Sir Frank Williams – An Inspirational Leader & Racing Legend
Forty-four years on from their debut race at the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix, Sir Frank Williams, the founder and former Principal of Williams Racing F1, dies at age 79. Despite facing life-changing injuries following a car crash in ’86, his dedication to the sport marks him as the longest-serving team principal within F1 racing, and whose determination led the team to win sixteen world championships, nine constructors’ championships and seven drivers’ titles.
Born in the coastal town of South Shields in the Northeast of England, Frank became accustomed to motor racing from an early age. He first learnt to drive in his mother’s Morris Minor, around the school grounds where she worked, until he was able to acquire his first car - an Austin A3!
In 1966, through his work as a grocery salesman, Frank was able to fund ‘Frank Williams Racing Cars’, entering the team into their first race just a year later, and eventually moving from Formula 2/3 into Formula 1 in 1969. Courage who was driving for Williams at the time secured second place in two races that season – things were looking positive for the Williams team. However, this took a tragic turn at the Dutch Grands Prix the following year, where Courage suffered a fatal crash. Not only this but the business was also facing financial difficulties, which eventually led to the sale of a majority stake to Walter Wolf, a Canadian businessman. A decision that Frank hoped would keep ‘Frank Williams Racing Cars’ afloat, and him at the forefront, but slowly edged Frank out, eventually leading to his departure.
Starting again from scratch, Frank then established a new team ‘Williams Grand Prix Engineering’ which he was able to fund through investment from the middle east. Operating the business out of an empty carpet warehouse in Didcot, it was here Frank lead his new team to success in the F1 – with a podium finish at the US Grand Prix and their first win at the ’79 British Grand Prix. The 80s and 90s then went on to be the glory years for the team with drivers; Piquet, Mansell, Prost, Hill and Villeneuve all winning titles.
Today the team is owned by US Investment Group – Dorilton Capital, who took over the running from Frank’s daughter Claire, who had been managing the team since 2013. What is perhaps most remarkable and inspirational to many, is that much of Frank Williams’ success was achieved in the years following his accident, which left him paralysed from the neck down – a true legend, whose legacy will forever live on in the sport.