Frank Williams (Formula One)

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Frank Williams

Williams in 2011
Francis Owen Garbett Williams

(1942-04-16)16 April 1942
South Shields, England
Died28 November 2021(2021-11-28) (aged 79)
Surrey, England
EducationSt Joseph's College, Dumfries
OccupationTeam principal
Virginia Berry
(m. 1974; died 2013)
Children3, including Claire

Sir Francis Owen Garbett Williams CBE (16 April 1942 – 28 November 2021) was a British businessman, racing car driver, and the founder of the Williams Formula One team. He was the team principal from its foundation in 1977 until 2020. During that period, the team won nine constructors' championships and seven drivers' championships.

Early life[edit]

On 16 April 1942,[1] Williams was born in South Shields, County Durham.[2][3] At the time, his father served as an active Royal Air Force officer, while his mother worked as a school teacher. Williams was partly raised by his aunt and uncle in Jarrow, after the breakdown of his parents' marriage.[4][5]

He subsequently spent much of his later childhood at a private boarding school, St Joseph's College, Dumfries, Scotland. In the late 1950s, a friend gave Williams a ride in his Jaguar XK150, which immediately served to catalyse his interest in fast cars.[6]

Motorsports career[edit]

After a brief career as a driver and mechanic, Williams founded Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966, funded by his work as a travelling grocery salesman. He ran drivers, including Piers Courage, for several years in Formula Two and Formula Three.[7] Williams purchased a Brabham Formula One chassis, which Courage drove throughout the 1969 Formula One season, twice finishing in second place.[6][8]

In 1970, Williams undertook a brief partnership with Alejandro de Tomaso. After the death of Courage at the that year's Dutch Grand Prix, Williams's relationship with de Tomaso ended. In 1971, he raced Henri Pescarolo with a chassis purchased from March Engineering; 1972 saw the first F1 car built by the Williams works, the Politoys FX3 designed by Len Bailey. Pescarolo crashed and destroyed it at its first race.[8]

Williams, short on cash and conducting team business from a telephone box after being disconnected for unpaid bills, looked to Marlboro and Iso Rivolta, an Italian car company, for sponsorship. Though they pledged their support, they did not come through in time. In 1976, Williams took on a partner in Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf. Though the team continued functioning, it no longer belonged to Williams. He left in 1977, along with one of his employees, engineer Patrick Head. The two partners acquired an empty carpet warehouse in Didcot, Oxfordshire, and announced the formation of Williams Grand Prix Engineering, a new team to compete in Formula One.[8]

The team's first win came when Clay Regazzoni drove the Cosworth-powered Williams FW07 to victory at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone.[9] Their first Drivers' Championship and Constructors' Championship both came in 1980, with the Australian Alan Jones winning the drivers' title. Between 1981 and 1997, the team won six more drivers' championships and eight more constructors' championships.[10] He also oversaw the team claim a total of 114 Grand Prix victories.[1]

In May 1994, following the death of Ayrton Senna in the Williams FW16 at Imola, Williams was charged with manslaughter in Italy, but was acquitted after several years.[11] After Senna's death, every chassis from the 1995 Williams FW17 until 2012 carried a tribute in the form of a small Senna logo on its front wing supports, or nearby.[12]

In March 2012, Williams announced he would be stepping down from the board of Williams F1 and would be replaced by his daughter Claire Williams, although he would still remain with the team in the role of team principal.[13] Williams ceased to have any involvement with the Williams team when it was sold in September 2020.[14]

Personal life and death[edit]

Williams met Virginia Berry in 1967. They married in 1974.[15] They had two sons, Jonathan and Jaime,[16] and a daughter, Claire, who would go on to become the deputy team principal of his future Formula One team Williams Grand Prix Engineering.[1]

Williams used a wheelchair since a car accident in the South of France, on 8 March 1986,[17] rendered him tetraplegic.[18] He was driving with team sponsorship manager Peter Windsor in a hired Ford Sierra from the Paul Ricard Circuit to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport when the incident happened. Williams had been at the circuit to watch the testing of the team's new Williams FW11, but as a keen long-distance runner, he was returning to the airport following the trials because he wished to compete in a half marathon in London the next day.[19][20][21]

