Drivers Becoming Constructors: Frank Williams

  • 22 June 2024
  • 3 min read
  • 4 images
Drivers Becoming Constructors: Frank Williams image

Photo credit: Formula 1, Williams Racing, Wheelsage

Frank Williams deserves recognition as the true symbol of modern Formula 1. It’s not surprising why him and not, for example, Enzo Ferrari. The answer lies in their origins: Ferrari was born a constructor who used racing as a powerful means of communication, never stepping out of the limelight. Frank, as everyone called him, represented the Formula 1 spirit by joining the group of "English garagists", as Ferrari disdainfully called them. These were individuals who assembled cars based on two principles: Lack of budget and the pursuit of solutions to make their cars competitive even without the powerful engines that powered Ferraris.

These "garagists" shared a cultural trait: They were English or like Brabham and McLaren adopted the rule of making it at any cost no matter the sacrifices. Frank, who spent years desperately searching for money for his team, was a true champion in this regard. Initially, his activities were based on a Ford Transit van, which he also used to sell spare parts to lower formula drivers and a phone booth because, after not paying bills, his phone lines were cut.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Frank Williams - 1 At the beginning of his career, Frank Williams faced significant sacrifices due to budget constraints. He never gave up and entered his first Grand Prix in 1969.

In these conditions, Frank, who had tried racing as a driver but didn’t feel he could excel, entered his first Formula 1 car in a Grand Prix at just 27 years old. It wasn’t built by him but was a modified used Brabham. In 1969, his close friend Piers Courage managed to bring it to second place twice in a Grand Prix. This showcased another aspect of the English approach to motorsport: Even privately owned, less competitive cars were meticulously maintained, mechanically perfect, and aesthetically polished like jewels. But this wasn't enough.

To find resources, Frank collaborated with De Tomaso, who was designing a Formula 1 car. The result was tragic: Piers Courage died in the Dutch Grand Prix and the entire project collapsed. For Williams losing his friend was a severe blow but he didn’t give up. He continued, always short on funds, partnering with Iso Rivolta, Polytois and oil magnate Walter Wolf. Years passed, it was 1976 and results with modified used chassis and scarce resources didn’t come. Frank was respected in the field and even more so when he joined forces with a talented young engineer named Patrick Head.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Frank Williams - 2 The arrival of Patrick Head, pictured with Frank Williams, marked a performance leap for the Grove team, leading to significant successes from 1980 onwards.

It was time to shift gears and become a constructor himself. In 1977, Williams Grand Prix Engineering was born. Following a common rule in England, he began using the solid and reliable Ford Cosworth engines, finishing second in the Constructors' Championship in 1979 and winning it in 1980 and 1981. Throughout its history, Williams has used and succeeded with many engines: Honda, Judd, Renault, BMW, Toyota and Mercedes, achieving 9 Constructors' World Titles and 7 Drivers' World Titles.

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Frank Williams - 3 Williams F1 has had numerous collaborations with engine manufacturers, such as BMW.

Frank Williams' strength and determination were tested during a cruel moment in his life: In 1986, at the peak of his success, he left the French Paul Ricard circuit driving his car and had an accident where the car overturned. The accident wouldn’t have been serious if the roof hadn’t collapsed, causing irreversible spinal damage. He, physically fit and accustomed to long runs, became a quadriplegic in an instant. He spent the rest of his life in the pit lane at every race, in a wheelchair, losing even the use of his hands.

But he didn’t give up, maintaining his smile and sharp mind, ensuring the team continued to win, with the last victory coming with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. He passed away at 79, highly honored and respected. What he lacked, which Roarington symbolically wants to give today, is recognition as the true symbol of contemporary Formula 1. He is because today’s top motorsport embodies everything he pursued in life: Never giving up, innovation, perfection in every detail and respect. Farewell, Frank!

Drivers Becoming Constructors: Frank Williams - 4 Williams F1 has achieved 9 Constructors' World Titles and 7 Drivers' World Titles, with the last won by Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.