Remarkable, resilient and a true inspiration.
The life of Sir Frank Williams is one of triumph against tragedy, of passion for motorsport and wild success and achievement within it and unstinting love for racing, for his family and for competition.
He was the man who turned a simple dream into a dynasty, who built his own team and conquered Formula 1. Recognised as the world’s oldest tetraplegic his was a life that superseded such remarkable achievements.
He was an inspiration, a true legend of the sport whose legacy will forever be intertwined with that of F1. The paddock may truly never see his like again.
The quest for speed began early, a young Frank ran around the playground happily pretending to be a racing driver and as a teenager he hitch-hiked around Britain’s race tracks, seeing the cars blast by at Silverstone was simply heaven.
By 1963 at the age of 21 he was on the road as a mechanic for rising star and friend Piers Courage, among his group of gentlemen racers Frank was also the deal maker selling car parts and later single seaters. By 1969 Frank Williams Racing Cars was ready for Formula 1 entering a Brabham with Courage in the cockpit but the euphoria of that first season was soon extinguished by racing’s grim realities.
The following year Courage was killed at the Dutch Grand Prix, Frank felt his world had collapsed but it never occurred to him to stop. Devastated, he still held on to his dream so Williams went racing but Frank’s resolve was soon tested again.
The team was hit hard by money troubles sent out by his beloved wife Ginny for fish and chips, Frank famously returned with spark plugs. Completely drained in 1976 Frank pulled the plug on the team selling it to tycoon Walter Wolf but that wasn’t to be the end.
Mustering his resources and partnering with talented engineer Patrick Head the ever persistent Frank founded a new team. IT was named Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited and it was the start of something big.
In 1979 a Williams lead a Grand Prix for the very first time and at the British Grand Prix Clay Regazzoni took the chequered flags for Williams, Frank had won his first Grand Prix. It was in his own words a turning point for the team.
Once the cork had been popped the champagne kept on flowing for Frank. The realisation of his lifelong dream came at last in 1980 his feisty Aussie ace Alan Jones raced to the F1 World Title and Williams was crowned Team Champion. The team defended its title the next year and in 1982 Keke Rosberg became its second World Champion.
But for Frank the team was everything in his negotiations with his star drivers one thing was clear – no one was more important than the Williams team and in another cruel twist fate showed that included Frank too.
Hurrying home from winter testing outside Marseille in March 1986 Frank lost control of his car and crashed at speed.He broke his neck and was left fighting for his life in a French hospital, for his family it was the start of a nightmare but his wife Ginny could see he wanted to live.
Together they would have a different kind of life Frank was now a tetraplegic confined to a wheelchair and Ginny his tower of strength. On track Frank’s now perfectly oiled Williams race team won the opening race of the season in Brazil and another British Grand Prix on the way to a third team title, the team were racing for Frank. And nine months after his life changing accident Frank with all his fortitude was back to lead them.
With Frank as its figurehead Williams has won 114 Grand Prix and 16 World Titles. It has nurtured some of Formula 1’s finest engineers and racing stars. It has mourned too. The tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, a driver Frank revered as a God, another cruel blow.
The undulating highs and lows of Grand Prix racing seem like an echo to Frank’s own life and the team is impossible to separate from the man who gave it its name. Williams is still imbued with his spirit. Independent, pragmatic, determined. resilient and joyful.
Frank lived for the pure love of racing and from his dreams he built an F1 team of champions, a family team, cherished by race fans.
For Frank the sport was his life and there were no regrets.