The son of a Royal Air Force officer, it is little surprise that Williams is a staunch British patriot and monarchist with a passion for war history. His interest in motor racing was sparked in the early 1960s when he began racing (and crashing) his own Austin while meeting the likes of Piers Courage, Charlie Crichton-Stuart and Jonathan Williams.
After years spent struggling to fund his own motor racing exploits, Williams decided to move into management and by 1969 he and Courage made their Grand Prix debut in a second-hand Brabham.
In 1970, Williams entered into a partnership with the De Tomaso chassis builder, but tragedy struck when Courage was killed at Zandvoort. Devastated at the loss, Williams plugged on with little funding, but by 1972, he had managed to expand to a two-car operation to run Carlos Pace.
But funding was still extremely tight and results were few and far between, and in 1976, he was forced to partner up with Walter Wolf, an Austro-Canadian oil baron who would go on to name the team eponymously.
With it being clear that he would have no further future in charge, Williams split with Wolf and teamed up with a certain designer called Patrick Head, with the pair founding Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977.
The team’s big break came with the arrival of Saudia Airlines as a sponsor, while Alan Jones joined the one-car team. It became a two-car outfit in 1979, and the team’s competitiveness improved vastly as Head managed to develop the ground-effect FW07, which Clay Regazzoni drove to victory in the second car at Silverstone when Jones retired while leading.
A string of wins followed in 1980 and Jones duly took the team’s first title, and it should have picked up another the following year but for its mismanagement of its drivers, with Jones paired with the mercurial Carlos Reutemann.
Both quit the team at, or just after, the end of the year, and so the team took on Keke Rosberg, who snatched the 1982 crown after a consistent season, despite only taking one race win.
The following years saw the arrival of Honda engines, which would allow the team to take the Constructors’ championships in 1986 and 1987, and the Drivers’ title for Nelson Piquet in the latter year.
Sadly for Williams, he was render a quadraplegic in a car accident in early 1986 near the Paul Ricard circuit.
Despite the team’s success, Honda dropped Williams in 1988, and the team spent the next few seasons rebuilding before it was able to launch a successful assault on the 1992 championships with the almighty FW14B, the active-suspension-equipped Renault-powered beast that blitzed all-comers, leaving Nigel Mansell to take a long-awaited title my the mid-year.
Alain Prost followed suit the next year in 1993, before the team signed Ayrton Senna for 1994. Expecting another title, the team fell just short at the end of the year, tragically losing Senna to a fatal accident at San Marino in May.
De-facto team leader Damon Hill came close to winning the crown in 1994 and 1995, before he finally came good in 1996 – and then he was promptly fired.
Jacques Villeneuve carried the mantle in 1997 and took the team’s last championship in its final season with Renault power, and the squad again spent several seasons in the wilderness until it re-emerged as a competitive force in 2001, now having secured BMW power.
But the relationship with BMW never quite gelled with both sides wanting greater control over the direction of the team. Despite many race wins, a title was never in the offering, and BMW pulled the pin at the end of 2005, a year after the team’s last race win to-date.
Williams’ outfit is now very much a fiercely independent privateer, almost having travelled a full circle to be back to its roots with Cosworth power, and a small, loyal team that is desperately seeking to climb its way back to the top of the pile once again.
[Original image via Sutton Images]
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