Adam Parr may not have won any popularity contests during his time at Williams, but the team’s former Chairman must have watched Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix with a strong sense of satisfaction, knowing that the changes made under his direction have produced results. He only left Williams 6 weeks ago, allegedly due to a disagreement over the team’s negotiation of the Concorde Agreement with FOM, in a sudden move which surprised everyone in F1.
There is no doubt that Williams decline, which started in 2005, continued for a long time under Parr’s leadership. However, as a ‘non F1’ person he relied on Sam Michael and Patrick Head to lead the team’s technical direction until 2010, and it was only in 2011 that the need for change became critical.
Last year he oversaw the recruitment of Technical Director Mike Coughlan, Chief Operations Engineer Mark Gillan and aerodynamicist Jason Somerville; the three men responsible for the Williams-Renault FW34. The decision to employ Coughlan was controversial to some people, the former McLaren designer having been at the centre of F1‘s ‘Spygate’. These changes came in tandem with Technical Director Sam Michael leaving the English team after 7 years, and former technical boss Patrick Head stepping away from active involvement in the team he helped create with Frank Williams in 1977.
Adam also played a key role in the recruitment of Pastor Maldonado with his substantial sponsorship support from Venezuelan oil company PDVSA; a decision that was criticised by many in the sport for reducing Williams to the status of a team with a ‘pay driver’. In order to do the deal, reputed to be worth up to USD$45m per year, the team dropped the highly regarded Nico Hulkenberg.
With Williams having failed to win a race since late 2004, and the world-wide economic recession adding to its problems, it was no surprise that it lost sponsors including RBS bank, Philips Electronics, AT&T and Allianz. Faced with such a financial crisis, Adam’s decision to bring in PDVSA with Maldonado was undoubtedly the right decision for the company – even if race fans and F1 media didn’t like it.
The English lawyer, an ex-Rio Tinto Zinc mining executive, was highly regarded by Frank Williams. My experience of him during my tenure at Cosworth was that Adam was a hard negotiator and an extremely demanding customer. When Williams made the decision to move to Renault, it was Adam who informed Cosworth and the reasons seemed clear; Renault offered a better solution for Williams commercially and technically. There was no emotion, this was business and he was determined to make the decisions necessary to avoid another disastrous season like 2011.
The F1 industry moves quickly; teams, sponsors, races, drivers and people come and go all the time. In future years Adam Parr may not be remembered as a major figure in the history of F1, but in a week when everyone is celebrating Maldonado’s dramatic victory on Sunday, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that a central architect of the Williams team’s success was not there to celebrate.