Frank Williams started out in Formula One racing in 1969 and from late 1972 he was running his own cars. A Grand Prix
victory eluded him for his first years, but with the advent of Saudia Williams F1 team in 1978, Frank Williams' star began to rise, and with Alan Jones behind the wheel many thought he would quickly enjoy success – however he would still have to wait until 1980.
Frank O. Williams was born on 16 April 1942, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Educated at two convent schools, he left at 17 and had a variety of jobs, including eighteen months as a trainee manager at a Nottingham company. From an early age, Williams became interested in motor sport and after leaving school he used to hitch-hike to race meetings all over Britain.
Williams made his competition debut in an Austin A35
, but the car was wrecked one Saturday morning in Salisbury when Frank spun on the public roads and flew backwards into a lamp-post. Undaunted, Frank bought an Austin A40
, but once more he had little success as he spent so much time spinning and finally he crashed it at Mallory Park in front of his namesake, fellow A40 exponent Jonathan Williams.
The two Williams teamed-up for 1963, Jonathan racing a Formula Junior Lotus 22 which Frank helped prepare. Their budget was minimal, the pair sleeping in their Volkswagen pick-up tow car. In 1964
Frank was racing again, sharing a Formula three Brabham with 'Bubbles' Horsley, one of several motor racing people who shared a flat in Harrow, Middlesex.
The others included fellow young drivers Piers Courage
, Charles Crichton-Stuart and Charles Lucas. For 1965
Williams bought the ex-Graham Hill
Formula Two Cooper T73 and converted it to Formula Three specification. He was quoted as saying of the Cooper 'It was the original undriveable car. I started in about ten races but only finished in two - and at one Roskildering meeting I spun so many times that my picture was splashed over Danish newspapers the following day.'
Frank Williams Racing Cars Ltd
After another season, in a new Brabham BT18 bought with money borrowed from successful Formula Three exponent Chris Irwin, Frank decided to quit active driving and go seriously into the buying and selling business. During this time Frank made his money by trading in racing cars, spares and equipment from the garage of the Harrow flat. In April 1967 he took the plunge and formed a company, Frank Williams (Racing Cars) Ltd. By 1968 Frank occupied spacious premises at Slough, Buckinghamshire. He specialised in selling Brabhams, both old and new, and had a world-wide market.
Williams quickly gained a reputation for first-class, thorough preparation - all suspension parts on secondhand cars were rechromed and suspect chassis sent to be rejigged. In 1968 more than 150 cars passed through Frank's hands, fifty per cent overseas. This was also the year Williams went back into racing. Like others, he was impressed by the young British driver Piers Courage
- the ex-flatmate - and decided to become an entrant and run a Formula Two Brabham BT23C-Ford for Courage in the European Trophy. Despite bouts of ill-luck, Courage displayed excellent form, taking second place at Enna, third at Hockenheim, Reims and Albi and a fourth at Barcelona to be placed sixth in the championship.
The Tasman Cup series, Formula One and Formula Two
Piers won the final Temporada race at Buenos Aires in December, while Jonathan Williams also won the Monza Lottery Grand Prix
in June, deputising for Courage who was committed to a Formula One BRM
drive the same day. Frank's admiration for Courage's ability grew. For 1969 he planned an ambitious season: The Tasman Cup series, Formula One and Formula Two. He acquired an ex-works Brabham BT24 Formula One car and converted it to accept the Ford DFV engine in special 2½-litre DFW form for the Tasman Cup series. It was an expensive venture, but, despite a run of bad luck in the Australian section, a profitable one.
In New Zealand, Courage garnered a first, a second, a third and a fourth. For the European season Williams purchased an up-to-date Brabham BT26 and equipped it with a Ford DFV for Formula One and also bought a new Formula Two Brabham BT30-Ford. Highlights of the year were Courage's fighting second places in the Monaco and United States Grands Prix. These were backed up by fifths attained in the British and Italian Grands Prix plus the Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone. In Formula Two, Courage won at Enna and took thirds at Hockenheim, Pau, Jarama, Zolder and Reims.
Chief problem with the Williams team's debut year in Formula One was the lack of a first-class engineer. Although the Brabham BT26 was always superbly prepared by the mechanics it required an engineer's final touch, for the car suffered from fuel pressure problems for much of the year. During the Italian Grand Prix
Williams had met Alessandro de Tomaso, the expatriate Argentinian who built racing and GT cars. De Tomaso was keen to get into Formula One and suggested Williams should run his cars. The deal was that Williams would be loaned the chassis and the services of designer/engineer Gianpaolo Dall'Ara, but he would have to finance the project-buy the engines, pay the mechanics, travelling expenses, etc.