During the drive to the airport, he lost control of the hire car on a slight left-hand kink in the road, clipping a low stone wall, causing the vehicle to leave the highway. An eight-foot (2.4 m) drop between the road and a field caused the car to roll onto the driver's side. Williams remained conscious but was immediately aware that he could not move and feared fire due to fuel spillage. After being pressed between his seat and the crushed roof, he suffered a spinal fracture between the fourth and fifth vertebra. Windsor, who had sustained only minor injuries, extracted Williams from the vehicle while waiting for the emergency services.[6][22][23] Virginia flew with Patrick Head to the French hospital and believed that Williams was about to die. She organised his urgent repatriation to England, where doctors at Royal London Hospital performed a tracheotomy, which then allowed his lungs to be drained of fluid, almost certainly saving his life.[1][23] Williams required constant care and physical dependence on others as a consequence of the accident.[21]

Virginia wrote an autobiographical book published in 1991, A Different Kind of Life, in which she describes her experiences in the Formula One team's formative years and her husband's near-fatal accident. For his part, Williams decided not to read her account during her lifetime, preferring to leave the past in the past.[23] She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and died on 7 March 2013, at the age of 66.[15]

Williams was admitted to hospital in Surrey on 26 November 2021, and died two days later, on the morning of 28 November, at the age of 79.[24][25]

Sir Frank Williams was one of the kindest people I had the pleasure of meeting in this sport. What he achieved is something truly special. Until his last days I know he remained a racer and a fighter at heart. His legacy will live on forever.[26]


Williams was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in the 1987 New Year Honours,[27] and received a knighthood in the 1999 New Year Honours "For services to the Motor Sport Industry."[28] He was appointed a Knight of the Legion of Honour by France, for his work with Renault F1's engines.[29] Williams received the Wheatcroft Trophy in 2008, in recognition of his significant contributions to motorsports.[30]

In 2010, he was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.[31][32] Williams was added to the Motor Sport Hall of Fame as a member in 2011.[1] In 2012, a new road in Didcot, Oxfordshire, was named Sir Frank Williams Avenue.[33]

Formula One teams paid tribute to Williams by running a special livery of the Frank Williams Racing Cars logo at the 2021 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix (the next race after his death), and a moment of silence was held before the start of the race.[34] MurWalls created a 56 ft (17 m)-long mural bearing a 7 ft (2.1 m)-high portrait of Williams at the Silverstone Circuit ahead of the 2022 British Grand Prix.[35] A memorial mass of thanksgiving for Williams took place at Westminster Cathedral in London on 4 July 2022, attended by more than 600 individuals.[36] The Frank Williams Memorial Trophy for Masters Racing Legends race for 3 L (0.66 imp gal; 0.79 US gal) Formula One cars that competed between 1966 and 1985 was held in tribute to him in the Silverstone Classic at Silverstone late in August 2022.[37]

National honours[edit]

Foreign honours[edit]


