The beleaguered Williams Formula One team has been thrown a lifeline by Canadian food processing tycoon Michael Latifi who has handed it a high-octane loan secured on its cars and factory in Oxfordshire.
Williams is one of the few F1 teams that is not owned by a billionaire or a car manufacturer. It is floated on Frankfurt’s junior exchange with 52.3pc owned by its boss Sir Frank Williams. He founded it in 1977 and it went on to become F1’s second-most successful team winning titles with British superstars Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill.
However, its performance has reversed in recent years and it finished in last place for the past two seasons. According to the team’s latest filings, it made a net loss of £20.9m on £77.8m of revenue over the six months to 30 June 2019.
Since then the coronavirus pandemic has piled on even more pressure. It has put the brakes on the first nine F1 races this year thereby driving down the teams’ prize money and sponsorship revenue. To keep its wheels turning, Williams turned to Mr Latifi, who has amassed an estimated $2bn fortune through his Sofina group, which is Canada’s second-largest food company and already sponsors the team.
Mr Latifi is an avid F1 fan and also owns a 10pc stake in the McLaren team that he bought for £203.1m in 2018. He could end up with the keys to Williams too as its loan is secured on the team’s contract to race in F1. It also covers 112 historic cars including its first F1 entrant and the one Mr Mansell won the championship with in 1992.
The loan was finalised last week and although the documents do not state how much has been transferred, it is thought to be at least £50m. The team’s latest accounts show that its cars are worth £20m whilst its land and buildings are valued at £30.7m.
The loan has been provided by Mr Latifi’s Latrus Racing company and he has a personal reason to keep Williams ticking over as his son Nicholas became one of its drivers this year in his début F1 season. The team announced on Monday that he has taken a 20pc pay cut along with his teammate George Russell whilst a number of staff have been put on furlough.
F1 is giving the teams a boost by delaying the introduction of costly new regulations, preventing development work on their existing cars and introducing a budget cap next year. It is due to limit spending to $175m but McLaren boss Zak Brown has warned that it needs to be closer to $100m to keep teams on track.
“I could see four teams disappearing if this isn’t handled the right way,” he told the BBC last week. “This is potentially devastating to teams, and… very threatening to F1 as a whole.”