- Commencing The Dream
- Frank Williams Racing Cars Era
- Transition To Wolf-Williams Racing
- The Birth Of Williams Grand Prix Engineering
- Golden Stage
- Passing The Torch
- New Millennium Disaster and Buyout
- Recent Performance and Driver Development
Williams Racing is one of the most traditional and beloved teams in Formula 1, and its history is full of achievements and victories. Even with the total loss of relevance in the most recent championships, the team is considered an iconic and legendary team in Formula 1.
Among the landmarks are nine constructors’ titles, seven drivers’ titles, 114 victories and illustrious figures such as Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, and many others.
However, along the way, the team went through many different phases. Mixed triumphs, transition periods and adversities until it reached the present day, already out of the Williams family command.
Commencing The Dream
Every story has meaningful beginnings, and this one is no exception. From an early age, the legendary Frank Williams saw the awakening of a strong passion for motorsport. His big dream was to become a pilot, but his first steps in the industry were taken as a humble mechanic, where later he managed to open his business in 1966.
Everything Frank Williams did was to nurture what was more than just passion and became an obsession. Although Formula 1 was the ultimate goal, the team spent some time in Formula 2 and 3 competitions until 1969.
Frank Williams Racing Cars Era
Upon entering Formula 1, Williams didn’t have sufficient financial muscle since it was essential to obtain sponsorships to become competitive.
The first one in 1970 with Alejandro De Tomaso, founder of De Tomaso Automobili, had a major blowout as ties severed after Courage’s death at the Dutch GP. Williams never hid his friend’s death left a scar on him for the rest of his life.
Frank continued purchasing chassis from other builders to put the Williams brand on the track. In the middle of the 1972 season, the French oil company Motul supplied the first car made entirely by the company that would finally participate in the British GP. Unfortunately, this would not last long.
In that race, Henri Pescarolo lost control and destroyed it in an accident. The company had spent more than ever on developing the Politoys FX3 chassis, which he considered an investment for future success, and ended up in a dramatic financial situation.
The solution was to go after a robust sponsor, where Marlboro, a tobacco industry giant, and Iso Rivolta, an Italian car manufacturer, were chosen. Both companies provided some support the following year, but it was not enough to end all the financial drama for the rest of the time.
Transition To Wolf-Williams Racing
With the improved performances on the track through more modifications, Jacques Laffite would score another podium for that team on its way to extinction in 1975.
Everything changed with the arrival of Walter Wolf, a Canadian oil tycoon, who bought 60% of the company and rebranded the team as Wolf-Williams Racing. However, Frank Williams was retained as team principal, followed by the arrival of Harvey Postlethwaite as chief engineer.
Simultaneously, Wolf brought in some of the assets of the Hesketh Racing team. The team was based at the Williams facility in Reading but used most of the cars and equipment that belonged to Hesketh.
The team inherited the Hesketh 308C car used by Hesketh Racing during the final races of 1975, renaming it the Wolf–Williams FW05.
At the end of the season, Wolf decided to restructure the team. The team control no longer belonged to Frank, who decided to leave the company after 1976.
The Magnificent Birth Of Williams Grand Prix Engineering
The departure did not mean the end of Frank Williams’ desire to be part of the addictive world of Formula 1.
Immediately, Frank teamed up with engineer Patrick Head, who left the previous team to form a new business, taking advantage of the name and the little income left over. Together, they bought a warehouse in the town of Didcot and started another project – the birth of Williams Grand Prix Engineering.
The new Williams team entered the race in 1977, while it was the following year that the FW06 appeared. As the first car signed by Head, this was the beginning of a new era.
Success hit right away, and times couldn’t be better for the team.
In 1978, the first Williams, the FW06, was driven by Alan Jones and sponsored by Saudia Airlines, which lasted until 1984.
The team conquered its first victory in the Williams FW07 with Clay Regazzoni in 1979 at the British Grand Prix. Alan Jones would win four more races later in the season.
The first driver’s world title came in 1980 with the authorship of Alan Jones. Keke Rosberg repeated the feat in 1982, but the Ford-Cosworth engines were already giving up the points due to the turbo engines’ invasion.
Williams was reluctant to adopt turbocharged engines, but when they did, they did it with precision. They closed an agreement with Honda, which in two years became the manufacturer of the best engines in Formula 1. The outcome could have been better if it weren’t for a serious car accident involving Frank Williams in 1986.
Throughout the 1980s, Williams won the Constructors’ Championship four times and three times the Drivers’ Championship. The team advertised itself as one of the greatest teams of the 1980s.
Passing The Torch
After 1987, Williams had to accept that it was time to stay in the observer’s seat for McLaren to dominate F1 for years to come. But only until the turn of the decade.
In 1991, pushed by Renault engines, Williams began to put into practice the design of active suspension and a car that would change the game.
Making his return to the team, Nigel Mansell finally raised the F1 title in 1992 after previous disappointments. Mansell’s score was almost double compared to the runner-up, Riccardo Patrese, who was not by chance his teammate.
Then, the three-time world champion Alain Prost, who had been off the grid in 1992 after the fight with Ferrari in 1991, became interested in joining Williams.
As a dominant champion, Mansell wanted assurance that he would be treated as the number-one driver. All this because of the issues with Nelson Piquet in the late 1980s and Prost himself at Ferrari.
Frank didn’t want to make any promises, so Nigel left the team. Prost arrived and received Damon Hill as a teammate. In the end, Prost did enough to win his fourth championship and retire in style.
Then, the iconic Ayrton Senna arises in the equation. Williams had been interested in the Brazilian for a long time, even before Senna even participated in F1. Later, the unthinkable would happen with the death of Senna at the San Marino GP in 1994.
After Mansell and Prost, Hill and Jacques Villeneuve would take the Drivers’ glory in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
Renault abandoned Formula 1 in 1997, and Williams found itself without an engine supplier to match it. A subsidiary of the French factory, Supertec, was responsible for continuing to develop the thrusters, but the results were well below expectations.
New Millennium Disaster and Buyout
Neither the partnership with BMW nor the comeback of Renault could get the desired results for Williams since the millennium started. For the record, Williams did not win any single championship since 1997.
Since then, the team has achieved only humble results, and things at Williams have been very difficult.
With the difficulties increasing and the results increasingly disappearing, the owner decided to sell the team to an American investment company in 2020. Although the team no longer belongs to the Frank Williams family, the team kept the name and identity at least for the time being.
Recent Performance and Driver Development
Last season, Williams Racing had Nicholas Latifi and Alex Albon on its roster but then announced the rookie Nyck de Vries as a replacement to cover Albon’s illness.
The Constructors’ standings conclude that the team had poor performance, only pointing eight points in five different races. In terms of the Drivers’ performance, all were sitting last on the table, with Albon being the best among the three gathering four points. It is safe to say that the 2022 season was one to forget for Williams.
Expectations for this upcoming season are surely minimal. This time Williams recruited the American Logan Sargeant to make his F1 debut. Sargeant will take Latifi’s place and be teammates with Alex Albon, who stays for more thrilling moments on the track.
Like most Formula 1 teams, Williams operates its well-known driver academy called Williams Driver Academy. Currently, they have five drivers in their programme. The talent list is composed of Logan Sargeant, Jamie Chadwick, Roy Nissany, Zak O’Sullivan and Oliver Gray.
In terms of former drivers inducted, the academy had names such as Lance Stroll, Oliver Rowland, Nicholas Latifi, Dan Ticktum and Jack Aitken. Perhaps the most illustrious one, Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll is an example of one of the best talents captivated by Williams Racing.