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Like Father, Like...Daughter At Remotivated Williams

Williams Martini Racing is on the up-and-up – and one of F1’s most-loved teams now has a strong feminine and family component in its make-up. Tim Collings reports.

One year on and Claire Williams sits in the Albert Park paddock with a smile on her face -- and a sharp one-liner on her tongue.

After a tumultuous twelve months for her and the eponymous team, founded by her father Sir Frank Williams, she has every right to do so.

In March, 2013, when many observers feared the family-owned British team faced a desperate future, she was promoted to become deputy team principal.

In the same month, her mother Lady Virginia Williams died after a long battle with cancer. That, said some, was when the once-great team faced rock bottom.

On Thursday afternoon, Claire proved that the 2014 version of the outfit often described by her father as 'Team Willy' had restored its pride and regained its ambition.

A promising performance in pre-season testing was just one reason for that.

The others -- including a deal with new title sponsors Martini, switching engine suppliers from Renault to Mercedes and a raft of staff changes -- signalled the impact made on his business by Williams senior's only daughter.

Settled in her seat, facing a group of reporters, she laughed, pleased at the number in attendance.

Next, and swiftly, she was confirming that the team's long-serving and popular race team manager Dickie Stanford had given up his role.

"Dickie has unfortunately decided to step down," she explained with a business-like precision reminiscent of her father. "He got us through testing, he did a great job, but wants a different role within the team. So we are now talking to him behind the scenes... He will stay with the company."

A new race team manager, the former McLaren technical co-ordinator Peter Vale, had been appointed to succeed him, she said.

To most observers, it was further evidence of the team leaving its past behind as it forged a new identity and built a new bid for success.

Claire, born in 1976, was still only 10 when her father's cars, driven by Brazilian Nelson Piquet and Briton Nigel Mansell, scrapped for victory at Silverstone in the classic 1987 British Grand Prix.

And she was, of course, only 17, when Ayrton Senna died in a Williams after crashing in the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix at Imola.

It was a day she and the team will never forget and explains why, 20 years later, they will carry the iconic Senna double S logo on the left of the nose cones of their FW36 cars with a picture of the great Brazilian alongside the words 'Ayrton Senna Always'.

"And we have other plans that we will unveil as the season goes by," she explained, adding that it was sheer coincidence that another native of Sao Paulo, Felipe Massa, had joined the team from Ferrari for the 2014 season.

"Felipe has done a great job for us already," she said. "He's a very family orientated person, too..."

Family was a word already used to explain why Williams were capable of signing a major sponsorship deal with Martini, once one of the great names in motor racing.

"We were lucky with that," she said. "It's about the people. We sat around a table and we shared a lot of things. We are both family businesses. We are very proud to bring such an iconic brand back into the sport."

Smiling again, she admits that she works both closely and well with her meticulous father. "I'm his only daughter, but I don't always get my own way," she said. "We do only what we think is best for the team. We are in close contact. We have offices next to each other. He wheels up and down the corridor talking to people.

"I tell him what I am doing and he tells me what he is doing. We talk probably 25 times a day. It works very well."

Some of the same close observers who last year muttered that Williams were in dire straits are now talking of their title potential.

But not the boss's daughter.

"It's very exciting, but there are there three days to go before we will know where we are," she said, making sure she heaped some praise on chief technical officer Pat Symonds, a man recruited in mid-2013 with a brief to restore lustre to his and the team's reputations.

Symonds had tarnished his name through personal involvement in the 'Crash-gate' scandal in Singapore in 2008.

Restoration and revival have been the touchstones of Williams' recovery in the last year.

Not only Symonds and the team, but Massa, Martini and Mercedes are out to shine again in a new racing team package that has obvious potential.

Williams herself calls it 'changing mentality' when she talks about running at the front of the grid again.

"We need to excel, if we can, in the first four races and show what we can do," she said.

Reminded that this might mean competing with, and beating, engine suppliers Mercedes, she nodded. "You bet," she said. "We want to whip their butt!"

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