29 photos that chart Williams' amazing journey from F1 no-hopes to world beaters
No single person has led a Formula 1 team for as long as Sir Frank Williams. Here, we chart his journey through the sport in photographs.
Williams are Formula 1’s greatest privateer. This is not merely a reflection of the incredible success the team achieved during the eighties and nineties, but because they have stood the test of time.
They have watched great rivals rise and fall, seen F1 morph from a band of wealthy eccentrics into a billion dollar business, always knowing that their own rightful place is on the track fighting against the stopwatch.
The Williams-Hondas of Piquet and Mansell run one-two at Adelaide in 1986. | Sutton Images
Frank Williams has been at the helm from the beginning. In fact, no one person has led an F1 team for as long as Sir Frank.
History tells us that survival is at the root of the Williams story. Through good times and bad the team – and particularly their founder – have never allowed adversity to get the better of them.
Frank was not shy about displaying his admiration for Jochen Rindt. | Sutton Images
This approach has kept Williams striving and is why they are still racing in 2017, almost 50 years after Frank first entered cars into a world championship event. Such is the culture he has created at Grove, few would bet against the Williams name being around for another half century.
FRANK WILLIAMS RACING CARS
Frank Williams fell in love with racing as a young boy and, after a brief spell behind the wheel, realised that he was better suited to the entrepreneurial and management side of motorsport.
By 1968 he was running his friend Piers Courage in Formula 2, and after a strong year the pair decided to tackle the premier category with a customer Brabham. Frank Williams Racing Cars had arrived in F1.
Courage was a friend first and a driver second to Williams. | Sutton Images
In just his second race with Williams Courage finished second to Graham Hill at Monaco, announcing both driver and team as serious players. They scored more points in Britain and Italy, then took another second-place finish at the U.S. Grand Prix to end the season eighth in the standings.
Courage and Williams announced themselves to the world with a runner-up finish in Monaco. | © Peter Darley
For 1970 the team switched to a De Tomaso chassis. Early form was poor, but things seemed to be improving by the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort. Piers was running seventh when, on lap 23, he crashed heavily and the car burst into flames. It was instantly clear that survival was impossible.
Frank had not just lost a gifted driver, but a close friend. The team skipped a race and then soldiered on, scoring the odd points in 1971 and 1972 with Henri Pescarolo and Carlos Pace.
Le Mans icon Henri Pescarolo took a best finish of fourth for Williams in 1971. | © Peter Darley
Between 1973 and 1976 Williams’ main focus was survival. In just four seasons Frank’s team fielded 26 different drivers with almost no success, the one bright spot coming with a second-place finish for Jacques Laffite at the 1975 German Grand Prix.
Frank sits in one of his cars. | Sutton Images
But financial worries had begun to drag the team under – Frank was doing business from a phonebox – and during 1976 the Canadian businessman Walter Wolf bought a share in the team. At the end of the season Wolf took full control and Frank’s F1 dream appeared to be in tatters.
THE SECOND COMING
But he wasn’t away from F1 for long. Using Wolf’s money he quickly formed a new team, Williams Grand Prix Engineering Limited, with the bullish young engineer Patrick Head.
Head and Williams outside their modest new headquarters. | Sutton Images
Previously employed by Lola, Head became disillusioned by motor racing and left the sport to build boats. Frank tempted him back and Head took a 30 percent share in the new enterprise.
After a holding year in 1977 the team attracted new sponsorship for 1978 and hired Alan Jones to drive the new FW06. The first sign that something special was happening came at the U.S. Grand Prix, where Jones finished second to the Ferrari of Carlos Reutemann.
Williams was a keen long-distance runner, even convincing Jones to join him on a jaunt around the factory grounds on occasion. | Sutton Images
In 1979 Jones was joined by the vastly experienced Clay Regazzoni to pilot the nimble FW07. Williams became serious contenders and, at the British Grand Prix, Regazzoni bagged their first win.