Jacky Ickx at the wheel of the Wolf Williams during the Graham Hill Trophy race at Silverstone in 1976. The Wolf-Williams alliance was particularly unsuccessful, but both men enjoyed greater success when they went their seperate ways in 1977.
Alan Jones in his Saudia Williams FW06, pictured at Zolder during the 1978 Belbium Grand Prix.
A Disastorous Season and the death of Piers Courage
Williams closed down his successful racing car buying, selling and preparation business to concentrate on managing the team and sought sponsorship from Ward machine tools, Graviner fire extinguishers and BOAC. But 1970 proved a disaster. The de Tomaso was not a competitive car. After a promising third in the non-championship Daily Express Trophy at Silverstone nothing went right until at Zandvoort
in the Dutch Grand Prix, Courage reached seventh place and then, unaccountably, lost control of the de Tomaso. It crashed heavily, and burst into flames; Courage
was killed, probably instantly, by the impact.
It seemed as if the world of Frank Williams had crumbled away. 'Suddenly I had no car, no driver - just an enormous amount of debts.' Williams' only assets were two Ford DFV engines and in an attempt to continue the season he sold everything he possessed - his clothes, even his £200 wrist watch had to be sacrificed. De Tomaso was interested in building a new car if Williams could obtain the services of promising newcomer Emerson Fittipaldi
. The Brazilian was wooed, and shown around the factory but the outcome was that Lotus stepped in with a three-year contract which Fittipaldi signed.
The remaining de Tomaso was driven by Brian Redman and Tim Schenken with skill but enjoyed no success. Williams made a come-back in 1971, securing sponsorship from Italian toy company Politoys, French fuel concern Motul and Ward tools to run a Formula One March 711 for Henri Pescarolo plus a pair of Formula Two March 712Ms for Pescarolo and Derek Bell
. Pescarolo showed occasional speed in Formula One (actually leading the non-championship Oulton Park Gold Cup until the March broke), but as the season wore on limited finance meant that the preparation of the Formula Two cars suffered. Pescarolo won at Mallory Park in March, while Bell enjoyed a second at Monza, but most of the time the cars broke down.
Ford designer Len Bailey
Early in 1971 Ford designer Len Bailey had approached Frank about a Formula One project: a car designed especially for a small team, a simple, straightforward design easy to maintain. Williams was highly enthusiastic and approached Politoys, who agreed to sponsor the car so long as it was named after them. It was originally intended that the car should appear by the Italian Grand Prix, but various problems, chiefly financial, meant the Politoys FX3-Ford was not completed until July 1972. This season Pescarolo raced a new March 721, ostensibly until the Politoys was completed, while Brazilian sponsorship meant that Carlos Pace raced the specially up-dated March 711.
A move was also made to new team premises in Reading, Berkshire. Accidents plagued the season. Pescarolo managed to crash his March badly in the Monaco, French, German, Austrian and Italian Grands Prix, while he also wrecked the Politoys on its maiden outing in the British Grand Prix. Pace showed promise, but needed a better car. Ex-Brabham designer Ron Tauranac worked for the team on a freelance basis, modifying the Marches and attempting to develop the Politoys. After a testing programme carried out over the winter by drivers Chris Amon
and Howden Ganley, new designer John Clarke developed two machines for the early part of the 1973 season.
The only similarity now to the original prototype
was the monocoque tub. The cars were now known as Iso Marlboro FX3Bs in deference to new sponsors, the Iso GT car company
and Marlboro cigarettes. Drivers were Ganley and Italian Nanni Galli. By April completely new cars were ready, essential to conform with much-revised safety regulations; they were known as the Iso Marlboro IRs. Ganley's best result was a sixth in the Canadian Grand Prix, and after Galli retired from racing early in the year the second car was raced by 'guest' drivers including Jackie Ickx (seventh in the United States Grand Prix), Gijs van Lennep (sixth in the Dutch Grand Prix), Henri Pescarolo, Graham McRae and Tim Schenken.
