Sir Frank Williams CBE

World Copyright: Glenn Dunbar/LAT Photographic

  • Team Principal & Founder
  • Nationality: British
  • Born: 16 April 1942

Biography

There is perhaps no other team in Formula 1 as inseparable from its founder as the Williams F1 team. Considered today as one of motorsport’s true legends, Sir Frank Williams has been a staple of Formula 1 for half a century. During this time his team won 114 races, 7 Drivers’ and 9 Constructors’ Championships, among many other accolades.

It all started in 1942 in South Shields, County Durham, England, where Frank Williams was born. Much of his later childhood was spent in Scotland where he attended St Joseph’s College, a private boarding school. From an early age Frank was drawn to cars, which eventually led to a brief career as a driver and mechanic, before finally starting his own racing team.

In 1966 Frank founded Frank Williams Racing Cars and entered races in Formula 2 and Formula 3 with drivers Piers Courage and Tony Trimmer, among others. In 1969 Frank entered the Formula 1 Championship with a Brabham chassis and Piers Courage behind the wheel. Piers drove the car to two respectable second place finishes in the team’s inaugural season.

In 1970 Frank started a partnership with chassis manufacturer Alejandro De Tomaso, but it didn’t last long. After the tragic death of Piers Courage in 1971 at the Dutch Grand Prix, Frank decided to end the partnership and continue the season with a new March chassis.

A big milestone came in 1972, when Frank Williams Racing Cars built its first original chassis, the Politoys FX3, designed by Len Bailey. It didn’t last long however, as driver Henri Pescarolo crashed it in its debut race.

What followed were a few tough years with several sponsorship deals falling through, eventually leading to a partnership with Austro-Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf in 1976. Wolf bought 60% of Frank Williams Racing Cars and the team was renamed Wolf-Williams Racing. Although the team no longer belonged to Frank, he stayed on as the team manager. At the end of the season, after a restructuring of the team, Frank decided to leave and start anew with a young engineer by the name of Patrick Head. Wolf bought out Wolf-Williams Racing and renamed it Walter Wolf Racing. It must have been hard for Frank to see the team he started from scratch pick up its first win in 1977, following his departure, but things were about to get much better very soon.

In 1977 Frank and Partick formed Williams Grand Prix Engineering and ran it from an empty carpet warehouse in Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK. Although they had big plans, it’s safe to say that even they couldn’t imagine what a powerhouse the team would become. They competed in several races during the 1977 F1 season with a March 761 chassis, but only a year later they would build their first original chassis – the FW06 and become an entrant in the 1978 Constructors’ Championship.

Big success came in 1979 when Clay Regazzoni scored the team’s maiden victory at the British Grand Prix in a Cosworth-powered Williams FW07. A year later Williams would win its first Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships with Australian driver Alan Jones. This was a feat that would be repeated many times between 1981 and 1997. With seven Drivers’ and nine Constructors’ Championships to its name, Williams Grand Prix Engineering is one of the most successful teams in Formula 1 history.

Unfortunately tragedy struck in 1986. Frank Williams was involved in a near-fatal car accident near the Paul Ricard Circuit and suffered a spinal fracture between the 4th and 5th vertebra that left him unable to move from the shoulders down. An avid long distance runner, he was on his way to the airport to participate in a run in London the next day.

This did not deter Frank, he came back in 1987 to lead the team to its fourth Constructors’ Championship, with Nelson Piquet winning his third Drivers’ title. Ater 25 years of amazing success, in 2012 Frank Williams decided to hand the day to day operation of the Williams team to his daughter Claire, but remains in the role of Team Principal to this day. He is currently the longest running team principal in the history of Formula 1

For his success in motorsport Frank Williams received the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1987 and in 1999 he was knighted. For his work with Renault he was made a Chevalier of France’s Legion d’honneur, one of only a few non-Frenchmen to receive the honor. In 2008 he was awarded the Wheatcroft trophy for his contribution to the motorsport industry and in 2010 he won the Helen Rollason Award for “outstanding achievement in the face of adversity”, at the BBC Sports Personality of The Year Awards.

The spirit, philosophy and unbreakable will of Sir Frank Williams is deeply ingrained in the very DNA of Williams Grand Prix Engineering and his legacy in motorsport will undoubtedly live on forever.

Career Highlights

  • 1999  Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire for services to Formula One
  • 1987  Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to Formula One
  • 1987  Returned to Williams after a near-fatal accident
  • 1980  Williams won its first Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships
  • 1979  Williams won its first F1 Grad Prix at Silverstone
  • 1977 – present  Founder and Team principal of Williams Grand Prix Engineering
  • 1972  Frank Williams Racing Cars builds its first chassis
  • 1966  Founded Frank Williams Racing Cars
Take a stroll through the history of Williams Grand Prix Engineering!

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