Frank Williams Racing Cars
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|Full name||Frank Williams Racing Cars|
|Noted drivers|| Piers Courage
|Subsequent name||Walter Wolf Racing|
|Formula One World Championship career|
|Debut||1969 Spanish Grand Prix|
|Final race||1976 Japanese Grand Prix|
- Not to be confused with Williams Grand Prix Engineering, formed by Frank Williams and Patrick Head in 1977 and known today as Williams F1.
Frank Williams had been a motor-racing enthusiast since a young age, and after a career in saloon cars and Formula Three, backed by Williams' shrewd instincts as a dealer in racing cars and spares, he realised he'd reached his peak as a driver and started entering other drivers, in particular his friend and sometime flatmate Piers Courage. After Williams backed Courage in a successful 1968 Formula Two season, he purchased a Brabham Formula One car for Courage in 1969. This allegedly angered Jack Brabham, as the car had been sold to Williams with the expectation that it would be used in the Tasman Series and then converted to Formula 5000. Courage in fact had a great year, taking second place at both the Monaco and US Grands Prix.
Their efforts attracted the interest of Argentine sports car manufacturer De Tomaso, who built a Formula One chassis (designed by Gian Paolo Dallara) for the 1970 season. However, the car was initially uncompetitive, failing to finish the first four races of the year. In the fifth, the Dutch Grand Prix, the De Tomaso 505/38 flipped and caught fire, killing Courage. The death of his friend seriously upset Williams; the subsequent distance the team principal placed between himself and his drivers has been attributed to this event. The team soldiered on, however, first with Brian Redman, then with Tim Schenken. With no results, the partnership with De Tomaso was dissolved.
For 1971, Williams purchased a year-old March 701, and ran Frenchman Henri Pescarolo. The team later upgraded to a new March 711, but results were difficult to come by. The old car was also entered for Max Jean at the French Grand Prix. After the success of 1969, Williams was now low on funds, living a hand-to-mouth existence from race to race. Pescarolo did, however, keep the outfit ticking over with fourth place at the British Grand Prix and sixth in Austria.
Williams as constructor
French oil company Motul came on board for the 1972 season, enabling Williams to buy a new March 721 for Pescarolo, while backing from Italian toy manufacturer Politoys provided money to build an in-house chassis. From the (non-Championship) Brazilian Grand Prix, Carlos Pace was entered in the previous year's March 711, later taking fifth at the Belgian Grand Prix. The Len Bailey-designed Politoys FX3 debuted in the hands of Pescarolo at the British Grand Prix, but the steering failed and the car was heavily damaged. Chris Amon would guest in the end of season non-Championship Rothmans World Championship Victory Race at Brands Hatch but, unimpressed with the chassis, elected not to start.
Motul and Politoys both withdrew their backing at the end of 1972. Williams managed to attract backing from cigarette giant Marlboro and Italian sports car manufacturer Iso Rivolta for the 1973 season, with the FX3 reworked as the Iso-Marlboro FX3B. Two new drivers were signed, New Zealand's Howden Ganley and Italy's Nanni Galli. However, Galli would only drive in five races, with seven other drivers taking the second car over the course of the season - local Jackie Pretorius in the South African Grand Prix, Denmark's Tom Belsø in Sweden, the returning Pescarolo in France and Germany, Graham McRae in Britain, Gijs van Lennep in Holland, Austria and Italy, Schenken in Canada and finally Jacky Ickx in the United States.
For the Spanish Grand Prix, a new car, the Iso-Marlboro IR, was introduced, designed by John Clarke. Results generally failed to improve, although van Lennep finished sixth in his home race in Holland.
The Canadian race, however, saw Williams attract a great deal of attention. A downpour and a crash led to the first-ever deployment of a safety car in Formula One. With no electronic timekeeping devices, the organisers were left with written lap charts to work out the leader of the race, something made near-impossible by most cars making two or more pit stops in the space of a couple of laps. They came to the incorrect decision that Ganley was actually leading, despite Frank Williams and everyone else saying he wasn't. Ganley then astonishingly led off the leading lights for a while when the race restarted (though the FIA official lap charts do not acknowledge this, due to the confusion), and he eventually finished sixth.
These two points placed the team tenth in the Constructors' Championship.
Both Iso Rivolta and Marlboro left before the 1974 season. The IR chassis was, however, retained, now re-designated the FW after Frank Williams. (Three of these chassis were used, numbered FW01, FW02 and FW03 respectively.) Initially a single car was entered for Arturo Merzario, who had replaced Ganley as the team's number one driver; he placed sixth in the third race of the season at South Africa. A second car was entered for Tom Belsø in both this race and in Spain, and for van Lennep in Belgium. At Monaco only Merzario was entered, before the team reverted to two cars for the rest of the season, the second car being driven by Belsø in Sweden and Britain, van Lennep in Holland, Jean-Pierre Jabouille in France and Jacques Laffite from Germany onwards. Richard Robarts substituted for an unwell Merzario in Sweden, but after qualifying was forced to give his car to Belsø after the Dane had crashed his, and thus did not start the race.
There was a surprise at Merzario's home race in Italy, as he finished fourth. This gave the team a total of four points, and another tenth-place finish in the Constructors' Championship.
Merzario and Laffite stayed on for the start of the 1975 season. For the Spanish Grand Prix, promising British youngster Tony Brise substituted for Laffite, finishing just outside the points in seventh, while Merzario gave a race debut to the new FW04. By this time, however, the team's money problems had become serious, and Merzario left following the Belgian Grand Prix, his place taken for the rest of the season by six different paying drivers - South Africa's Ian Scheckter in Sweden and Holland, local François Migault in France, Ian Ashley in Germany (who broke both his ankles during qualifying and thus did not start), Switzerland's Jo Vonlanthen in Austria, Renzo Zorzi in Italy and finally female driver Lella Lombardi in the United States. Northern Ireland's Damien Magee, meanwhile, substituted for Laffite in Sweden.
A major shock came in Germany when a mix of attrition and tenacious driving saw Laffite take second place behind the Brabham of Carlos Reutemann, bringing much-needed financial aid to a team on the point of collapse. This was to be the team's only points finish of the season, but they improved their position in the Constructors' Championship by one place, to ninth.
Association with Walter Wolf
At the start of the 1976 season, Canadian oil millionaire Walter Wolf bought 60% of Frank Williams Racing Cars. However, Frank Williams was retained as team manager. The team inherited the 308C car used by Hesketh Racing during the final races of 1975, rebranding it as the Wolf-Williams FW05, and took Jacky Ickx back as lead driver. However, the car turned out to be overweight and Ickx qualified in only four races, with a best result of seventh in the Spanish Grand Prix, before he was fired and replaced by the returning Merzario. A second car was raced during the first half of the season by Frenchman Michel Leclère.
At season's end, Wolf decided to restructure the team, removing Frank Williams from the manager's job. Disillusioned, Williams left the team altogether, to set up Williams Grand Prix Engineering with Patrick Head in 1977.
Formula One results