F1 Pioneer Sir Frank Williams Dies at 79

·4 min read
Photo credit: Andrew Parsons - PA Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Andrew Parsons - PA Images - Getty Images

Sir Frank Williams, one of the most prominent figures in the history of Formula 1 and co-founder of the Williams Formula 1 team, has died at the age of 79.

A statement issued on behalf of the Williams family announced that Sir Frank died peacefully on Sunday morning, surrounded by his loved ones.

From humble beginnings the tenacious Williams co-founded the team which carries his name in 1977, having previously run a spate of underfunded and gritty racing organizations, and it swiftly emerged as one of Formula 1’s greatest teams.

Williams won 16 Formula 1 titles—nine Constructors’ and seven Drivers’—through the 1980s and 1990s, and has claimed 114 race victories. Only Ferrari has taken more Constructors’ honors.

The likes of Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill all won Formula 1 titles with Williams, while other World Champions including Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg got their first opportunity at the team.

Sir Frank suffered a life-altering road traffic accident in 1986 that left him in a wheelchair with a spinal cord injury but in spite of this adversity remained at the helm of his team for a further three decades. He was knighted for his achievements in 1999.

Sir Frank held an unbridled passion for Formula 1, his team and his people, and even lived at his factory, when his health prevented his continued presence at grands prix.

Daughter Claire took on a Deputy Team Principal role in 2013—including day-to-day running of the squad—the same year in which his beloved wife Lady Virginia, known as Ginny, died from cancer.

Photo credit: Hoch Zwei - Getty Images
Photo credit: Hoch Zwei - Getty Images

But Sir Frank retained an involvement, and in 2019 marked 50 years as a Team Principal, with Lewis Hamilton taking him on a hot lap of Silverstone, an occasion that warmed the hearts of every onlooker.

The Williams family stepped away from Formula 1 mid-2020 after selling up to Dorilton Capital, in a move that secured the future of the team, but its new owners recognized the importance of the Williams name.

Williams has become synonymous throughout the motorsport world for its pragmatism, values and spirit that has earned it a legion of fans, supporters and admirers across the world.

“Sir Frank was a legend and icon of our sport,” said Williams’ CEO and Team Principal Jost Capito. “His passing marks the end of an era for our team and for the sport of Formula 1. He was one of a kind and a true pioneer. Despite considerable adversity in his life, he led our team to 16 World Championships making us one of the most successful teams in the history of the sport. His values including integrity, teamwork and a fierce independence and determination, remain the core ethos of our team and are his legacy, as is the Williams family name under which we proudly race. Our thoughts are with the Williams family at this difficult time.”

In a statement, Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said: “He was a true giant of our sport that overcame the most difficult of challenges in life and battled every day to win on and off the track. We have lost a much loved and respected member of the F1 family, and he will be hugely missed. His incredible achievements and personality will be etched on our sport forever.”

Photo credit: Dario Mitidieri - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dario Mitidieri - Getty Images

FIA President Jean Todt, who was at the helm of Williams’ rivals Ferrari for 16 years, said: “Sir Frank leaves a lasting impression on the history of F1. He was a pioneer, an exceptional personalty, and an exemplary man. On behalf of the entire FIA community, our thoughts are with his family, friends and Williams Racing. Rest in peace, my friend.”

Current Williams drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi paid tribute to Sir Frank.

“Today, we say goodbye to the man who defined our team,” said Russell. “Sir Frank was such a genuinely wonderful human being and I’ll always remember the laughs we shared. He was much more than a boss, he was a mentor and a friend to everybody who joined the Williams Racing family and so many others in the motorsport community. It has been a genuine honour racing for him and being a small part of the incredible legacy he leaves behind, a legacy that will forever live on in the heart and soul of this team. Rest in peace, Sir Frank. Thank you for everything.”

“RIP Sir Frank Williams,” said Latifi. “Such sad news. A huge loss for our sport and our team. It’s been an honor to represent your name on the world stage and we will continue to push hard to take the team back up the grid.”