The Formula 1 community mourns the loss of an unforgettable figure in motorsport – Sir Frank Williams, who passed away last Sunday aged 79.
Frank Williams was the founder and a key factor in the illustrious history of Williams Racing in Formula 1. He threw everything at his F1 dream, fighting through some unsuccessful early attempts until reaching the end result. The end result? A team that claimed 9 Constructors’ Championships, becoming the second most successful team in F1 history after Ferrari’s 16; 114 victories and 313 podiums are also tied to its name.
Born on April 16th, 1942 in South Shields, England, Francis Owen Garbett Williams gained a passion for motor vehicles from an early age. He filled his life with fast cars, being both a racing driver in his early career and forming his own racing team.
Williams didn’t race cars for much of his career. He raced saloon cars early on and spent a few years running in various Formula 3 championships. This racing career was brief as he realized his true calling came from establishing a competitive team himself.
And he did that. Frank Williams Racing Cars was founded in 1966 as a Formula 2 team. He entered other drivers such as Piers Courage, who proved to be quite successful in the 1968 F2 season.
Journey into Formula 1
Following this promising start, Williams bought a Brabham BT26A Formula 1 chassis in 1969. With an F1 chassis, Williams entered Courage into the 1969 F1 season. The Briton would claim three 2nd-place finishes across the 10 races he undertook.
The following year, Williams came to an agreement with De Tomaso, an Italian sports car brand that would build him an F1 chassis. However, the second year for Williams did not go as successfully. The car retired from each of the races, and Piers Courage was tragically killed in an accident at the Dutch GP. Thus, this deal with De Tomaso was short-lived.
For the next couple of seasons, Williams soldiered on through his F1 journey with a March chassis. The team was attracting attention, with French oil company Motul backing it. However, the best finish over 1971 and 1972 was P4 and good results were scarce.
The following four years saw continuous struggles for good results. The loss of Iso and Marlboro backing after 1974 left Williams to build his own chassis for 1975. This was the birth of the first Williams car, the Williams FW04. Unfortunately, financial problems loomed over Williams’ head after failed partnerships.
The Birth of Williams Grand Prix Engineering
After 1976, Frank Williams was forced out of his team. However, this only encouraged him further. With co-founder Sir Patrick Head, he formed Williams Grand Prix Engineering in the critical year of 1977.
The 1977 season was rocky for the new team and it failed to score a single point. But 1978 would improve. It claimed 11 points with future champion Alan Jones. In 1979, the team soared to 2nd in the Constructors’ Championship, claiming 5 wins between Jones and Clay Regazzoni.
From that moment year on, Williams made history. His persistence and refusal to allow financial concerns and failures to hold him back led to glorious decades. Williams may have lost the championship to a supremely dominant Ferrari in 1979, but the team came back stronger in 1980 to win its first world title. It was a sublime triumph as it scored almost double the points of 2nd place in the Constructors’ standings. Jones became Williams’ first of many champions.
Williams’ legacy became enormous. World championships in 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, and 1997 followed across the next two decades. Legendary drivers such as Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, and more brought the team to victory.
Frank Williams acted as the team principal from its foundation in 1977 until 2020 and powered through becoming tetraplegic after a horrible car accident.
Frank Williams was considered a legend in F1. Going from financial issues to several years of glory, he became known as one of the most successful figures in the sport’s history.
As a commemoration for his efforts and contributions, he became Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1986. He was then knighted in 1999.
His contribution to motorsport was colossal. Sir Frank Williams will be fondly remembered as drivers and other members of the motorsport community swarming social media with tributes and kind words. Frank Williams was a personality loved and respected in the Formula 1 paddock.
Rest in peace, Sir Frank Williams, 1942-2021.