Williams: Strategy Group needs to set agendas aside to focus on fans

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BIRMINGHAM – Williams Martini Racing deputy team principal Claire Williams has called on the Formula 1 Strategy Group members to set aside their agendas and place a greater focus on fan engagement.

The F1 Strategy Group is made up of representatives from Ferrari, Mercedes, Williams, Red Bull, McLaren and Force India, and jointly makes decisions on the future of the sport with the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone’s Formula One Management.

Since coming into existence in 2013, the Strategy Group has struggled to push through a great deal of meaningful change in F1, instead receiving criticism for its exclusive nature and inability for those included to agree on matters.

Speaking at Autosport International in Birmingham, England on Saturday, Williams made no secret of her frustration with the Strategy Group, but acknowledged that the lack of agreement was due to the differing agendas and positions of its member teams.

“We can’t agree and it’s really frustrating,” Williams said. “As part of my role I sit on the Strategy Group and I’ve been sitting in those meetings now for two-and-a-bit years. These meetings go on for like six hours, and I think the only thing that we’ve really agreed in the double points system in Abu Dhabi that we then decided to take out.

“It can be frustrating, but you have to understand that there are teams around that table, there’s the governing body, and then there’s the promoter. Everybody has different agendas. Naturally everyone has different agendas because for a start we all have very different business models.

“We’re in the sport for some of us different reasons. We all have different capabilities within our businesses as well. If you’ve got a suggestion on how to save costs, let’s ban wind tunnels, for teams like Williams, McLaren, whoever else has invested millions and millions of pounds, you’re never going to agree on that.

“So unfortunately it is one of those situations where democracy doesn’t necessarily do the best job for our sport.”

Williams called on the Strategy Group members to set aside their agendas where possible to try and improve how F1 engages with fans and attracts future generations.

“As a Strategy Group we need to be thinking, setting those agendas aside and sitting there and thinking what is going to keep engaging the fans that we have watching our sport and engage a future generation of fans,” Williams said.

“That’s really important to me. Yes, looking at the cars from a technical regulations is hugely important for the work involved in the Strategy Group, but also a case of do we need to look at race weekends: the format of those to make sure that they’re engaging, when are we going out on air.

“All those kind of things are what we need to be looking at where agendas don’t need to come into play so much.”

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”