Iconic Formula 1 Team Owner Frank Williams Has Died

·3 min read
Photo credit: Hoch Zwei - Getty Images
Photo credit: Hoch Zwei - Getty Images

Frank Williams, architect of seven Formula 1 drivers' championships and nine constructors' championships, has died. He was 97.

After a brief career as a driver, Williams turned his attention to the business side of the sport with the experience he developed working as a traveling salesman. He opened Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966, then by 1969 joined the F1 grid with a Brabham chassis he had purchased for friend and colleague Piers Courage. After two runner-up finishes in their first season together, new partners came aboard, leading Williams to a partnership with Alejandro de Tomaso. That deal fell apart when Courage died in a race during that 1970 season.

Williams kept the team afloat until Walter Wolf joined in 1976, at which point he sold 60% of his stake in his own team to keep it afloat. Wolf quickly hired someone to work over him, leading him to sell the rest to Wolf and step out to create a team of his own.

That program, Williams Grand Prix Engineering, has raced in Formula 1 every season since.

Williams and long-time engineer Patrick Head were race winners with Clay Regazzoni in 1979. Alan Jones would win his team four more races that season, then the team's first driver's and constructor's championships in 1980. Williams would also win constructor titles in 1981, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, and 1997. Keke Rosberg would win him a second driver's title in 1982, followed by Nelson Piquet in 1987, Nigel Mansel in 1992, Alain Prost in 1993, Damon Hill in 1996, and Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.

Williams also survived a harrowing road car crash in France during testing for the 1986 season. His wife, Virginia, organized his travel back to England, where he was given an emergency tracheotomy. The accident left him confined to a wheelchair, but he lived.

The Formula 1 legend was knighted as Sir Frank Williams in 1999, the same year that the BMW V12 LMR designed in conjunction with his team won the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was the only significant sports car program in the team's history.

Williams stepped down from day-to-day operations in 2012, leaving control of the team to his daughter, Claire. Under her management, the team saw a brief resurgence. From 2012 to 2015, the team won one race and finished third in the constructor's standings twice. The win, a 2012 victory by Pastor Maldonado, remains the only victory for the team since 2004.

Both Claire and Frank Williams had since stepped down from any level of participation in the team as part of a sale to a private investment firm. The team races on, announcing late this Summer that it will enter Alex Albon and Nicholas Latifi in the 2022 season.

Frank Williams was admitted to a hospital on Friday. He passed away peacefully this morning. He is survived by his daughter Claire and his sons Jamie and Jonathan.

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