This weekend of the British
Grand Prix sees Frank Williams celebrate his 50th year as Team principal and
Team owner of the Williams Formula One team. For me, as well as his
thousands of fans, it is time to look back at the story of this incredible
man. His life has been an amazing story both in an out of his life in
motorsport. This is an historical summary of Frank's life but for me it is
also a story of what made me follow this man and his Formula One team for
all these decades. I hope that it doesn't come across tool clichéd but I am
a Williams fan pure and simple.
His first steps into racing were some time before I became interested in his
team and drivers. It all started in 1966 when he was to start Frank Williams
Racing Cars. At that time he would run several drivers including Piers
Courage running in Formula Two and Formula Three for several years. Frank
would also take his first steps into Formula One purchasing a Brabham
chassis, which Courage would drive throughout the 1969 season, twice
finishing in second place.
In 1970 Frank was involved in a brief partnership with Alejandro de Tomaso.
But this would end after the death of Courage at the Dutch Grand Prix that
year. In 1971 Frank raced Henri Pescarolo with a chassis he had purchased
from March Engineering. 1972 saw the first F1 car built by Williams, the
Politoys FX3, but Pescarolo crashed and destroyed it at its first race. It
was around about this time that my interest in Frank and his small Formula
One team started, along with my interest in Formula One in general.
In 1976 Frank would secure backing from Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf but
in 1977 Frank would leave this partnership along with one of his employees,
engineer Patrick Head. The pair would acquire an empty warehouse in Didcot,
Oxfordshire, United Kingdom and this led to the formation of Williams Grand
Prix Engineering. This partnership between Frank and Patrick would go on to
see the Williams team become one of the most successful Formula One teams.
The team's first win came in 1979 when Clay Regazzoni drove a
Cosworth-powered Williams FW07 to victory at the British Grand Prix at
Silverstone. The teams first Drivers' and Constructors' Championships both
came in 1980, with Australian Alan Jones winning the Drivers' championship.
Between 1981 and 1997, the team would go on to win six more Drivers'
Championships and eight more Constructors' Championships. The time that Alan
Jones was with the team was of particular interest to me as I am an
Australian and he was an Australian winning the highest championship in
motorsport. Fifty years later and the Williams Formula One team is still
present running as the ROKiT Williams Racing Team. The team is now based
just outside the South Oxfordshire village of Grove near Wantage
But it was during this period that Frank's life was changed in a way that
for me was at the time beyond belief. Frank was to be involved in a car
accident in France in 1986 that would see Frank suffer a spinal injury
seeing him forced to use a wheel chair from that time on. For Frank this
would mark a change in his life to go from a person where fitness played a
major part in his life to one of been required to use a wheel chair and
require the assistance of others.
But this would not stop his involvement in his Formula One team with Frank
eventually been able to return and continue to run his team. The sight of
him in his wheel chair at race weekends became a part of the Formula One
paddock. But as the years progressed Frank would make the decision to step
down from the day to day operations on the team that he started so in March
2012, Frank announced he would be stepping down and would be replaced by his
daughter Claire, although he would still remain with the team in the role of
team principal and retain overall ownership of the company he started.
During the history of his Formula One team Frank would be awards including
been knighted in 1999 to be come Sir Frank Williams. He was also made a
Chevalier of France's Legion d'honneur, this honour accorded for his work
with Renault engines when they supplied the Williams team. In October 2012,
the main road through the new Great Western Park development in Didcot was
named "Sir Frank Williams Avenue" with Williams unveiling its name plate.
Frank's personal life has also been the subject of much interest with Frank
married to Virginia Berry in 1974, having two sons, Jonathan and Jaime and a
daughter, Claire. Virginia Williams (known by many as Ginny) would go onto
the write an autobiographical book A Different Kind of Life, published 1991,
that described her experiences in the Formula One team's early years as well
as Frank's near-fatal accident in 1986. She was diagnosed with cancer in
2010 and died in 2013 at the age of 66. The team in remembrance of her carry
a small buttery fly logo on the front nose of their cars. The Williams story
would become a documentary film which showed a side of Frank and Claire in
my view not normally seen.
The short summary of Frank's life and that of his team hardly does justice
to what is such a complex history. Just on the Formula One team side of
things it was such a complex tale with so many unique challenges including
the drivers that would be seen in the Williams cars to the technical and
sponsorship challenges that the team would have to face over its history to
date. There were also the difficult time when Ayrton Senna was to die
driving a Williams car. I would not even like to comment on the personal
side of Frank's life apart from that connection having also lost my wife to
But what has made me follow Williams for all these years. I suppose it
started with me been interested in the small team up against the might of
the bigger Formula One teams, something that I might add has continued to
this day. Yes success has played a part but there has been many years where
the lack of success could have driven me away but it hasn't. What has kept
me as a fan for all these years is the knowledge that this team will always
fight on and that Frank will be a part of this story, even if he does not
now have the same role that he had in the past. I have never been a fan of
any particular driver but I have always had this commitment to support Frank
and his team. Even though I can not claim to know Frank or his family or any
of the inner workings of the Williams team I still find their story as one
that I can say I take pride in having followed for all these years. I just
hope that both Frank and his team are around for many more years to come.