For 1974 the same cars were retained, Ray Stokoe taking over as designer and developing the machines which were still named Iso Marlboros, although Iso did not fulfil their sponsorship arrangements. Ganley quit the team after a disagreement with Williams, his place being taken by wiry Italian Arturo Merzario. An arrangement with Marlboro meant that Gijs van Lennep and Tom Belso were to share drives in the second car, but Williams was not too keen and in mid-season he gave the drive to Frenchman Jacques Laffite. Merzario showed the Iso Marlboro IR (later re-coded FW) had potential, setting third best practice time for the South African Grand Prix
and sixth for the Belgian.
However, actual results were elusive, best being third in the non-championship Brasilia race, fourth in Italy and sixth in South African Grand Prix
held at Kyalami. New Swiss Ambrozium sponsorship was secured for 1975, but money was tight and everything had to be done on a shoe-string budget. Even wide noses were bought cheaply secondhand from the Hesketh team: But a new chassis, smaller and lighter, was built. After an argument, plus some dismal performances, Merzario left the team and Laffite found himself promoted to number one driver. He was second in the German Grand Prix
, Williams' best result since 1969.
Tony Brise, Damien Magee and lan Ashley had 'guest' drives for the team and, towards the end of the year, Ashley's sponsor Richard Oaten offered Williams some financial assistance. But Williams was planning bigger things. He became involved with Waiter Wolf, an Austro-Canadian millionaire in 1975, and the arrangement was that Frank Williams was to become team manager of the Wolf Williams team the next year. 1976, however, proved to be the mixture much as before; the ex-Hesketh Racing 308Cs and, drivers Michel Leclere and Jacky Ickx proved a less than effective com- bination, although Ickx did manage to place sixth in the Spanish Grand Prix.
Waiter Wolf decided to go his own way in 1977, having had a year's experience of how a Formula One team was run, to form Waiter Wolf Racing-taking former Hesketh designer Harvey Postlethwaite with him. Williams, meanwhile, ran a March 761 for the Belgian driver Patrick Neve, but once again the team created little interest. Neve circulated in middle field for most of the time, and managed nothing better than an eighth place at Monza. What was significant, however, was that the Williams' car carried sponsorship from Saudi Arabian Airlines for the first time in 1977. It was thanks to the deal which Frank Williams worked out with Saudi Arabian Airlines, and other Saudi businessmen, that he was able to make his first serious attempt on the big time in 1978.
Williams selected the very reliable, and increasingly quick, Alan Jones
to drive the new Saudia Williams FW06. This Pat rick Head designed car was a revelation when it appeared in December 1977. One of the smallest FI cars, it seemed very simple and conventional, but great ingenuity had been applied to limit the number of separate components. The rear wheels were mounted directly on to flanges at the end of the driveshaft outer constant velocity joints, helping to reduce unwanted unsprung weight, and the oil tank was the inside of the engine to gearbox adaptor.
Although not one of the new generation wing cars, the Williams proved very quick, even though mechanical teething troubles and breakdowns prevented Jones from reaping the full rewards his skill and effort merited. Fluctuating fuel pressure at Long Beach robbed him of a possible victory in the US Grand Prix
(West), and it was fuel vaporisation that took away his chance of third place in Germany. A broken gearbox at Monaco, a siezed wheel bearing at Anderstorp, a driveshaft failure in the British Grand Prix, and a broken throttle cable in the Dutch GP all combined to hold the team back.
Things did not go wrong all the time, however, and many people took Jones' second place at Watkins Glen at the end of the season as a good indication of how the Williams car would fare in 1979. With stable sponsorship from Saudi Arabian Airlines and Fruit of the Loom, a good designer and a settled and talented driver, Frank Williams was at last in an enviable position. Their first win came in 1979 from Clay Regazzoni, the first title in 1980 with Alan Jones
, and a second championship in 1982 with Keke Rosberg.
A car accident in March 1986 in France resulted in Williams sustaining a spinal cord injury. While driving a Ford Sierra rental car from the Paul Ricard Circuit to the Nice airport, Williams lost control and the car rolled over causing him to crash into the roof and resulting in a spinal fracture. Peter Windsor, Williams's passenger, sustained only minor injuries. Since the accident, Williams has used a wheelchair.
In 1987 the Queen awarded Williams the title of CBE. He was knighted in 1999. He is also one of the few non-Frenchmen to have been made a Chevalier of France's Legion d'honneur, this honour accorded for his work with Renault engines. In 2008 Williams was awarded the Wheatcroft trophy. On 19 December 2010, he was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for "outstanding achievement in the face of adversity" at the BBC Sports Personality of The Year Award.