The Williams team celebrate as Regazzoni clinches their maiden victory. | Sutton Images
The floodgates had opened. Jones won four of the next five races to end the year third in the standings, while Williams were second in the constructors’ table.
The FW07 was retained and refined for 1980 and Jones took five wins on his way to the world title. With his new team-mate Reutemann third in the standings, Williams also secured a commanding first constructors’ crown.
Jones on his way to winning the 1980 British Grand Prix, one of five victories the Aussie took that year. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
They defended the constructors’ title in 1981, while Reutemann missed out on the drivers’ championship by a solitary point to Brabham ace Nelson Piquet.
Reutemann at Spa in 1981. Few drivers have come as close to a world title without ever winning one. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
1982 delivered another drivers’ title when Keke Rosberg clinched the championship despite winning just one race all season. There were further wins in 1983 and 1984, but these were fallow years by Williams’ recent standards.
Williams, Head and F1's original title-winning Rosberg. | Sutton Images
In 1985 they began a tempestuous but successful new relationship by hiring Nigel Mansell, who broke his duck at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. For 1986 he would be paired with two-time world champion Piquet and, with Honda engines, the team appeared to be stronger than ever.
Soon, however, Frank would have another fight for survival on his hands.
A DIFFERENT KIND OF LIFE
Ahead of the 1986 season, Frank was driving from a test at the Paul Ricard circuit to Nice airport when he lost control of his rental car and plunged into a field. A spinal fracture left him gravely injured – his wife Ginny was asked if she wanted the life support machine switched off – and would ultimately confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Williams and Mansell at Brands Hatch, the boss' first race back after his accident. | Sutton Images
The team fought on with their excellent new FW11-Honda. Piquet won the season-opener, while Mansell took back-to-back victories in Belgium and Canada.
Though he raced for other teams, Mansell will be remembered best as a Williams driver. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
Frank returned to the paddock at the British Grand Prix, where he received a standing ovation and Mansell led a Williams one-two. With Frank unable to make it to the podium, Ginny accepted the winner' trophy for the team.
Ginny Williams receives the winners' trophy on an emotional Brands Hatch podium. | Sutton Images
The 1986 campaign didn’t have the perfect ending Williams had hoped for. Mansell missed out on the title by just two points following a tyre failure at the season finale, though the team were able to clinch their third constructors’ title.
And they added a fourth in 1987, while Piquet became drivers’ champion despite taking three wins to Mansell’s six.
Piquet clinched his third and final world title in a Williams. | Sutton Images
McLaren dominated for the next four years, but Williams were rebuilding into something even stronger. Their new engine partners Renault had made performance gains, while on the technical side the brilliant young Adrian Newey had been hired to join Head.
Williams, Head and Newey was as strong a team as F1 has ever witnessed. | Sutton Images
Their 1992 car ranks among the most dominant in F1 history. Mansell – who had returned after a two-year spell at Ferrari – finally clinched the world title in style, taking nine wins and 14 poles from 16 races.
Mansell was unmatchable at the wheel of the stunning FW14B. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
Williams were now the team to beat once more and in 1993 Alain Prost secured another world title for the Grove squad.
Prost arrived at Williams in 1993, dominated the championship and then retired. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
But 1994 brought the team back to earth. Having signed the great Ayrton Senna from McLaren, Williams had high hopes of dominating once again. This fell to pieces in tragic fashion when Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix. The accident also resulted in a court case against Williams, Head and Newey that would take more than a decade to resolve.
The combination of Williams and Senna – pictured here on the grid at Imola – could have been truly magnificent. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
Yet again, the team rallied. Damon Hill assumed the role of leader on the track and very nearly pipped Michael Schumacher to the world title. After a hit and miss 1995 the popular Englishman took the crown in 1996, followed by Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.
Hill stepped into the role of team leader after Senna's death and was eventually rewarded with a world title. | © The Cahier Archive 2017
Williams had taken five constructors’ and four drivers’ titles in six years. At the time, few would have guessed that they’d still be waiting for another 20 years on.
