CONSTRUCTORS: WILLIAMS F1

Name: Williams F1

Nico Rosberg, Australian GP 2008

Nico Rosberg, Australian GP 2008 

 © The Cahier Archive

Frank Williams established Frank Williams (Racing Cars) Ltd. at the end of 1966. Williams had run out of money for his own career and so began preparing cars for his friend Piers Courage, the wealthy heir to the Courage brewing family. The team debuted in October 1967, running a Formula 3 Brabham for Courage at Brands Hatch. In 1968 Williams ran Courage in Formula 2 in a Brabham, while also preparing Formula 3 cars for Richard Burton, Tetsu Ikuzawa and Tony Trimmer.

In Formula 2 Courage did well and by mid-season Williams had taken on pay-driver Max Mosley. At the Monza Lotteria Jonathan Williams stood in for Courage and won the team's first victory in a classic slip-streaming battle. At Enna Courage finished second to Jochen Rindt.

For the 1969 season Williams decided to run Courage in Formula 2 once again and bought an ex-works Brabham Formula 1 car for selected F1 races. The season began in promising fashion with fifth place at the International Trophy and this was followed by second place at Monaco. This was followed later in the year by second at Watkins Glen and Courage finished eighth in the World Championship. In F2 Williams ran up to four cars with drivers including Courage, Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, Malcolm Guthrie, Alistair Walker and Graham McRae. Courage won at Enna.

For the 1970 season Williams went into partnership with Alessandro de Tomaso and ran Courage in a Dallara-designed de Tomaso-Ford. Disaster struck at Zandvoort, with Courage being killed. Williams hired Tim Schenken to finish the season but the De Tomaso program was stopped at the end of the year. In 1971 Williams became a March customer, running Henri Pescarolo with money from Motul. This helped fund a Formula 2 team for Pescarolo and Bell and Pescarolo won the opening round of the European F2 Championship at Mallory Park in his March 712M. By midseason the team had taken on a third car for Carlos Pace. Results were few and far between in both F1 and F2.

At the start of 1972 the Politoys company approached Williams and asked him to build cars for them. He hired Len Bailey and with Maurice Gomm in Woking doing the fabrication work, produced the Politoys-Cosworth. The car was late and so Williams started the season using old March chassis for Pescarolo and Pace. Pace showed well but the new Politoys did not appear until the British GP and Pescarolo demolished the prototype early in the race. He then destroyed the Marches in a series of accidents. Pace left at the end of the year but Williams found backing from the Italian car company Isa-Rivolta, from Marlboro and from wealthy driver Nanni Galli for the 1973 season. The team became known as Iso-Marlboro and ex-March designer John Clarke was hired to design a new car. The team ran Howden Ganley and a string of pay-drivers after Galli's money failed to materialize. Marlboro support meant that Williams had to drop Ganley and run Arturo Merzario in 1974. The second car was run for pay-drivers but at the end of the year Jacques Laffite settled in. The team struggled financially and the bad news came at the end of the year that Marlboro was withdrawing its support. Merzario and Laffite stayed on in 1975 with backing from Ambrozium and new cars were called Williams for the first time. Money was tight but Williams survived and the team had a moment of glory when Laffite finished second at the German GP.

In 1976 Williams was forced to go into partnership with Walter Wolf Racing to pay his debts. The team ran Hesketh chassis and ran Ickx and Michel Leclere with backing from Marlboro. The car was not a success and Wolf asked Harvey Postlethwaite (who had come from Hesketh) to design a new car for 1977. Williams was given the title general manager and replaced as team manager by Peter Warr. Jody Scheckter was hired to drive. When the team headed off to Argentina in 1977 Frank was told that he would not be going. To make matters worse Scheckter won the race.

Williams decided he had enough and left the team. He managed to convince several of his old team to join him, notably designer Patrick Head, and the pair established Williams Grand Prix Engineering and announced that they would be running an old March for Patrick Neve with sponsorship from Belle-Vue beer. The team moved into a huge old carpet warehouse in Station Road, Didcot.

The team also landed a small amount of sponsorship from the Saudi Arabian airline Saudia. Neve did what he could but the car was not competitive and the team saved money to allow Head to design a new car for the 1978 season. Williams began looking for drivers and was fortunate to be able to sign up Alan Jones and in December 1977 the team revealed the Williams FW06. The car was good and Jones was able to score a second place at Watkins Glen. The team collected 11 points. More money was found from Saudi Arabia, notably from the TAG company and from Albilad.

