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Williams F1 to diversify because of global recession - Sathish - 04-15-2009

Team shifts to bear market strategy and may branch into other businesses

SEPANG: The effects of the global recession are catching up with the Williams Formula One (F1) team, with the outfit now branching into other businesses in an effort to supplement income.

Williams F1 chief executive officer Adam Parr said it was “carefully” exploring other opportunities that won’t affect its F1-related activities in any way.

“As part of our strategy in a bear market, we are trying to diversify our business a little bit,” he told StarBiz during the second leg of the 2009 F1 Grand Prix earlier this month.

He said Williams F1 was currently designing the cars that would be used for the 2009 Formula Two (F2) season, scheduled to start in May.

"This is the first time this century that we will be utilising our skills and designing a car outside F1,” Parr said.

Williams F1’s experience in designing racing cars beyond F1 can be traced back to the mid-nineties.

It developed cars for Renault when Renault competed in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) between 1995 and 1999.

The touring car venture was a success, culminating in a constructor’s title in 1995 and 1997 and a driver’s title in 1997.

Williams F1 also built Le Mans Prototypes for BMW, known as the V12 LM and V12 LMR.

The V12 LMR won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999.

Last year, Williams F1 acquired a minority stake in Automotive Hybrid Power Ltd (which was subsequently renamed Williams Hybrid Power Ltd), a company that develops high-energy composite flywheels for use in energy recovery systems.

The company’s primary function is to focus on developing kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) technology for the team.

F1 rules dictate that the teams are allowed to use KERS technology this season.

Parr said plans were ontrack to develop the technology for other vehicles.

“We are also looking at commercial applications for that technology,” he said.

To create more awareness of the Williams F1 brand, the team has also formed a partnership with Cambridge University Press to generate interest in math, science and technology among primary school children, using F1 as a platform.

Through a website called racetolearn.org, children will learn how to form an F1 team and other related issues from designing a car to investigating air resistance and pitching for sponsorships.

“It’s a great initiative to help kids in schools using the imagery of the team and the excitement of F1,” Parr said, adding that the initiative would start in June.

On another note, he said the team’s 2009 budget was relatively the same as last year’s.

Various websites, citing industry trade publication Formula Money, reported that the Williams F1 team had a budget of about US$160mil for the 2008 season.

Parr also said 10 of its sponsors had renewed their contracts with the team this year. The team has about 15 sponsors currently.

“Four of them increased their sponsorship of the team this year so that puts us in a relatively good position for the next couple of years. It also demonstrates the loyalty of our partners and the quality of our relationship with them,” he said.

The team’s sponsors include Dutch electronics giant Philips, US-based telephone service provider AT&T, the Royal Bank of Scotland and Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia.

“We were the first team to abandon tobacco sponsorship in 1999. Since 2000, our philosophy has been to have a broad range of blue-chip sponsors, a strategy that has served us well,” Parr said.

“These are tough times but we are very optimistic about the team and the sport,” he added.