see the team make more significant steps forward.

Roberts added: “What we don’t want to do is give up on 2021. I think it’s really important to keep the team alive and active and competing – so we’re trying to create a short-term plan and, if we could, repeat the step that the team made this year, going from 2019 into 2020.

“If we can do something like that, then it puts us in a good position for next year. What we don’t want to do obviously is sacrifice efforts towards 2022 because there’s new rules, the new financial regulations will start to bite, so we don't want to lose that opportunity.

“So, I don’t want to go into any specifics but we’re basically looking at all of it and prioritising across a long time frame.”

Also one factor to be considered for the new owners was the introduction of the budget cap and how the new investment coming from the new owners will allow the team to operate at or near to the budget of teams like Ferrari and Mercedes in 2021. The budget cap will see a limit of $145m coming in force commencing in 2021 with the focus been on limiting how much teams can spend on car performance.

As for the team budget Roberts spoke of how the team will work towards the cap limits but at the same time be careful as to where any new funding will be invested into the company.

Roberts said: “Our budget is based on getting towards the cost cap. This year it’s too late. We’ve only got four months to go and we’re pretty much set on where we are headed. But for next year, we are looking at what we can do and we now have the finances behind us to do that. But it’s not a given. We will only spend money and invest where it makes sense.”

“Dorilton also know that because of where we come from, some of the bigger teams that have been spending a lot of money and have great facilities and lots of people and all that kind of stuff, are not going to forget all of that. So they have got an advantage, it will take a few years for that to bleed away,” Roberts added.

“There’s various crossover points for the bigger teams, learning how to operate at lower levels. We think in the long term, it will all level up."

As fore the 2022 season Roberts said that he was confident of a “leveller playing field” for 2022.

Roberts added: “It’s a huge step from where we are. We can’t work on the cars at all for 2022 yet. We’re locked out of the tunnel and CFD and basically the intent is good, but how the intent plays out, only time will tell. We can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be as expected, subject to any loopholes or quirks.

“I think there has been a lot of work done and the guys that have created the regulations have been exploring that possibility of loopholes, so our expectation is that it should be a leveller playing field than we are used to today.”

As for what the new owners aspirations are for Williams Racing Roberts made it clear that they are targeting a return to being World Championships in the future. The past few years have been a real struggle for the Williams Team which has been far from the team’s past history where they achieved seven Drivers’ Championships and nine Constructors’ championships.

Roberts added: “This isn’t a ‘We just want to own a team, we’re going to have some fun’, this is to get us to be able to win races, and eventually compete for championships.”

One area of discussion for the new owners has been whether they want to see Williams become a ‘B team’, a philosophy that the Williams family fought against.

“It’s not something we’ve discussed with Dorilton yet,” Roberts said.

“They’re aware of the pros and cons of partnerships between teams. We are very close to Mercedes, obviously as supplier; whether that gets extended, that’s the kind of the strategic conversations that we will have with the Dorilton guys. There’s no final decision on that.

“But from a vision and ambition Dorilton don’t want us to become a ‘B Team’”.

Also in his interview with Sky F1 Roberts was asked about whether there were any fundamental changes in regard to philosophy now that they are no longer an independent family owned team.

Roberts replied: “That’s a really good question. Philosophically, what Dorilton are about is performance and there’s quite a lot of synergy between the financial world and Formula 1. Much more than I imagined before I met them.

“But at the moment, everything is kind of in-play really. There is no master plan and it will all be what is the right thing to do for them and for us.

“They are 100% focused on performance. They know this isn’t a quick turnaround and are well studied about what has gone on in the past 10 years or so.

“They just want to do the right things at the right pace for us so we are there for the long term and are successful in the long term.”

 

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