It’s funny to think, for F1 fans of a certain age that is, that there was a time when Williams Grand Prix hadn’t won a Grand Prix.
Probably not so difficult for newcomers to the sport to imagine: a team now not winning races, once not winning races, but there was a glorious, imperious time in-between that Williams were kings of the world. Ferrari were in one pocket and McLaren in the other.
It’s also easy to forget that the brilliant FW07 that would guide the Williams F1 team to their first pole position, first win, first World Drivers Championship and World Constructors Championship, that it was only the team’s second ever car, and 1979 their third season in Formula 1.
The 1979 Formula 1 season
The season started slowly with Williams using the previous season’s car, the FW06, by now a dinosaur compared to the new ground effect cars it was competing against.
The FW07 made its debut at the Spanish Grand Prix, and after a couple of double DNFs for drivers Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni while the team got to grips with the potential of its new beast, Jones scored a valuable second place at Monaco followed up by a double points finish for he and Regazzoni in the French Grand Prix at Dijon, made famous by the epic battle for second place between Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux. (Watch it here)
And then it was Silverstone.
With and update to cure an aerodynamic issue with the FW07, still in its infancy, qualifying saw Alan Jones take Williams’ first ever pole-position from French Grand Prix winner, Renault’s Jean-Pierre Jabouille.
Regazzoni in the sister car lined up fourth, with Brabham’s Nelson Piquet in third the other car between the two.
Clay was to get the better start, leading into Copse corner from Jones in a Williams 1-2, in what BBC commentator Murray Walker would describe as ‘a wonderful sight’, unusual as it was exciting.
Behind them was a field containing no fewer than six drivers who would end their careers as an F1 world champion.
Regga’s lead wasn’t to last as he was ‘drafted’ (horrible American term) down Hangar straight by team-mate Jones, the sheer grunt of the Renault turbo also powering Jabouille by and into second.
And so it remained for 18 laps, the front two of Jones and Jabouille eking out a lead from Reggazoni in third, the aerodynamic efficiency and performance of the Williams FW07 compensating for the huge power advantage Renault’s turbo engine gave Jabouille & team-mate Arnoux, by now in fourth and in pursuit of the three leaders.
Jabouille’s challenge expired with a botched pitstop, promoting Regazzoni up to second, but a long way adrift of race-leader Jones.
Regazzoni takes the lead
With Jones seemingly cruising to victory with a comfortable lead when on lap 39 his water pumped packed in causing his engine to cook itself and that was it for the race leader.
To say that Regazzoni inherited the lead would be unfair to him, for although he trailed Jones by half a minute, he’d driven an excellent race in second place, lapping everyone up to fourth position before, and when Jones suffered a mechanical issue, he was perfectly placed to capitalise.
For the next 30 or so laps, Regazzoni steadily pulled away from now second place Rene Arnoux in a Renault, to take the chequered flag 24 laps ahead to take Williams’ first of 114 Grand Prix wins.
So good was the Williams FW07 that day that if Jones had not broken down, he’d almost certainly have lapped the entire field, bar his team-mate.
In a Formula 1 first, Regazzoni celebrated victory on the podium with Lilt rather than the traditional Champagne as a nod to the team’s Saudi sponsor.