LONDON (Reuters) - Former Williams chairman Adam Parr has explained publicly for the first time, and in the novel format of a cartoon book, why he abruptly left the Formula One team just when he had been identified as Frank Williams’ heir apparent.
In “The Art of War: Five years in Formula One,” the Briton presents an eyewitness account of a period of intense political turbulence and paddock in-fighting from 2006 to his sudden resignation last March.
As he spells out in the 80-page hardback, profound differences with Formula One’s octogenarian supremo Bernie Ecclestone over a new commercial ‘Concorde’ agreement and the future direction of the sport led to him taking a bullet for the sake of the team.
“I had resigned that week, rightly or wrongly believing that Ecclestone had told my board that no Concorde offer would be forthcoming while I was running Williams,” wrote Parr of the events of March 25.
“Under the circumstances, I chose to stand down so that the team could make the best deal possible with him. The offer arrived the day after my resignation had been announced.”
At the time, Williams explained his departure as Parr wanting “to pursue a better balance in his life”.
Little more than six weeks later, Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado - whose arrival at the team had been pushed by Parr - won the Spanish Grand Prix for Williams in the team’s first victory in 132 races and nearly eight years.
After their worst ever season in 2011, the former champions were on a sounder footing with the car looking far more competitive, a fresh technical team in place and a stock flotation completed.
Speaking to Reuters from his home in France, Parr said that while his departure had happened overnight the ‘genesis’ had been building up for much longer and he had wanted to explain that background and cast light on more important issues the sport was still wrestling with.
“The final event of my time in Formula One is not the most significant,” he said.
“I think the things that I was fighting for, and the team was fighting for, are fundamentally important and they are not going to go away just because I’ve gone.”
Parr cited the example of ‘customer cars’, an idea long pushed by Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo and Ecclestone under which big teams would make cars available to smaller cash-strapped outfits to ensure a full starting grid.
Such a development could be fatal for constructors like Williams, who spend tens of millions on development but could lose out to a rival spending a fraction of that amount to run last year’s Red Bull or McLaren.
“There is an absence, it seems to me, in the sport of reasoned and deep debate about how things should go,” said Parr, a barrister who came from a business background and with a direct style of engagement that was not universally appreciated.
The Briton said he had never contemplated returning to Formula One in any role but was clearly still passionate about the sport.
The book - an intriguing read with the pictures in black and white with occasional splashes of red - is far from combative, containing largely positive thumbnail portraits of the protagonists.
Italian Flavio Briatore, former boss of the Renault team, is lightly mocked for his accent and habit of starting every sentence with ‘Mean..'. Ecclestone is noted for a lack of interest in material things, sense of humor and patience.
”There’s very little commentary about whether people are right or wrong or what their motives are,“ said Parr. ”I try and let the story tell itself.
The book also contains a foreword by Max Mosley, former head of the governing FIA, who makes the point that ”behind the scenes in Formula One is a very strange place.
“You have a group of 10 or so team principals who, if they could only agree on a few sensible rules, would all find themselves in charge of very profitable businesses. Yet they choose to operate in a way which makes life for most of them a desperate struggle to survive, unable to find enough money to compete effectively.”
Parr said he had aimed more at sports fans and a broader business readership interested in themes of power-politics, strategy and how people behave in such a competitive environment.
“I wasn’t writing it for the paddock at all,” said Parr, although F1 insiders will be some of the most avid readers.
He said he had chosen the non-fiction comic book format because “you can write much less and say much more”.
“I feel very regretful that I wasn’t able to finish what I set out to do...I certainly don’t feel bitter or resentful, because it was entirely my own failure in the execution of what I think was a sound strategy not just for Williams but for the sport as a whole,” he added.
“People may feel they have won, but I‘m not sure they did.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer