Business

Williams boss warns on F1 financing

Felipe Massa of Brazil and Williams drives during day one of the final Formula One Winter Testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 26, 2015 in Montmelo, Spain Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Williams will be hoping for another top three finish in the constructors' championship

Formula 1 teams need to think more broadly when it comes to financing, the head of the Williams racing team has warned.

Teams that rely just on their F1 income are more exposed to the "vagaries of motor racing", said Williams Group chief executive Mike O'Driscoll.

The group developed its Williams Advanced Engineering arm in order to commercialise its F1 know-how, he said.

"It provides greater stability for us and our bankers."

At the end of 2014, the Marussia and Caterham teams both ceased trading, though Marussia has since come out of administration and was last week cleared to compete, just in time for the opening race of the F1 season in Australia this weekend.

Creating revenue

Williams finished third in the constructors' championship last year, beating bigger rivals Ferrari and McLaren.

The last time the team was close to a top three spot was in 2007, when they came fourth. After the financial crisis of 2008, Williams was facing an uncertain future, with a lack of investment, rising costs and spiralling debts.

"We decided that what we needed to do was build a stronger, more robust organisation," Mr O'Driscoll told the BBC.

In order to commercialise its racing technology, Williams created two spin-off companies in 2008: Williams Hybrid Power and Williams Advanced Engineering, both based at its F1 factory in Oxfordshire.

Its hybrid power business worked on introducing F1 hybrid technology into buses and trams, and was sold last year to GKN.

Williams Advanced Engineering is helping to develop driverless cars in the UK by using the car simulator technology from F1 testing. The business is growing rapidly - it employs 100 people and opened a new research and development facility last July.

The idea behind these businesses was to create extra revenue that can stabilise the team financially to complement the traditional revenue sources of sponsorship and prize money.

"Formula 1 teams need to think very broadly about how to finance the business, and relying purely on sponsorship and Formula 1 income certainly exposes you to the vagaries of motor racing to a much greater extent than a company that has another source of income," Mr O'Driscoll said.

Other teams have also diversified. For example, McLaren now has a large and growing road car operation.

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