Sir Frank Williams, owner and
co-founder of Williams Grand Prix Engineering, this year celebrates a record
50 years as a Formula One Team Principal. During this weekend’s British
Grand Prix, scene of his and the team’s maiden victory 40 years ago, ROKiT
Williams Racing will mark Frank’s achievements at Silverstone while Sky
Sports F1 will screen a documentary on Saturday telling the story of a
remarkable career so far…
Sir Frank Williams is and always has been in love with motor racing, from
running around at boarding school imagining he was a racing driver to
hitting the track in a short-lived racing career - “I was always going off
the road!” Turning his attention to running a racing outfit proved inspired
and three years after setting up Frank Williams Racing Cars, he bought a
Brabham F1 chassis and entered the 1969 Formula One campaign.
Fifty years later, he’s still at the helm of a Formula One outfit – but so
much has happened since then. In 1970, his driver and dear friend Piers
Courage died in the Dutch Grand Prix. It hit Frank hard. “He was a great
character,” says Frank. “He had superb manners and taste. Losing him was
major loss. When I went to the funeral, all the drivers apart from one were
present – and there were no dry eyes.”
Battling on, he found the money to keep racing, even conducting team
business in a phone box after his office line had been disconnected because
of unpaid bills. He ultimately sold the team to Walter Wolf, and though he
stayed on as an employee, that didn’t last long with Frank joining forces
with Patrick Head to set up a new Formula One team – Williams Grand Prix
Engineering – in an empty carpet factory.
In only the team’s second full season, they won their first race – the 1979
British Grand Prix. “I was very happy,” says Frank. “Hours after the race,
my wife Ginny and I were sat in our caravan. It just felt surreal.” The year
after, Alan Jones – “he was mighty quick and also very amusing out of the
car” – delivered Frank his first drivers’ title with Carlos Reutemann
assisting in delivering the constructors’ championship, too.
But on 8 March 1986, everything changed. Frank had a car accident when
driving from Paul Ricard to Nice airport, suffering injuries that would
confine him to a wheelchair. He had no intention of giving up on F1, though.
Supported by Ginny, who played a key role both at home with the family and
with the racing team, he was back at the helm nine months after the accident
– and has been there ever since.
There was more tragedy for Williams in 1994 when Ayrton Senna died at the
San Marino Grand Prix. “He was a very talented driver, utterly determined,”
says Frank of Ayrton, a driver whom he had long wanted to race one of his
cars. Since his death, all Williams cars have the Senna ‘S’. Jacques
Villeneuve won the drivers’ title in 1997, with the team collecting the
constructors’ prize, making Williams the second most successful constructor
in the history of Formula One – an accolade they still hold until today.
While Frank doesn’t travel to many races any more, he remains Team Principal
of the team he created with Patrick and has every intention of continuing on
for many years to come.
Sir Frank Williams: “Fifty years in Formula One. Honestly, I haven’t thought
about it very much. I can’t say I’ve loved every minute of it, because
moments have been very difficult - I’ve lost my wife, I’ve lost drivers. But
Formula One has been very good to me. I’ve always been nuts about speed,
since when I was a boy, I’d drive around pretending I was a driver - that
sort of nonsense. Patrick Head joining was significant, he was key in making
this company what it is. We’ve had great success but there’s a well-known
expression in F1: ‘You’re only as good as your last race.’ We will keep on
fighting – and I’m not going anywhere yet.”
Jonathan Williams: “Dad is nothing if not determined. His accident was
dramatic, life changing for all of us. We, as a family, had to adapt. Mum
had to adapt but also rebuild Dad and around him. She was exceptional. Dad’s
determination to return to Formula One never waned. He is a racer – and he’s
always looking to the next race. His competitive nature is as strong as it’s
ever been. What he has achieved is a great legacy for our family, for his
grandchildren and for the fans. But the story continues – he’s not done
Claire Williams: “Dad has the most extraordinary tenacity and resilience but
I think it all comes down to his passion. He just loves F1, it’s his life.
When he came out of boarding school, and that was quite a lonely period for
him growing up, Formula One gave him a community. Certainly after the
accident, it gave him something to live for, as much as his family did.
Williams is what kept him going, which is why he refers to F1 as his oxygen.
He lives and breathes for it, and continues to do so today.”
Jaime Williams: “I wouldn’t say it’s important for Dad to be the longest
serving team boss in Formula One. He isn’t a man who dwells on his
achievements. He will be thinking about what happens next, about the next
grand prix. Dad’s strength is his perseverance. The things that he has
managed to achieve in the face of adversity are extraordinary. It takes a
special person to be able to keep going regardless of the things that life
has thrown at him over the years. He kept going and he achieved great things
because he did.”