A true giant of the F1 world is no longer with us. On the morning of 28 November 2021, Sir Frank Williams died peacefully surrounded by family, having been admitted to hospital on Friday. He was 79.
Williams packed a great deal into those years. Born on 16 April 1942, interest in cars at a young age led to stints racing saloon cars and Formula 3, before he took up a position that would define his career - running a team.
First was Frank Williams Racing Cars, founded in 1966 and running in Formula 2 and Formula 3. Derek Bell, Jacky Ickx and Piers Courage were among the drivers to race for the outfit over the 105 races in which it competed.
After a proposed deal with oil tycoon Walter Wolf went south, the team was reborn in 1977 as Williams Grand Prix Engineering, co-founded by engineer Patrick Head. Within two years the first F1 win arrived, with Clay Regazzoni taking the top step of the podium at the 1979 French Grand Prix.
Constructors’ and drivers’ championships followed in the early 1980s, which proved to be the first of many. 1986 was to be the start of two hugely successful seasons for the team, but also one of huge personal difficulty for Frank Williams. On his way to Nice airport following pre-season testing of the FW11 at Paul Ricard, Williams was involved in a serious car accident that left him tetraplegic.
Despite these life-changing injuries, Williams was back in the paddock by 1987, a year his team walked away with both the drivers’ and constructors’ titles. The outfit went on to dominate much of the 1990s in the sport as Williams Renault years, although not without tragedy, with Ayrton Senna suffering a fatal accident in his third race for the team in 1994. Since then, every Williams F1 car has carried the Brazilian driver’s ‘S’ logo.
Although a partnership with BMW in the early 2000s brought Williams back to its winning ways, the team wasn’t able to replicate those 1990s glory years. Regardless, with nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles to its name, Williams remains one of the sport’s most successful teams. Only Ferrari has won more constructors’ titles.
In 2012 Frank Williams handed over many of his duties to daughter Claire Williams, who became deputy team principal. He remained in the position of team principal until 2020, at which point the Williams F1 was sold to Dorilton Capital.
Tributes have come flooding in from across the motorsport world following news of Frank’s passing. Damon Hill, who spent much of his F1 career with Williams, said: “As an individual team owner… the only person I could compare him to is Enzo Ferrari. He was as passionate about his cars and as dedicated to running a team and seeing his cars on the track”. FIA president Jean Todt said: “He was a pioneer, an exceptional personality and an exemplary man.”