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  2. ^ Williams, Richards (28 November 2021). "Sir Frank Williams obituary". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  3. ^ Baird, Roger (20 September 2012). "Sir Frank Williams: Back in the hunt". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 28 November 2021. Retrieved 29 November 2021.
  4. ^ Lewin, Andrew (28 November 2021). "Sir Frank Williams – A life at the heart of Formula 1". Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  5. ^ "The Knight with dirty fingernails". The Northern Echo. 24 May 2001. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  6. ^ a b c Matt Jeffery, Formula 1 Chronicles: Frank Williams Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine,, 21 June 2012
  7. ^ Henry, A. (1991). Williams: The Business of Grand Prix Racing. Somerset: Patrick Stephens. p. 33. ISBN 1-85260-434-4.
  8. ^ a b c "People: Sir Frank Williams". Inside F1 Inc. Archived from the original on 9 June 2010.
  9. ^ Roebuck, Nigel (2 July 2012). "Grand Prix Gold: 1979 British GP". Autosport. Archived from the original on 28 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  10. ^ "Williams – Year by Year". Formula One. Archived from the original on 16 August 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  11. ^ "Senna, Head "responsabile"". Gazzetta. Archived from the original on 2 January 2014. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  12. ^ "Williams finally drops Senna-logo car tribute". 8 July 2012. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  13. ^ "Sir Frank Williams steps down from the Williams team board". BBC Sport. 2 March 2012. Archived from the original on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
  14. ^ "Williams family to step aside from running of the team after Italian GP". 3 September 2020. Archived from the original on 6 September 2020. Retrieved 3 September 2020.
  15. ^ a b Saward, Joe (8 March 2013). "Ginny Williams 1946 – 2013". JoeblogsF1. Joe Saward. Archived from the original on 10 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
  16. ^ Baird, Roger (11 April 2013). "Williams' daughter takes the driving seat". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 24 May 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  17. ^ Aitken, Jonathan (2006). Heroes and Contemporaries. London, England: Continuum. p. 184. ISBN 0-8264-7833-6. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  18. ^ "Williams: Incredible True Story of Formula One's Greatest Family". Spinal Injuries Association. 12 July 2017. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  19. ^ Fagnan, René (8 March 2021). "8 Mars : Frank Williams Devient Tétraplégique Après Un Grave Accident En 1986" [March 8: Frank Williams Becomes Quadriplegic after a Serious Accident in 1986]. Pole Position (in French). Archived from the original on 8 March 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  20. ^ Thomas, Tony (6 March 1986). ""I Was Nuts About Racing And There I Was, in My Twenties, Right in The Thick of It"" (PDF). Auto (10): 52. Archived (PDF) from the original on 26 October 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  21. ^ a b Coe, Sebastian (11 March 2001). "Running fan Williams is still on pace". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 28 February 2016. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  22. ^ "Formula One team owner Frank Williams". East Valley Tribune. 7 October 2011. Archived from the original on 11 February 2020. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  23. ^ a b c "Catch up tv? Watch On Demand tv programs via Your iPlayer free". Archived from the original on 18 July 2021. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  24. ^ "Sir Frank Williams: Formula 1 team founder dies aged 79". BBC News. 28 November 2021. Archived from the original on 28 November 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  25. ^ Risen, Clay (8 December 2021). "Frank Williams, Dominant Formula One Manager, Is Dead at 79". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  26. ^ @LewisHamilton (28 November 2021). "Sir Frank Williams was one of the kindest people I had the pleasure of meeting in this sport. What he achieved is s…" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  27. ^ "No. 50764". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1986. p. 9.
  28. ^ "No. 55354". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1998. p. 2.
  29. ^ "The knights of Formula 1". 24 January 2021. Archived from the original on 2 March 2021. Retrieved 13 May 2021.
  30. ^ Cooper, Adam (November 2008). "In brief, November 2008". Motor Sport. 84 (11): 13. Archived from the original on 9 May 2021. Retrieved 28 November 2021.
  31. ^ Sir Frank Williams honoured at BBC SPOTY[Usurped!], The F1 Times
  32. ^ "BBC honours F1 team boss Williams". BBC Sport. 19 December 2010. Archived from the original on 22 December 2010. Retrieved 21 December 2010.
  33. ^ "The drive of your life for F1 boss". Didcot Herald. 17 October 2012. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 18 October 2012.
  34. ^ Smith, Luke (3 December 2021). "F1 outlines Williams tribute plans including FW07 lap of honour". Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  35. ^ "British Grand Prix: Sir Frank Williams mural graces Silverstone". BBC News. 3 July 2022. Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  36. ^ Cooper, Adam (4 July 2022). "F1 legends pay tribute to Sir Frank Williams". Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  37. ^ Harland, Gee (29 June 2022). "Sir Frank Williams to be honoured at Silverstone". Oxford Mail. Retrieved 5 July 2022.

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