ON THE CUSP OF A COMEBACK
With Renault, Newey and sponsors Rothmans all departing in the following years, Williams inevitably lost ground to their competitors.
A resurgence began in 2000 when they partnered with BMW and handed a young Jenson Button his F1 debut.
Button made his F1 debut with Williams in 2000 and reportedly came close to ending his career with the team in 2017. | Sutton Images
In 2001 they paired Juan Pablo Montoya with Ralf Schumacher. While the two never saw eye-to-eye they were a success on-track.
For the next four years the team seemed to be forever on the cusp of a breakthrough. Ralf won six times in Williams colours while Montoya took four victories. The Colombian twice finished third in the standings and looked a genuine contender in 2003, but ultimately the team fell just short of returning to the pinnacle of the sport.
Montoya's finest hour came with victory at Monaco in 2003. Incredibly, it was only Williams' third win in the principality. | Sutton Images
By this point Williams was at a crossroads: BMW wanted to take full control of the team, while Frank wished to retain autonomy. And so, following the 2005 season, Williams split with BMW. It began a spell in the doldrums.
FIGHTING BACK, AGAIN
Williams fell into a steady decline after BMW’s departure. They changed engines regularly – from Cosworth to Toyota, back to Cosworth and then on to Renault – and flitted between fading veterans, promising youngsters and funded drivers.
In 2006 Williams gave an F1 debut to Nico Rosberg, the son of their 1982 champion Keke. | Sutton Images
In 2011 they finished ninth in the constructors’ standings, the team’s worst showing since 1976. Head departed in 2012, while Frank’s role began to be scaled back.
2012 was another largely barren year punctuated by one stunning moment of glory. Almost from nowhere, the much maligned Pastor Maldonado won the Spanish Grand Prix for Williams, holding of no less a driver than Fernando Alonso to claim victory. It was the only time the team got near the podium all season.
Spain 2012 ended a wait of almost seven years for a grand prix victory. | Sutton Images
2013 was another disastrous year on-track as the team again finished ninth, but major rebuilding was afoot. Frank and Ginny’s daughter Claire Williams was appointed deputy team principal, while Pat Symonds was added as chief technical officer midway through the campaign.
Williams also had a promising new driver in 23-year-old Valtteri Bottas, whose eighth-place at the U.S. Grand Prix was the team’s best finish of the season.
Bottas stood out with an accomplished drive to eighth in a poor Williams. | Sutton Images
At the time Williams’ decline might have seemed terminal. But, as has so often been the case, the team bounced back impressively.
2014 brought huge improvement. Alongside the promising young Bottas, Williams signed former Ferrari star Felipe Massa. They also swapped Renault engines for Mercedes power and added Martini as their new title sponsors. Rob Smedley joined from Ferrari, adding to an impressive technical team that also included Symonds and sporting manager Steve Nielsen.
Symonds (left) and Smedley (centre) brought huge winning experience to Williams. | Sutton Images
And with Mercedes the dominant force in the new hybrid engine era, Williams suddenly found themselves back at the front. Over the next three years Bottas and Massa scored 14 podiums and the team twice finished third in the standings.
After almost half a century in the sport, Sir Frank still keeps a close eye on his team. | Sutton Images
Despite spiralling costs making it near-impossible to fight the likes of Mercedes and Ferrari, the team continue to fight on in the belief that they can once again conquer the world championship. It is an attitude ingrained in Williams by their founder and one that will remain part of their DNA long after Sir Frank has departed the F1 paddock.
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Images from the Cahier Archive can be found in Formula One: The Pursuit of Speed: A Photographic Celebration of F1's Greatest Moments, published by Aurum. Click here for buying options.
Images by Peter Darley can be found in Pit & Paddock: Behind the Scenes at UK and European Circuits in the 60s and 70s, published by Aurum. Buying options can be found here.