One of the most loved teams from Formula 1 history, Williams Racing completes 40-years in 2017.
It is said that the company you keep usually defines you, and Sir Francis Owen Garbett “Frank” Williams surely knows the art. Born in 1942 in the humble surroundings of Jarrow, Frank Williams got hooked to fast cars in late 50’s when a friend gave Williams a ride in his Jaguar XK150. There was no turning back for him since then. When in 1977 he formed his company “Williams Grand Prix Engineering” following an unsuccessful earlier venture ‘Frank Williams Racing Cars’, little did the world know that it will go on to become one of the world’s greatest Formula racing teams ever. Williams had put his faith into Patrick Head, a young passionate engineer establishing the now iconic, “Williams-Head” partnership. As the team celebrates 40 years of Williams Racing, we take some time out to talk about this icon from Formula 1 world.
And what an icon Williams Racing is; in its 40 years of racing the company has 114 wins, 128 pole positions and 133 fastest laps. Resulting from these numbers are a staggering 9 Constructors’ and 7 Drivers’ World Championship titles. It all started on the 8th of May 1977, when Patrick Neve finished 12th in a March 761, at the Circuito de Jarama in Spain, and Williams Racing had arrived. Frank had always loved the sport and he was a part of top-level motorsport since the 1960s. Williams name was a known participant in the junior classes of formula racing, which had led to the formation of the Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966. In 1969, Williams had ventured into Formula 1 with his friend Piers Courage behind the wheel of his race car.
Also Read: 50 Years of McLaren in Formula 1
Though the company was not successful, it had established Frank Williams as a person who was determined to make it big in the highest level of formula racing. Frank sold his controlling interest in the original team to establish what is known as Williams Racing. The first car to be built by Williams and Head was the FW06 in 1978 and it served as the basis for the team to grow from strength-to-strength. Williams Racing had started from an empty carpet warehouse in Didcot, Oxfordshire leading on to become the third most successful Formula 1 team on the grid. The FW06 was developed with the help of only 17 people with a backing form a number of Middle Eastern backers. The car was taken for a shaken down by the ace Australian racer Alan Jones during the later part of 1977.
While the FW06 was in development, Williams Racing had already started participating in the 1977 F1 Championship with a custom March 761 driven by Patrick Nève. Starting with the Spanish Grand Prix, the team raced with their lone driver Nève at 11 races that year. However, the new team could not score points with a 7th being their best finish at the Italian GP. The 1978 season saw the lone Williams Racing FW06 arrive on the grid with Alan Jones at the helm of the wheel. The car was powered by a Cosworth V8 and it raced at 16 races.
The first ever points finish came for Williams at its third race of the season at South African Gran Prix when the FW06 crossed the line in 4th place. That same year, the team’s first ever podium finish arrived with Jones taking a second place at the US Gran Prix. Williams Racing finished the year at 9th place in constructor championship with 16 points while Alan coming in at 11th in Drivers Championship. Interestingly, Jones won the CanAm title in the United States that same year as well. It was in 1979 that Williams Racing started to showcase its might with the arrival of the new FW07, the company’s first ground effect car. It was designed by Head and this time there were two drivers at the helm. Jones continued with the team while Clay Regazzoni arrived from team Shadow he drove for previous year.
The First points scoring race came as late as in the seasons 7th race when Regazzoni had almost clinched the first win for Williams team at the Monaco Grand Prix. Later it was the team’s home race at the British Grand Prix of 1979 when Regazzoni blasted past everyone and winning the 1st ever race for Williams Racing by a significant 25-second lead. The next round saw both Williams cars finish one-two at Hockenheim, with Alan Jones winning ahead of Regazzoni by just 2 seconds. At the next race of Österreichring (current Red Bull Ring), Jones brought Williams a Hat trick of wins beating Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari. Two weeks later Jones completed a personal hat-trick of wins and fourth in a row for Williams team. Williams Ended the year at 2nd in the Constructors Championship behind Ferrari. Both its drivers, Alan and Clay had finished 3rd and 5th in the drivers standing respectively.
