PEOPLE: SIR FRANK WILLIAMS

Name: Sir Frank Williams
Nationality: Great Britain

Sir Frank Williams

Sir Frank Williams 

 

The son of a Royal Air Force officer, Williams grew up passionate about motor racing and began racing his own Austin in 1961, funding his racing activities from his work as a traveling grocery salesman. This led him to meet other young racers including Piers Courage and Jonathan Williams both of whom had rather more money available for racing. In 1963 Frank moved to London and shared a flat in Pinner with them and Charlie Crichton-Stuart. Unable to fund his own career, he became Jonathan Williams's mechanic at Formula Junior races all over Europe. He tried to continue his own career in Formula 3 but at the end of 1966 he decided to retire and concentrate on building up a business selling spare parts and old cars. He established Frank Williams Racing Cars and rented premises in Slough. In October 1967, Williams made his debut as team owner, running Piers Courage in a Brabham BT21 at Brands Hatch. In 1968 he ran Courage in Formula 2, while running an F3 car for Richard Burton and he later ran Tetsu Ikuzawa and Tony Trimmer in F3 with some success.

In 1969 Williams bought an ex-factory Brabham Formula 1 car and entered it in selected races for Courage. The team scored two second places that year while also running cars in F2 and F3.

After this promising start Williams went into partnership with Alessandro de Tomaso in 1970 and ran Courage in a Giampaolo Dallara-designed chassis but Courage crashed at Zandvoort and was killed. Frank kept the team going but the relationship with de Tomaso finished at the end of that year and in 1971 he bought a customer March F1 chassis for Henri Pescarolo. In 1972 he expanded to run a second car for Carlos Pace. In July that year the first Williams-built F1 car appeared, although Pescarolo destroyed the Len Bailey-designed Politoys FX3 on its first outing. For 1973 Williams found backing for two years from Marlboro and the Italian car company Iso, but not all the money arrived and after struggling through the next three seasons he was forced to go into partnership with Austro-Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf in 1976.

It soon became clear that he had lost control of his old team and in early 1977 Frank and a young engineer he had hired named Patrick Head left Wolf and established Williams Grand Prix Engineering in an old carpet warehouse in Didcot in Oxfordshire. An old March F1 car was acquired and driven by Patrick Neve while plans were made for the team to build its own cars. Thanks to Crichton-Stuart, Williams was able to get backing from Saudia Airlines in 1978 and Head's Williams FW06 was raced by Alan Jones. The team expanded to two cars in 1979 and Head built the new FW07. In July the team's second driver Clay Regazzoni won the team's first GP victory at Silverstone. Jones then won a string of victories and in 1980 took the World Championship title. In 1981 Jones and his team mate Carlos Reutemann fell out over team orders and Reutemann emerged as the team leader although both men were so disenchanted by the end of the season that they quit F1 and Williams had to hire Keke Rosberg and Derek Daly. Rosberg managed to win the 1982 World Championship despite winning only one race and in 1983 the team began a new relationship with Honda which would lead to Constructors' World Championship success in 1986 and 1987, with Nelson Piquet taking the 1987 Drivers' title.

In March 1986, Williams was paralyzed in a road accident near the Paul Ricard racing circuit. He has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

The Williams-Honda team was dominant in 1986 and 1987 with drivers Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell but in 1988 Honda decided to join McLaren and Williams was left to run Judd engines until a new deal was struck for a supply of Renault V10 engines in 1989. The Williams-Renault partnership was even more successful than the deal with Honda with the team winning World Championships in the early 1990s with Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost. The team suffered a terrible setback in 1994 when Ayrton Senna was killed at Imola but bounced back to continue the winning streak with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, both of whom became World Champions in 1996 and 1997 respectively.

The Williams operations expanded into touring car racing with Renault in the British Touring Car Championship and when a new long-term relationship began with BMW, the team built the successful BMW sportscar which won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1999.

Success has made Frank Williams a wealthy man but he has also been recognized for his achievements. He was awarded a CBE for his services to motor racing in 1987 and was knighted in January 1999. He is also the holder a rare foreign award of France's Legion d'Honneur for his efforts in cooperation with Renault.

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