The saddest post I’m ever likely to write here.
Sir Frank Williams, the man whose vision and drive turned the Williams Grand Prix Team from a plucky little startup into the team that dominated Formula 1 for a decade, has passed away aged 79.
“After being admitted into hospital on Friday, Sir Frank, passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his family. Today we pay tribute to our much loved and inspirational figurehead.” the Williams Team said in a statement.
“Frank will be sorely missed. We request that all friends and colleagues respect the Williams family’s wishes for privacy at this time.”
Born in South Shields in Tyne & Wear, England, Sir Frank first had ambitions as a Grand Prix driver, but when he found his skills to be much better suited to management than to driving, founded his own team – Frank Williams Racing Cars – in 1966, before his first foray into Formula 1 in 1969 with his close friend Piers Courage and a chassis bought from Brabham.
After Courage was killed in an accident at Zandvoort in 1970, Frank Williams Racing Cars found success difficult to come by, with its survival mainly reliant on its owner’s ability to wheel and deal, cadging parts here and there, and sweet talking people into supporting him financially, either in exchange for a drive, sponsorship, or in the case of Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf – a share in the team.
The partnership with Wolf was a fractious one, and led to Sir Frank Leaving the team and Formula 1 in 1976. But with F1 by now coursing through his veins, he returned in 1977, this time in partnership with Sir Patrick Head, and a new team – Williams Grand Prix Engineering.
Williams GPE’s first win came two years later, opening the floodgates for their first of 16 Formula 1 world titles in 1980, Williams becoming one of the most successful Formula 1 teams of all time.
Sir Frank remained Williams’ team boss until 2012 when he handed the day-to-day running of the team to his daughter Claire (although Frank retained the official Team Principal title), before the team was sold in September 2020.
Sir Frank’s passion and determination helped him to overcome life-changing injuries in an almost fatal car crash in the South of France in 1986 and once well enough he resumed his TP role despite being permanently confined to a wheelchair.
Sir Frank was a special guy. His love for Formula 1 didn’t waver from the moment he wheeled his Brabham BT26 into the paddock for the first time until the day he died.
He lived for racing. he lived to win. He believed in fairness of competition and integrity. That the guys who do the best job should be at the front.
Sadly in many ways the Formula 1 he helped shape has moved away from those principles in recent years with Formula 1’s focus on what’s best for the brand and the shareholder above all else.
In finding a direction for the Formula 1 of the future, the guys at Liberty could do a lot worse than to follow Sir Frank’s lead.
Rest in Peace Sir Francis Owen Garbett Williams. We won’t forget you.