The FIA has paid tribute to Formula 1 legend Sir Frank Williams who passed away this morning at the age of 79.
Across a six-decade career in motor sport the founder of the William F1 team won nine FIA Formula One World Championship Constructors’ titles and seven Drivers’ titles, scoring 114 grand prix victories and 128 pole positions along the way.
The news of his death was announced this morning in a statement issued by the Williams team.
“It is with great sadness that on behalf of the Williams family, the team can confirm the death of Sir Frank Williams CBE, Founder and Former Team Principal of Williams Racing, at the age of 79,” Williams said in a statement. “After being admitted into hospital on Friday, Sir Frank, passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his family.
“Today we pay tribute to our much loved and inspirational figurehead. Frank will be sorely missed. We request that all friends and colleagues respect the Williams family’s wishes for privacy at this time.”
Paying tribute to Sir Frank, FIA President Jean Todt said: “Very sad news. Sir Frank Williams leaves a lasting impression on the history of F1. He was a pioneer, an exceptional personality 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.”
Formula 1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said the sport had lost a “much loved and respected member” of the F1 family.
“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,” Domenicali said. “His incredible achievements and personality will be with etched on our sport forever. My thoughts are with all the Williams family and their friends at this sad time.”
Born in the north east of England in 1942, Frank Williams founded Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966 and competed in Formula 2 and Formula 3 with a number of promising driver, including Piers Courage. In 1969 the ambitious team boss purchased a Brabham BT26A with which Courage finished second in Monaco and at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
The following year he launched a brief partnership with Alejandro de Tomaso, running Courage in a Giampaolo Dallara-designed chassis but when Courage was killed in a crash at the Dutch Grand Prix Williams’ relationship with de Tomaso foundered. Williams continued to race in F1 with intermittent success in the following years, running drivers such as Tim Schenken, Brian Redman, Henri Pescarolo, Carlos Pace, Jacky Ickx and Jaques Laffite but by 1976 the team was in financial difficulties and when a partnership with Canadian businessman Walter Wolff resulted in a loss of control, Williams left the organisation.
In early 1977 Frank and a young engineer he had hired named Patrick Head established Williams Grand Prix Engineering. The new team made its F1 debut at the 1977 Spanish Grand Prix, with Patrick Neve driving its single car.
Williams’ first F1 victory came just two years later, at the 1979 British Grand Prix , courtesy of Clay Regazzoni and scored five overall that year. Carrying momentum into the following campaign, Alan Jones brought the team its first Drivers’ title in 1980 while Carlos Reutemann helped the team to its first Constrictors’ Crown.
A second team title arrived in 1981, while Keke Rosberg won the 1982 World Championship. In 1983 the team began a new relationship with Honda which would lead to Constructors’ World Championship success in 1986 and 1987, with Nelson Piquet taking the 1987 Drivers’ title.
Tragedy struck in March 1986 when Williams was severely injured in a road crash near the Paul Ricard circuit and was left tetraplegic. Undaunted, he returned to mastermind Williams’ most successful era.
The Williams-Honda team was dominant in 1986 and 1987 with Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell and after Honda departed for McLaren, a new partnership with Renault was even more successful with the team winning World Championships in the early 1990s with Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost.
There was further tragedy in 1994 when Ayrton Senna was killed at Imola but Williams recovered and continued its winning streak with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, both of whom became World Champions in 1996 and 1997 respectively.
While the 1997 title remains Williams’ most recent, it continued to win grands prix throughout the first decade of his century and scored its most recent at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix,
Williams was awarded a CBE for his services to motor racing in 1987 and was knighted in January 1999.