Francis Owen Garbett Williams
16 April 1942
|Education||St Joseph's College, Dumfries|
|Occupation||Former team principal|
(m. 1974; died 2013)
|Children||3, including Claire Williams|
Sir Francis Owen Garbett Williams (born 16 April 1942) is a British businessman, former racing car driver and mechanic. The founder of the Williams Formula One team, he was team principal from its foundation in 1977 until September 2020.
Frank Williams was born in South Shields, South Tyneside. At the time, his father served as an active Royal Air Force officer, while his mother worked in special education - initially as a teacher and later as headmistress. Williams was partly raised by his maternal aunt and uncle in Jarrow, after the breakdown of his parents' marriage.
He subsequently spent much of his later childhood at a private, fee-paying boarding school, St Joseph's College, Dumfries, Scotland. In the late 1950s, a friend gave Williams a ride in his Jaguar XK150, which immediately served to catalyse his interest in fast cars.
After a brief career as a driver and mechanic, Williams founded Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966, funded by his work as a travelling grocery salesman. He ran drivers--including Piers Courage--for several years in Formula Two and Formula Three. Williams purchased a Brabham Formula One chassis, which Courage drove throughout the 1969 Formula One season, twice finishing in second place.[incomplete short citation]
In 1970, Williams undertook a brief partnership with Alejandro de Tomaso. After the death of Courage at the Dutch Grand Prix that year, Williams's relationship with de Tomaso ended. In 1971, he raced Henri Pescarolo with a chassis purchased from March Engineering; 1972 saw the first F1 car built by the Williams works, the Politoys FX3 designed by Len Bailey. Pescarolo crashed and destroyed it at its first race.[incomplete short citation]
Williams, short on cash and conducting team business from a telephone box after being disconnected for unpaid bills, looked to Marlboro and Iso Rivolta, an Italian car company, for sponsorship. Though they pledged their support, they did not come through in time. In 1976, Williams took on a partner in Canadian oil magnate Walter Wolf. Though the team continued functioning, it no longer belonged to Williams and he left in 1977, along with one of his employees, engineer Patrick Head. The two acquired an empty carpet warehouse in Didcot, Oxfordshire, and announced the formation of Williams Grand Prix Engineering. This same team and partnership still compete in Formula One. They are currently based just outside of Grove, Oxfordshire.[incomplete short citation]
The team's first win came when Clay Regazzoni drove the Cosworth-powered Williams FW07 to victory at the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Their first Drivers' Championship and Constructors' Championship both came in 1980, with the Australian Alan Jones winning the drivers' title. Between 1981 and 1997, the team won six more drivers' championships and eight more constructors' championships.
In May 1994, following the death of Ayrton Senna in the Williams FW16 at Imola, Williams was charged with manslaughter in Italy, but was acquitted after several years. Since Senna's death, every chassis since the Williams FW17 has carried a tribute in the form of a small Senna logo on its front wing supports, or nearby.
In March 2012, Williams announced he would be stepping down from the board of Williams F1 and would be replaced by his daughter Claire Williams, although he would still remain with the team in the role of team principal. Williams ceased to have any involvement with the sale of Williams F1 team in September 2020.
Williams met Virginia Berry in 1967. They married in 1974. They had two sons, Jonathan and Jamie, and a daughter, Claire, (who would go on to become the deputy team principal of his future Formula One team Williams Grand Prix Engineering).
Williams has used a wheelchair since a car accident in France, on 8 March 1986, rendered him tetraplegic. He was driving with team sponsorship manager Peter Windsor in a rented Ford Sierra 1600 from the Paul Ricard Circuit to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport when the incident happened. Williams had been at the circuit to watch the testing of the team's new Williams FW11, but as a keen long distance runner, he was returning to the airport following the trials because he wished to compete in a half marathon in London the next day.
During the drive to the airport, William's speeding was criticised by Windsor, he lost control of the rental car on a slight left hand kink in the road, clipping a low stone wall, causing the vehicle to leave the highway. An eight-foot (2.4 m) drop between the road and a field caused the car to roll onto the driver's side. Williams remained conscious but was immediately aware that he couldn't move and was fearful of fire due to fuel spillage. He suffered a spinal fracture between the fourth and fifth vertebra after being pressed between his seat and the crushed roof. Windsor who had sustained only minor injuries extracted Williams from the vehicle while waiting for the emergency services. Virginia flew with Patrick Head to the French hospital and was of the opinion that Williams was about to die, she organised his urgent repatriation to England, where doctors performed a tracheostomy which then allowed his lungs to be drained of fluid, almost certainly saving his life.
Virginia wrote an autobiographical book that was published in 1991, A Different Kind of Life, in which she describes her experiences in the Formula One team's formative years as well as her husband's near-fatal accident. For his part Williams, decided not to read her account during her lifetime, preferring to leave the past in the past.
She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010, and died on 7 March 2013, at the age of 66.
Williams was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in 1986, and received a knighthood in 1999. He was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour by France, for his work with Renault F1's engines. Williams received the Wheatcroft Trophy in 2008, in recognition of his significant contributions to motorsports.
In 2010, he was awarded the Helen Rollason Award for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. In 2012, a new road in Didcot, Oxfordshire, was named "Sir Frank Williams Avenue."