Features - Interview

MARCH 1, 1995

Frank Williams


Frank Williams likes to win - and he has been doing it now in Formula 1 for the best part of 15 years. In that time Williams has collected 78 winning trophies and 12 World titles - seven Constructors'

Frank Williams likes to win - and he has been doing it now in Formula 1 for the best part of 15 years. In that time Williams has collected 78 winning trophies and 12 World titles - seven Constructors'

and five Drivers' Championships. McLaren and Ferrari are still ahead of Williams, but the team is catching up.

The 1994 season saw another Constructors' title added to the list, but the team lost Ayrton Senna is an accident at Imola. It was an odd mixture of a year.

"It was a black year really," says Frank. "The most important thing that happened to me and to Williams was Ayrton being killed. Everything else is very secondary to that. It had an effect on everybody in the team. Those are not trite words. That is for real. It affected us all in different ways: me, Patrick (Head) and all the blokes at the factory. WE still have to see what will happen with the Italian authorities. I cannot comment on what the magistrate's report says because he has not yet decided what to do with it.

"The up-side of the year was that Damon Hill almost got the Drivers' Championship and I think that speaks volumes and volumes for all of the individuals concerned, starting with Damon. That was the wonderful thing that happened last year."

Damon's performances certainly astounded most of his critics?

"I keep on saying the same thing. Damon just continues to surprise. Every time you think 'That's as good as it will get' he does something else. He is a bloody good old boy."

At the start of the year, Williams surprised observers by deciding not to take up an option to hire 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell and plumped instead for a little-known young Scotsman called David Coulthard. Why did he do that?

"Whatever I say will generally be laudatory towards David and negative towards Nigel. Clearly there was a choice and we went for David. There were pros and cons for each of them and we decided on David. I cannot say more than that, because I don't wish in any way to denigrate a great racing driver with whom we finished last year on truly excellent terms. In those last few races Nigel was a pleasure to have around the place. He was funny, he was generous and very positive all the time. Bloody good company."

And he has no regrets with his choice?

"No, not at all. It was the right choice."

Williams also hired another young driver - Jean-Christophe Boullion - to be the tester, just as Hill and Coulthard were before him. Why did he decide on Boullion?

"It was obvious, given how strong our partnership is with Renault, that we have some French content in the Williams side of the team. There was no appropriate driver for a seat in the racing team so we looked at putting a French driver in the test team instead. It is often said that the Williams test team is a good place to be for your career - and that was the case for Damon, David and also Mark Blundell. JCB, that's what we call him, is quick although last year's tester Emmanuel Collard is probably just as quick. It was a very difficult choice because they are both talented guys."

On the subject of Renault, how does Frank feel about Renault supplying Benetton, despite having had an exclusive deal with Williams?

"When two top teams share an engine they are more prone to individual jealousies and harmony begins to disappear unless one is very careful. There is more strain. Having said that, it can work. There is no doubt about it. It just depends on the goodwill and commonsense of all involved."

Goodwill and commonsense are often thin on the ground in the dog-eat-dog world of F1. How does Frank see the morals in the sport changing?

"I suspect that F1 is no different in any way to three or four advertising agencies all pitching for the Mars Bar contract or any other big deals It is no different really."

But is F1 tending towards a bit too much show business and not enough pure racing and technology?

"Personally, I would love to see more technology allowed on the cars. At the same time I recognize that maybe that would not be good for the show. The bottom line is that the show does not belong to Williams Grand Prix Engineering, but rather to the FIA. That is the first thing. The second is that there is a show which attracts enormous TV audiences and increases the sponsorship available for the sport and that this is now fundamental to our success and our survival."

But has money spoiled the sport?

"You cannot say that sponsorship has spoiled the Olympics. It has made for more spectacle and more competitors. It is probably the case for American football and most other professional sports. Things move on and the important thing is to move with it and recognize it, rather than getting left behind and being an anachronism."

Frank's motivation has got nothing to do with money?

"I love racing and it is a wonderful livelihood, which is lucrative if you are successful. I don't hide that fact. In terms of success what we seek to do is win races and above all championships. These are what go into the history books. It is also a little game between Ron (Dennis) and Flav (Flavio Briatore). If we win they know they have been beaten and vice versa. That is our game - or at least how I see it anyway."

In F1 people compete in all things. Is that why you are shortly moving into a factory which is bigger and better than the opposition?

"Patrick (Head) will tell you that we are moving because our factory was not as posh as Ron's or Flav's, but the truth is that we have run out of room at Didcot. We have a situation in which Patrick wants to expand certain departments and there is just not the space to do it. We have been compromising on office space, for example, for the last two years."

So what makes the new site so attractive?

"The main thing is that it has more office and workshop space plus a lot more land on which we can build and build if we need to. As it happens, the site is in rural surroundings, a much quieter location than the current factory at Didcot where everyone is just crowding us in. It is not the place it was 10 years ago."

In many big businesses the bosses look back on the old days with nostalgia. They enjoyed the excitement of being a small business. How does Frank feel now running what is almost a corporation rather than a racing team?

"Ten years ago I was involved in many other aspects of the company than I am today. Today Williams is primarily an engineering company and I am not an engineer. I overlook everything and front for the company where necessary. I am quite sure that Patrick's motivation isn't in any way diminished and he still enjoys very much what he is doing."

But it's not the same as the pioneer days, is it?

"They were not fun at the time and I had to take great risks. I would not go back. I suppose what I am saying is that I like it more as the success has piled up."

So you don't have any sympathy for the new team which are struggling to survive as you once did?

"A clever man will always worry that out there are several people better at doing his job than he is. One waits with trepidation for their arrival. When you see a new team arrive you always think that maybe in five years they will do the job and you have to work out how to beat them.

"But I don't feel any sympathy for them. They are competitors."