British Grand Prix – The Williams F1 team will spend this weekend celebrating the career of their founder and team boss Sir Frank Williams, who marks 50 years in charge this year.
As announced yesterday. the Williams FW42 will race with celebratory messages emblazoned on its livery this weekend. This is to mark the occasion of Sir Frank Williams’ 50th anniversary of being a team boss in Formula 1.
The Williams team in its current form is the second team owned by Sir Frank. Having founded a racing team named Frank Williams Racing Cars in the mid 1960s, a Formula 1 entry followed in 1969. This team didn’t meet with much success and, virtually penniless, Frank sold up to Walter Wolf at the end of 1976.
However, the racing bug didn’t leave him and he set up Williams Grand Prix Engineering in ’77 and entered Formula 1 again as a privateer team. The team’s first victory followed at Silverstone in 1979, and Williams slowly but surely became one of the behemoths of the sport, including their most successful period in the late ’80s and through the ’90s.
This weekend is Sir Frank’s 824th event in charge of a Formula 1 team baring his name, and is being used to mark his half century of team ownership. It’s also the 40th anniversary of that famous first win with the late Clay Regazzoni.
Never one for sentimentality, Sir Frank said ahead of the weekend: “Fifty years in Formula One. Honestly, I haven’t thought about it very much. I can’t say I’ve loved every minute of it, because moments have been very difficult – I’ve lost my wife, I’ve lost drivers. But Formula One has been very good to me. I’ve always been nuts about speed, since when I was a boy, I’d drive around pretending I was a driver – that sort of nonsense.”
Paying tribute to his long standing partner in crime Patrick Head, the engineer who followed Sir Frank from his first team to the fledgling second team, Williams said a lot of their success can be attributed to him: “Patrick Head joining was significant, he was key in making this company what it is. We’ve had great success but there’s a well-known expression in F1: ‘You’re only as good as your last race.’ We will keep on fighting – and I’m not going anywhere yet.”
While Sir Frank holds onto ownership and overall control of the team in his role as Team Principal, his physical condition means he doesn’t attend many races in person any more. Paralysed by a car accident driving near Paul Ricard after a test in 1986, Williams is confined to a wheelchair and now prefers to leave the day to day running of the team to his daughter Claire.
As Deputy Team Principal, she says that nothing is more important to her father than racing: “Dad has the most extraordinary tenacity and resilience but I think it all comes down to his passion. He just loves F1, it’s his life. When he came out of boarding school, and that was quite a lonely period for him growing up, Formula One gave him a community.”
“Certainly after the accident, it gave him something to live for, as much as his family did. Williams is what kept him going, which is why he refers to F1 as his oxygen. He lives and breathes for it, and continues to do so today.”
Along with Williams holding events to mark the occasion this weekend, Sky Sports F1 will air a documentary on Saturday all about Sir Frank’s life and career that tells the story of the team so far. At the moment, the team aren’t in a good place as they have the slowest car and are yet to score points in 2019. Jaime Williams says that this will be pressing more on his father’s mind this weekend than the anniversary celebrations: “I wouldn’t say it’s important for Dad to be the longest serving team boss in Formula One. He isn’t a man who dwells on his achievements. He will be thinking about what happens next, about the next grand prix. Dad’s strength is his perseverance.”
“The things that he has managed to achieve in the face of adversity are extraordinary. It takes a special person to be able to keep going regardless of the things that life has thrown at him over the years. He kept going and he achieved great things because he did.”