Head designed the new FW07 and Williams hired Clay Regazzoni to partner Jones in 1979. The new car was not ready for the start of the year but made its debut at Jarama in Spain in April. At the Belgian GP at Zolder in mid May Jones qualified fourth and Regazzoni eighth, and in Monaco Clay finished second just behind Jody Scheckter. Further aerodynamic changes by Head and Frank Dernie before the British GP were the breakthrough: Jones qualified on pole with Regazzoni fourth and Alan led until lap 38 when he suffered water pump failure. Regazzoni however won, giving Williams its first F1 victory. Jones went on to win the next three races and a fourth in Canada. He finished third in the World Championship.

Regazzoni was replaced over the winter by Carlos Reutemann, and in 1980, with an updated FW07, the team swept all before it. Jones won in Argentina, France, Britain, Canada and the United States. Reutemann won in Monaco. Williams won the Constructors' title, Jones was World Champion with Reutemann third.

The relationship between the two drivers broke down in 1981 when Reutemann ignored team orders and won the Brazilian GP. Thereafter it was war. Reutemann won in Belgium and Jones in Las Vegas, but the pair were pipped to the World Championship by Brabham's Nelson Piquet. Over the winter Jones decided he had enough and quit the sport. Williams signed Keke Rosberg to partner Reutemann but after only two races the Argentine driver also quit, leaving Williams scrambling to find a replacement. The job went to Derek Daly.

The FW08 of 1982 was a good car but Rosberg won only one race. He was beaten by Elio de Angelis by a few meters in Austria, but two weeks later won the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon. At the end of the year, reliability made him the World Champion.

Williams knew that he had to find a turbocharged engine if he was to stay competitive and did a deal with Honda. The 1983 season saw Rosberg joined by Laffite and Ford DFV engines but this did not stop Rosberg scoring a memorable victory at Monaco. The new Honda-powered FW09 appeared at the final race of the year at Kyalami in mid-October and Rosberg finished fifth. The 1984 season was one of great frustration as there were a series of engine failures but in Dallas in July Rosberg won another brilliant victory. At the end of the year Williams decided to hire Nigel Mansell in place of Laffite. Head designed the FW10, the team's first carbonfiber chassis. They used old Honda engines for the first four races but then totally new engines arrived in Canada. Rosberg won in Detroit but after mid-season reliability the FW10B appeared at Brands Hatch in October and Mansell won his first race. After that Williams was unbeatable, Mansell winning South Africa and Rosberg in Australia.

Rosberg, however, decided to move to McLaren and Williams signed Piquet for 1986. Before the new season began Frank Williams was seriously injured in a car accident near the Paul Ricard racing circuit. He suffered spinal injuries which left him paralyzed. The team held together under Head's guidance and the FW11 proved to be a dominant car. Piquet won in Brazil, Germany, Hungary and Italy while Mansell won Belgium, Canada, France, Britain and Portugal. The two men headed to Adelaide for a title showdown with McLaren's Alain Prost. In a dramatic race in which Mansell's tire blew, Prost won the title.

The following year Piquet made no mistakes and won the Drivers' title but at the end of the year Honda switched to McLaren and Williams found itself facing a future with Judd engines. Piquet moved to Lotus and Riccardo Patrese was hired to partner Mansell in 1988. The package was not exceptional but Mansell twice finished second. At the end of the year, however, he signed for Ferrari. By then Williams had reached agreement to run Renault V10 engines in 1989. Thierry Boutsen was hired to partner Patrese and the Belgian won wet races in Canada and Australia. The Williams-Renault package needed more development in 1990 but Patrese won at Imola.

That summer Williams hired designer Adrian Newey. Boutsen was dropped and Mansell returned to Williams. In 1991 the team began winning again with Mansell collecting five victories and Patrese two wins. McLaren won the Constructors' title with Ayrton Senna taking the Driver's crown but in 1992 there was no stopping Mansell in the Williams-Renault FW14B. The Englishman won nine victories and the World Championship. Patrese won only once, in Japan, but supported Mansell throughout and finished second. Williams had returned to domination.

