Claire Williams challenged the male-dominated motor racing establishment when she managed the Williams Formula One racing team, shaking up the way the team was run.
Now a brand ambassador for WAE Technologies, the team’s R&D offshoot, Williams continues to campaign for more women in motorsport and believes that Formula E is creating the perfect environment for women to thrive.
Williams was a star guest for Envision Racing’s Race Against Climate Change event in Berlin ahead of the Formula E double-header at the weekend. She told our host Lissie Mackintosh about her ambition for women in motor racing, including her work with Girls on Track, and why she believes they have a bigger role to play in tackling the climate crisis.
“I have just started my role with Girls on Track, through my association with WAE, and I’m really excited about the journey ahead,” said Williams.
One of the most important aspects of the Girls on Track mission is that it is goes well beyond the search for women who can race cars, she said.
“Girls on Track looks at the whole aspect of motor sport. This is about clearing the way and affording the opportunities for girls to succeed across all kinds of disciplines in motorsport, whether that be engineering, aerodynamics, design, manufacturing, mechanics, the whole spectrum. There are so many wonderful opportunities out there.”
Williams recalled how controversial it was when she stepped up to manage the Williams team in 2013.
“I was lucky enough to have grown up in Formula One. It was my dad’s life and it became our whole family’s life. I was very used to living in that male dominated environment, so becoming a team principal didn’t seem that strange to me.
“It was only when I started doing interviews with the media that I realised that me being a woman, and a young woman at that, was an issue. I used to say to journalists, do you ask Christian [Horner] or Toto [Wolff] what it felt like to be a man running a Formula One team?”
Williams says that she has used those challenges to create an easier pathway for women coming into the sport.
“I always believed that if I could do it, any girl could. I rolled my sleeves up and I worked hard. I think that’s the greatest advice that I can give anyone looking for a job in motorsport. Hard work pays off, and if you roll your sleeves up and you are prepared to put in the work, then you’re going to be successful.”
Formula E and the quest for a sustainable future in motor sport is providing new opportunities for women to forge careers in technology, Williams says. “The climate crisis has to be addressed by everybody. If motor sport is going to survive it needs to engage the next generation. Formula E is a platform that inspires because of its sustainability credentials.
“When I was at Williams, one of our biggest challenges was attracting engineers into our team. It was a wider problem across the industry as a whole and obviously, those jobs have been traditionally held by men. But we were only targeting men, in schools and in universities and that’s why the majority of our applicants were from men.
“The very fact that there is now a whole championship now raced by cars that run on battery technology is really quite extraordinary. Two decades ago, if you had told my dad that this would be possible, he would have fallen out of his wheelchair.”