Born in South Shields in the North-East of England and raised in nearby Jarrow, Sir Frank first tasted fast cars when, as a teenager, a friend offered him a ride in his Jaguar XK150. From then on he was smitten.
Having been a motor racing enthusiast from a young age, he briefly flirted with a career as a driver, “always very fast but very hairy” and then as a mechanic, but it was to be in the role as team principal that he was to feel most at home, founding Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966.
Reasonably successful Formula 3 and Formula 2 campaigns followed before Frank was able to purchase a Brabham chassis with which to enter his great friend and flat-mate Piers Courage in the 1969 Formula 1 season, twice scoring a second place finish.
1970 brought about a brief partnership with De Tomaso, but after a season in which his driver and friend Piers Courage died in the Dutch Grand Prix, Frank once again branched out on his own in 1971, entering Henri Pescarolo in a March chassis.
Little immediate success was to follow, Frank having to hawk himself and his team around in attempt after attempt to secure sponsorship to ensure the team’s ongoing survival. Once such deal with Walter Wolf, a Canadian oil magnate, wrestled from him any control Frank had left of his team, and he left.
Frank Williams founds Williams Grand Prix Engineering
After parting company with Wolf, and with Formula 1 still coursing through his veins Frank Williams, together with Patrick Head acquired a warehouse in Didcot, Oxfordshire and, with Patrick Head, formed Williams Grand Prix Engineering, the team with which he was to conquer the world of Formula 1.
Frank didn’t have to wait long for his team’s first win, as less than two years later, on the 14th July 1979, Clay Regazzoni was to drive his Cosworth-powered FW07 to victory in the British Grand Prix.
Williams’ first Formula 1 title came at the hands of Alan Jones in 1980, and fourteen were to follow by the close of the 1997 season.
Perhaps Frank’s greatest challenge came in March 1986, when en-route to Nice airport he crashed his rental car, leaving him permanently wheelchair bound.
Frank becomes Sir Frank Williams
In 1999 Frank Williams became Sir Frank Williams, when he received a Knighthood from the Queen for services to motorsport.
Sir Frank officially stepped down from the team in 2012 but continued as Team Principal, if in name only, while his daughter Claire stepped up as Deputy TP, effectively running the team.
Sale of Williams Racing in 2020
In 2020 the Williams family decided that the financial situation in Formula 1 (where it’s now almost impossible to compete without an enormous budget – the likes of which were beyond the means of a private constructor) and the financial stresses brought by the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the team would be given more of an opportunity to thrive under new ownership.
And so, having announced that the team was up for sale, US investment firm Dorilton Capital bought Williams for around £130m, and so ended Sir Frank Williams’ involvement in not only the team he founded from scratch and that he’d taken to dizzying heights, but also his 50 year involvement in Formula 1 – the sport to which he’d dedicated his entire life.