For 1993 Alain Prost replaced Mansell and, with test driver Damon Hill being promoted to the race team, Williams again became the dominant force. Prost won seven victories and the title but Hill came on strong to win three races and finish third in the World Championship. At the end of the year, however, Williams decided that he wanted Ayrton Senna. Prost refused to stay in the team and so for 1994 Senna and Hill were the Williams drivers with a major new sponsorship deal from Rothmans.

At the San Marino GP Senna crashed and was killed. Hill became the team's number one driver and David Coulthard stepped up from his role as test driver, while Mansell returned for several races when he was not busy racing in CART. The team won seven victories, six for Hill and one in Australia for Mansell, giving Williams another Constructors' title but Michael Schumacher won the Drivers' crown when he drove Hill off the road in Adelaide.

That autumn Renault decided to supply Benetton with engines (in order to get Schumacher) and, as part of a settlement with Williams, the team was given the Renault deal for the British Touring Car Championship. For the 1995 season Hill and Coulthard were signed to drive. Hill won four races and Coulthard one but Schumacher and the Benetton team walked to the World Championship. That year the team moved to a huge new factory at Grove.

In 1996 Coulthard moved to McLaren and Hill was joined by Jacques Villeneuve. It was a good choice and while Hill won eight races and took the World Championship, Villeneuve got four victories. Hill was dumped at the end of the season and Heinz-Harald Frentzen was drafted in to replace him. In 1997 Villeneuve won seven times and beat Schumacher to the World Championship, despite the German trying to take Jacques off at the final race. Frentzen won once and Williams took another Constructors' title.

At the end of 1997 Renault withdrew from F1, leaving Williams to use Mecachrome V10 engines (rebadged versions of the old Renault units). The team agreed a deal to use BMW engines in 2000 and embarked on a sportscar program with BMW (which led to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1999). The F1 program was not a success however as McLaren-Mercedes became the dominant force in F1.

Williams failed to win a race in 1998 and at the end of the year Villeneuve left to join British American Racing and Frentzen moved to Jordan. Williams hired Ralf Schumacher and CART champion Alex Zanardi. The cars were not competitive in 1999 with rebadged Mecachrome V10s (known as Supertec) but Schumacher scored some impressive results despite failing to win. Zanardi was a great disappointment and Williams decided to find a new driver in 2000 and signed up 20-year-old Jenson Button to partner Schumacher. Sponsorship for the Williams-BMW team was found from the computer company Compaq and the team finished third in the Constructors' title. Williams then made the difficult decision to place Button at Benetton and hired Juan Pablo Montoya to be Ralf Schumacher's partner in 2001 while BMW produced a brand new engine. The cars were competitive in 2001 and 2002 but Ferrari was stronger and for 2003 the team embarked on a completely new aerodynamic concept in the hope that it would be able to catch the Italian team. The team should have won the title in 2003 but mistakes by the drivers allowed Michael Schumacher to win another title. The team went into 2004 with Ralf Schumacher and Montoya both knowing that they would be leaving at the end of the year. Things were not helped by a technical reshuffle which put Sam Michael as the new technical director, although Patrick Head stayed on to run the engineering. It was a year of frustration.

The team began to take shape however and the hiring of Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld for 2005 gave the team new impetus but the relationship with BMW was clearly coming to an end with the Munich firm planning its own team and so Williams did a deal with Cosworth for 2006 although the team was busy negotiating with Toyota for 2007 and beyond.

The 2006 season turned out to be a very poor year although the car was not too bad. Webber and new signing Nico Rosberg made mistakes but the major failing was reliability. Webber might have won at Monaco but for a breakdown and would have picked up many more points in other races and would have ended the year fourth or fifth in the Constructors' Championship. Webber departed to Red Bull Racing and the team was left to rely on veteran Alex Wurz and Rosberg in 2007. The team made big changes in an effort to cure its problems and completed its long-term deal with Toyota.

2007 was a disappointment as well, however, with Alexander Wurz and Nico Rosberg making little progress and the team ending 4th in the Constructors Championship. Wurz retired towards the end of the season and was replaced by Kazuki Nakajima, son of former driver Satoru Nakajima, who continued for the 2008 season, with Nico Hulkenberg as test driver.

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