EDITORIAL: The Last of the Buffalo

Photo: LAT Photographic/Williams F1

By Jadran Mandekic

We are approaching the celebration of Formula 1’s 1000th race at the Chinese Grand Prix. An important milestone to be sure, but last week in Bahrain another smaller milestone was left unmentioned and unnoticed.

Quietly, at the back of the grid, Williams Grand Prix Engineering started its 700th race since entering the Formula 1 championship as a full-fledged constructor in 1978. It is not the 500th or the 1000th race, but for an independent outfit, going from 600 to 700 races is a big deal in today’s Formula 1 environment. Williams, plagued by a myriad of problems and in one of the toughest situations in its history, finished its 700th race at the back of the grid, almost completely away from the camera lenses, almost forgotten. But Williams finished the race.

The Corporate Championship

Picture this. A starting grid. The first two rows are occupied by car manufacturers, the third row by a beverage company, then there’s a machine tool production company, followed by a few more car manufacturers, an investment consortium and, far away at the back of the grid, a racing team. Now you might say they are all racing teams, and you would be right, but I’m talking about a team, a company, whose primary business is racing. You don’t have to have a wild imagination to be able to conjure up this image, as it’s an image projected into our living rooms every (or every other) weekend. Nothing wrong with this if what you want is a competition between subsidiaries of large companies who see racing as a means to further promote their brand and ultimately sell their primary product. There’s also an added benefit of battling it out with their competition on the racetrack for bragging rights. The time of passionate racers who leverage large companies to be able to go racing is long gone now and what is left is a competition between corporations with the ultimate goal of selling more of their products. The Corporate Championship. This begs the question: is this what Formula 1 should be?

In the end it’s not a question aimed at the audience, it’s a question aimed at the people in charge, the owners – Liberty Media.

The Need for Speed

In this environment 700 race starts by a team whose primary mission is to go racing, whose primary source of income is their racing operation, is a small miracle. Scratch that, it is a miracle. Williams is the last of its kind, the last of the true racers, the last of the ones that do it simply because of their ‘need for speed’. And like all endangered species, it is hanging by a thread. It is dependent on others to preserve it, to protect it and, if they choose to do so, try to spur its resurgence. The “others”, in this case, is Liberty Media. It is their vision, their choice and ultimately their decision. The new rules of 2021 will either protect independent outfits like Williams or make it impossible for them to compete against the corporations. For the love of racing, for the sake of the sport and for the ‘need for speed’, let’s hope they make the right decision.

In the meantime, all we can do is show our appreciation for those who are still fighting to preserve the tradition of “true” down and dirty (or should I say greasy) racing. So congratulations on your 700 race starts and thank you for being here Williams Grand Prix Engineering  – the Last of the Buffalo.

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