Sir Frank - a man of steely determination

Torbay Weekly

Last week we heard of the passing of Sir Frank Williams, who created his F1 team in 1969 with Piers Courage as his driver.

He had been involved in the lower ranks of motor racing from 1966, as Frank Williams Racing Cars but formed Williams Grand Prix Engineering a decade later in partnership with Patrick Head.

Together, they became the unstoppable team in the 1980s and 1990s, with seven Driver Championships, 114 race victories and 313 podiums.

The roll call of drivers is equally impressive, including Alan Jones, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill and Keke Rosberg.

As was inevitable with F1’s dark history, there were notable driver deaths, including Piers Courage and perhaps most famously, Ayrton Senna, the latter of which resulted in manslaughter charges, later dropped, by the Italian authorities.

In the 1960s, Enzo Ferrari referred somewhat unkindly to the British team owners as ‘Garagistas’ meaning back street garage owners who dabbled in racing.

To an extent, he was right, in that sponsorship was unheard of and the teams scratched along as best they could. When Frank lost use of his office, he famously ran his team in the early days from a phone booth in London.

But the Williams name will forever be linked with the other great team owners, such as Tyrrell, Brabham, McLaren, Chapman, Cooper and none of these had car factory backing at the time, yet out-performed Ferrari on countless occasions.

I had the pleasure of meeting his team and notably Piers Courage at the 1969 Monza GP when a guest of the Tyrrell team for the weekend. This was the era of close camaraderie between all those involved, despite the fierce on track rivalry.

Frank could have been forgiven had he retired after his devastating accident in a hire car in France returning from a practice session. He became wheelchair-bound yet continued to steer his team to many more driver and team Championships.

There will never be another single entity who could match his steely determination and run his team at the forefront of racing for nearly 50 years.