Lost in Time: Legend of Lola Cars
After a Hugely successful outing in the 1979 Formula 1 season, William Racing never looked back. Alan Jones became the first Williams team Driver to win a Drivers Championship in 1980. Jones had won 5 races that years, bringing the Williams team its first ever Constructors Championship as well. 1981 saw Williams Racing win back-to-back Constructor Titles. In 1982, Keke Rosberg, replacing the retired Alan Jones ended wining the Drivers Championship on the basis of his sheer consistency.
From 1984 Honda turbocharged V6s were used as Williams Racing engines. In 1985 the FW10 arrived with a carbon-fibre composite chassis designed by Head. That year the team took 4 victories with both its drivers, Rosberg and Mansell, winning two each. Williams finished at third place in Constructors. However, the highlight of the year was without doubt the ultra fast lap by Rosberg of the 4.719 km Silverstone Circuit in just 1:05.591 at an average speed of 259.005 km/h. It was the fastest recorded lap in Formula One history to that point. From 1985 Williams Racing also started to use the Canon Livery in yellow, blue and white that would stay with the English Formula 1 team till 1993.
In 1986 an unfortunate accident saw Frank Williams getting paralysed. Frank had to miss almost the entire year of racing. However, his team did not let him down and won the Constructors title with Mansell just missing the driver’s title to Prost. Profound success continued in 1989 when the only Williams-Honda driver champion title came for Piquet. Even after the win, Honda broke the partnership the same year to start working with McLaren.
1989 saw the era of Williams-Renault partnership that dominated the world of Formula till 1997 when Renault left the sport. In those 8 years, the collaboration had won four Drivers’ and five Constructors’ Championships. During the 90’s the design expertise of Adrian Newey saw the cars like the FW14B and the FW15C. These cars are still considered to be the most technologically advanced cars to have ever raced in Formula 1 championship.
Williams team suffered lacklustre years following Renaults departure from Formula 1 and Adrian moving to McLaren. During 1998 and 1999 Williams Racing ran the red Winfield livery. BMW joined Williams team with an engine supply contract for 6-years and their famous blue and white livery arrived Williams cars in 2000. However, the collaboration could not achieve much success in spite of a few wins. In 2005 BMW left the collaboration even with a year remaining in the contract and bought Sauber to rename it as BMW team.
From 2006 to 2013, Williams had faced some of its worst results in their entire history. As the company tried various engine suppliers like Toyota, Cosworth, Renault and went through many driver changes, there was still a sense of stability that was missing. Since, 2014 Williams Racing started using Mercedes-Benz supplied engines on their Williams Cars.
Regarding 40-years of Williams Racing, Claire Williams, Deputy Team Principal had said, “40-years ago Frank and Patrick created what would become one of the most iconic teams in the history of Formula One – Williams. We are immensely proud of what we have achieved during our long and illustrious history. We have experienced the most euphoric highs – reaching the pinnacle of the sport nine times as a Constructor and created seven Champion drivers; Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve. We have also experienced the lows; the heartache that the sport can cause and victories that have agonisingly slipped away”.
She further said, “So much has changed in Formula One in the last 40 years but one thing remains the same, our passion for motorsport. We want to celebrate our passion, our achievements and our heritage with everyone who has made this journey possible – our fans, partners, media colleagues and the many friends we have made over the last four decades. Racing, it’s in our blood, it’s our DNA and has been since 1977. We are proud of that and that will never change.”
Williams Racing has named its 2017 Formula 1 car FW40 to mark this milestone years for the team. The company is also celebrating the historic year with a number of special events that will run through out the year. We congratulate the team for their achievements through the last 40-years and give our best wishes to them for future. We, like everybody wants to see Williams Racing back to their best soon.