By my reckoning I have been to the museum at Williams seven times and I never tire (should that be tyre😂) of going there. I was particularly looking forward to today’s visit as it would be the first time back since the take over by Dorilton Capital and I was interested to see what changes might have been made. The first change was obvious from before we’d even got on site and that was the name change from Conference Centre to Experience Centre.
On arrival there was the reassuring sight of the topary pit crew still hard at it outside the front of the building but inside there was something obviously missing – Villeneuve’s 1997 championship winning FW19 was no longer hanging from the ceiling. It has not been replaced with anything.
The tour itself starts down a corridor leading to a small cinema. This used to be what I called the wall of champions as it featured large photos of each winning driver but this has been replaced by a history of the team. Surprisingly this includes the Frank Williams Racing years despite the collection having no cars from this period (it is all Williams Grand Prix Engineering and post 1977). The timeline finished in 2021 with no space to add any additional years which I found a bit odd.
Before entering the museum itself you used to be shown a nice video illustraing the history of the team which I always thought set the scene well. This had been replaced with the 2022 season launch video for the FW44 which tells you nothing much. It’s available on YouTube and you can check it out here.
The tour has always been guided but this time it seemed a lot more scripted than on previous visits and you are on a much tighter reign than before. We were warned that there are only two rules: 1. Don’t touch the cars And 2. DON’T TOUCH THE CARS!!!
Those that know the history of the team inside out may well find the guide’s commentary to be a little too basic but there were one or two little tidbits of information worth remembering including the suggestion that Dorliton spent more money in the first four months of their ownership than the Williams family had been able to spend on the team in the previous four years. As an aside F1 teams are now worth a great deal of money and with the cost cap it is easier to run within a sensible budget. One wonders what might have happened had the Williams family been able to hold on just a few more years. Something else that the guide said and this didn’t ring true to me, although I have no way of verifying it, was that many of the cars in the collection didn’t belong to the team but were on loan. Also that many cars had been sold off and had to be bought back to make up the colletion. Make of that what you will.
The formal part of the tour was about an hour and a half and this was with our guide taking us to each of the cars in the collection and giving some background about the cars and drivers of the appropriate era. That done you exit through the gift shop where you could buy all the Williams collection that is available online along with a few other specials such as the 40th anniversary Monopoly and Top Trumps games. Nothing there was priced which I found really annoying and off putting. If you wanted something I guess you’d have to go up and ask probably in the hope that you’d be too embarrassed to say that’s too expensive and put it back.
After lunch we were allowed back into the collection where we were, finally, given free(ish) rein to wander amongst the cars and take whatever pictures we wanted. This is always the best part for me as you can take the time to examine the cars in all their glory from the simplicity of the FW07 to the later cars with all the twiddly bits on the front wings (which I for one do not miss).
One thing that I had never seen before was a glimpse into the workings of the Williams Heritage division. You wouldn’t normally see this but when we were there today the door to their workshop was open and there were three historic cars being prepared for various events. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures and the door was quickly shut!
A number of things have changed since my last visit. Of course there are now more of the newer cars on display but gone are things such as the BTCC cars that where there previously. This must simply be one of space considerations. You also no longer go upstairs to where there were the collection of helmets, trophies and other Williams racing paraphernalia. Now it really is only the cars.
Is it worth it? Well I paid £70 which included breakfast and lunch in that price as well as the 90 minutes guided tour and another 30 minutes or so of time to examine (but not touch!) the cars at your leisure. I’d say that if you are an F1 fan and particularly a Williams fan you will not find a better place to visit with it housing the largest private collection of F1 cars anywhere.