On November 28th this year, the motorsport community lost one of its greatest icons – Sir Frank Williams, who sadly passed away aged 79. During his countless years as owner of one of the most successful teams in Formula 1, he has experienced both triumph and tragedy. But what always shone through was his tenacity towards life and his determination to accomplish great things in the sport that was so dear to his heart. In the 43 years that he was Team Principal, the Williams team managed to achieve a total of 114 Grand Prix victories, 9 Constructors’ Championships and 7 Drivers’ Championships. Names such as Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve, and Alain Prost are synonymous with Williams – all elite drivers of Formula 1. Together with co-founder, Patrick Head, the team has engineered some extraordinary cars over the years, including the FW14B and the FW18.
Frank Williams: The Early Years
Back in 1966, he used the money he earned as a grocery salesman to set up ‘Frank Williams Racing Cars’. With his driver Piers Courage doing so well in Formula 2, he decided to enter the team into the 1969 Formula 1 season. This turned out to be a good decision, achieving podium finishes at both the Monaco and U.S. Grands Prix. But Frank would soon find out how brutal the sport can be, with Courage dying from a fatal incident whilst racing at Zandvoort a year later. This didn’t stop Williams’ Formula 1 mission; however, financial difficulties would arise. In 1976, he lost control of the team after selling a 60% share of it to Canadian millionaire, Walter Wolf. Then, at the end of the year, Williams left the company altogether after losing his role as Team Manager.
Despite this setback, Frank – together with star engineer Patrick Head, soon founded ‘Williams Grand Prix Engineering’ and entered the forthcoming 1977 Formula 1 season. Success would begin to come his way again, with Clay Regazzoni winning the team’s first race at the 1979 British Grand Prix. The very next year, Alan Jones gave Williams their first Drivers’ Championship, with them also crowed Constructors’ Champions too. Later that decade, Frank would then sadly suffer a life changing event. In March 1986, on his way back from Circuit Paul Ricard, he had a severe car accident that would leave him tetraplegic and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But not even that stopped him from running his beloved team, which would also go on to win the Constructors’ Championship that year. In fact, the coming seasons would prove to be Williams Grand Prix Engineering’s most successful period in Formula 1 – claiming five Constructor and four Driver Championship wins between 1992-1997.
A Family Affair
in the early 1990’s the Williams-Renault collaboration saw Frank’s team start to see regular success in Formula 1 but they lacked consistency. All they needed was the strongest driver. Unsurprisingly, Frank Williams had grown to greatly admire Ayrton Senna. In 1994, he persuaded Senna to leave McLaren and join Williams.
Just three races in, the multiple-time World Champion died at the wheel of his Williams FW16 at the San Marino Grand Prix. This was a profound loss for Frank and the whole motorsport community. Frank’s daughter recently revealed that he never really recovered from the tragedy.
Frank Williams remained Team Principal right up until 2020, when Williams Racing was sold to Dorilton Capital. During his time in the sport, he was surrounded by his family. Most notably Claire Williams, who took care of a significant portion of the day-to-day running of team when she was appointed Deputy Team Principal.
Also, his wife Ginny, who was pivotal in supporting Frank after his accident. A special highlight for the family was the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix, which was unexpectedly won by their driver, Pastor Maldonado. This was not only the last Williams Grand Prix victory, but also the last race victory that the family got to celebrate together before Ginny’s passing the following year in 2013.
The Spirit of Motorsport
Sir Frank Williams epitomised the spirit needed to succeed in motorsport. No matter what he was faced with, he always had the will and determination to overcome it. The number of tributes over the last week have demonstrated the impact Sir Frank Williams had on all who met him. Over his lifetime, he had some truly remarkable achievements and will always be remembered for his dedication to Formula 1 and contribution and commitment to advancing motorsport engineering. Our condolences go out to the entire Williams family.