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Frank Williams Fifty of the Best Years

By Andrew Hooper
July 9 2019

 
 Frank Williams Fifty of the Best Years
 
Sir Frank Williams
 

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 cancer.

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.

 

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