Those who follow world news will know that Brexit means that Britain is leaving the European Union, flying the Union Jack flag, and dreaming that its future will be better on its own. A lot of British people are very patriotic.
It’s a brave thing to do—and many are opposed to the idea—but Britain is proud. It used to have an empire and to be a major world power. Today, Formula 1 is one of the few industry sectors that Britain still leads. And the most British of the teams is Williams. It has long flown the British flag.
Back in 1997 when Frank Williams signed an engine supply contract with BMW, Williams thought it might be amusing to welcome the new partnership with a dramatic gesture. So when the executives from Munich arrived at the Williams factory in Grove to sign the contract, Williams organized for one of his old racing friends Robs Lamplough, a local farmer and airplane collector, to welcome them with a low-flying pass with a World War II Spitfire, which he had bought in Australia and had lovingly restored over many years.
At the appointed hour, Lamplough took off from his own grass strip at his farm near Hungerford and arrived at top speed, going straight towards Frank’s office. Whether Williams really uttered the words: “Achtung Spitfeurer!” is unclear, but it is a story that has caused much amusement over the years. The British and the Germans have a troubled history.
The plane was eventually sold to another aircraft collector in Germany and, so they say, became the first German-registered Spitfire.
The Williams-BMW partnership was moderately successful but there were no World Championships.
Since splitting with BMW in 2006, Williams has gradually slid back through the F1 field and has won just one race in 16 seasons—the astonishing Spanish Grand Prix of 2012 when Pastor Maldonado came from nowhere and amazed everyone by winning from the front.
Williams has been in a decline and recent years that has been almost embarrassing, finishing 10th for the last three seasons, despite using the competitive Mercedes engines. It does not make much sense when one sees what Mercedes and Racing Point have achieved.
“It wasn’t immediately obvious what was wrong when I arrived (in May, 2020),” says team principal Simon Roberts to Autoweek. “There is no single thing. It’s not like the team just made a mistake and did something stupid with the car. The car is well-engineered and so you have to look a bit deeper than that. And it goes back a number of years and is tied into a whole load of things and so I am trying to unravel that. There’s everything there that you need to be there and it all works.
“The problem is more about the philosophy of the car and the fact that there has been so much change of management”.
Reading between the lines, the word Roberts may be trying to avoid is “leadership.” What Williams needed was an inspiring leader, as Sir Frank Williams used to be.
Once Frank Williams retired, the team seemed to drift. This past summer, the Williams family decided to sell the team and new owners—the mysterious investment firm Dorilton Capital—took over. The new ownership group wanted an inspiring new leader.
Just before Christmas, Dorilton announced that Germany’s Jost Capito would be taking on the role of chief executive officer on February 1, and while some F1 diehards might think it impossible for the most British of F1 teams to be headed by a German, it is a very sensible move. Capito is a bundle of competitive energy and although he is now 62, he still has a winning attitude. And that’s important in the leadership in an F1 team.
Capito also likes to get the job done, and he has quite a record of success.
His father Karl-Friedrich Capito ran a transport business from their home town of Neunkirchen, to the north of Frankfurt. His hobby was motocross and endure motorcycle racing and his two sons—Jost and Volker—followed him into the sport. Jost was twice German national junior enduro champion, in his teenage years, in 1975 and 1976. Karl-Friedrich then entered the Paris-Dakar Rally, as a biker in 1981, before switching to the truck class in 1984. This competition grew out of the support trucks that followed the race and in 1985 Capito was joined by Jost in a Mercedes Unimog LKW 1300—and the duo won the class.
By then, Jost had a Masters degree in mechanical engineering from Munich Technical University and had started working as a development engineer with BMW Motorsport, under Paul Rosche.
Jost spent the next four years working on the successful BMW M3 touring car campaigns. In 1990 he was offered job with the Porsche motorsport department to oversee various different Porsche championships. This led to him becoming head of Porsche Motorsport for a year before he was offered the job of running Sauber Petronas Engineering, which was building a Formula 1 engine for the Malaysian oil company. This program was eventually shelved and Capito transferred into Sauber to run operations there and in 1999 he became the chief operating officer of the Swiss F1 team.
He moved on after a couple of years to the Ford Motor Company as director of motorsport for Europe. He spent 11 years with Ford, the first eight in Europe, during which time he played a key role in helping Ford to win the World Rally Manufacturers’ Championship in 2006 and 2007.
“I approach this challenge with great respect and with a huge amount of relish.”
In 2009 he moved to Dearborn to become head of Ford’s Special Vehicle Team, creating performance machinery for Ford customers.
He departed early in 2012 to become head of motorsport at Volkswagen Motorsport and oversaw the company’s incredibly successful World Rally Championship team, which won four consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ World Championships with Sebastien Ogier in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. Volkswagen then quit the series and Capito moved to McLaren for a few months.
The team was in the middle of a political crisis and a restructuring that led to his departure before he had really started the job and he returned to Volkswagen to be head of Volkswagen R GmbH, creating performance cars for the company’s customers.
“It’s a great honor for me to join Williams Racing during these exciting and demanding times for both the team and for Formula 1,” Capito said, when the deal was announced.”It is an honor to be a part of the future of this storied team, and one that carries such a poignant name in the sport, so I approach this challenge with great respect and with a huge amount of relish.”
On paper, there is no reason why Williams should be at the back of the grid, as it uses Mercedes engines. With Capito driving the team forward, one can expect a little more success, which will appeal to the team’s many fans around the world.
Is 2021 the year that Williams finally gets off the mat and begins a turnaround in Formula 1? Should Williams fans be optimistic in the team’s new direction? Let’s talk a little Williams F1 in the comments section below.
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