Legends never leave: Williams says goodbye
My personal reflection on Thursday's news.
The term 'end of an era' is one thrown around a lot in Formula 1, but this article truly calls for such a term. Regardless of how this weekend's Italian Grand Prix will be written into history, it will forever be associated with the sad news that Sir Frank Williams and his daughter Claire will step away from the sport, as new team owners Dorilton Capital get ready to take over the iconic Williams team.
Thursday's news definitely marks a teary-eyed moment for the sport. We all know the legendary rags-to-riches story of Sir Frank and his team by now, and just how important he is to the history of F1 and indeed F1 itself. Both professional and personal, the Williams family are a true example of how to never give up, how to make the impossible possible, and how if you work hard enough, you will eventually get where you want.
Even if you are not a fan of the team, surely you can't be hit hard by the news. It's hard to explain, but like so many others, Williams has a special place in my heart. In a sport where teams are now more associated with big-name companies and terms of how their money stacks, Williams is the last of the proper teams. Always run by the Williams family itself, Sir Frank's one and only goal in over forty years of involvement in F1 were simply to go racing.
I love that determination. Sir Frank worked hard for his team and let nothing stop his drivers lining up on the grid every weekend. People such as Sir Patrick Head and Adrian Newey and the likes have been essential along the way but Sir Frank and the Williams family always held the reigns. When Sir Frank was recovering from his horrific car accident in 1986, his wife, Lady Virginia, or Ginny as she was known, echoed her husband's perseverance and sometimes ignorance to keep the team working as hard as ever. They were so well suited as they were both the same, two people that knew what they wanted and never took no for an answer.
The team has had some amazing moments, such as the domination of the nineties as it defied teams such as Ferrari and McLaren to multiple drivers and constructors world championships that have marked them as one of the most successful teams in history today and some really bad moments of course, such as the death of Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994. Sir Frank and his team have seen the extreme highs and the crushing blows that such a sport as F1 could throw at them. They have truly experienced it all.
In recent years, Sir Frank and Ginny's daughter Claire took over the daily running of the team in the form of Deputy Team Principal and has often, rather unfairly, in my opinion, been blamed as the reason behind the recent demise of the team. Under the leadership of Claire and in the height of the massive engine regulation change in 2014, Williams went from ninth on the table in 2013 to third for the next two successive years, often being the second-best car of the weekend to the dominant Mercedes.
Sure, it may not have lasted all that long, but it showed that a team like Williams could still fight with the big boys at the front. I had hoped for more of the same under the regulation changes in 2022 and that Claire and Sir Frank would once again be apart of some hopeful success for the team, but it doesn't feel all that exciting anymore.
When I first heard of the team being bought out by Dorilton Capital, I did not worry so much as I presumed the firm would move in behind the scenes, run the team but keep Claire and the Williams family involved, much like Ross Brawn in 2010, staying on as team principal at Brawn GP, even though he had sold the team to Mercedes and it became the works team we know of today.
I cannot say I am surprised at the news. As I've said, I do not think it was Claire or the family's fault the team has fallen back in recent years, but the fact that there is simply no space for the old guard in today's monopoly that is Formula 1. I just think it is really sad when a team so important and unique to the sport as Williams was forced into selling the team and if this is what can happen to such an iconic team then in reality, what hope had Marussia, Caterham or HRT in recent years? It really says a lot about the state of the sport at the moment and only emphases the fact that something needs to change.
For me, as I've written about so many times, I'll forever hold my unique and fond memories of the Williams team growing up. Williams, alongside Ferrari and McLaren, were the top three when I was a young boy fascinated by the sport in the early 2000's, and they were the outsiders that you always liked to see do well. The drivers, the team and those awesome blue and while BMW V10 powered beasts will always hold a fond place in my memory, even more so now.
As for now, I can write something I never wanted to have to. To Claire, I am sad to see you go but I can understand. Of course, you have a lovely family of your own now, and especially in these current times family stands before anything else. Don't get yourself down by listening to the criticism, you always kept the interests of your team at heart and that can never be denied.
To Sir Frank, thank you for being such an inspiration that you've always been to me. Not only on the circuit, but in your own personal challenges in life, you thought people like me to never stop believing and to never give up., and I'll forever remember David Coulthard driving you around the circuit in the open-top Mercedes at Silverstone last year and the defying response you got. For probably the first time in your life, please go and take a holiday, you more than deserve it at this stage!
Before I end this piece, I leave you below an awesome video from last year's British Grand Prix, where Sir Frank got a spin around the circuit with Lewis Hamilton, a smile that couldn't be forgotten and a video that represents what Sir Frank has always been, a true racer!
And with that, an era has truly come to an end. Formula 1 suddenly feels like a bit more of a stranger, sadder place.