Death of Sir Frank Williams: The Iron General

Formula 1 mourns the loss of one of its greatest personalities. Sir Frank Williams has passed away at the age of 79. The "iron general" shaped Formula 1 as one of the faces for five decades. And he and his team have won the Drivers' World Championship seven times and the Manufacturers' Cup nine times.

It's saying goodbye to a legend. Formula 1 is dismayed at the death of Sir Frank Williams. A man who prevailed against all odds. For a long time there was no money to build up a powerful racing team, but in the end it was the constructors' world champion nine times. A traffic accident in 1986 banished him to a wheelchair, but did not rob him of his will to live.

The news reached the Formula 1 community on Sunday (November 28th, 2021). "It is with great sadness that the team, on behalf of the Williams family, can confirm the death of Sir Frank Williams CBE, founder and former team principal of Williams Racing, at the age of 79," the Grove racing team said in a statement.

"Sir Frank passed away peacefully surrounded by his family this morning after being admitted to hospital on Friday. Today we pay tribute to our beloved and inspirational figurehead. We will miss Frank dearly. We ask all friends and colleagues to convey their wishes the Williams family's privacy at this time."

Formula 1 boss Stefano Domenicali honored the iron general, who recorded 114 Grand Prix victories and 128 pole positions with his team. "He was a true giant of our sport, embracing and surviving the greatest challenges in life. He fought every day to win on and off the track. We have lost a much loved and respected member of the Formula 1 family . He will be greatly missed by all. His achievements and personality will never be forgotten."

Williams without money

Frank Williams was born on April 16, 1942 in South Shields, England. He grew up as the son of an officer in the Air Force (Royal Air Force) and became enthusiastic about motorsport at an early age. It was a passion that would never let go of him throughout his life. Although all sorts of obstacles piled up in front of Frank Williams, which he always knew how to overcome.

It started with selling and trading used racing car accessories. And continued with the formation of his own racing team in the mid-1960s. Williams raced in Formula 3, then Formula 2 and eventually moved up to Formula 1 with purchased chassis. The Englishman and his team lived, as the saying goes, from hand to mouth. It actually lacked the budget to get involved in the premier class. To be really successful. Credit was needed, and above all passion and perseverance.

Severe setbacks marked the path that made him one of the greatest team bosses in history. The death of Piers Courage at the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix. Williams not only lost a racer but a friend as well. The death of Ayrton Senna in Imola in 1994, who should have dominated Formula 1 in Williams. It was probably the darkest hour for the traditional racing team.

First Williams victory in 1979

It took two attempts before Williams was even able to establish himself in Formula 1. Money worries drove him to join forces with the Austro-Canadian entrepreneur Walter Wolf for the first time, and finally left his own racing team. He built a new one together with Patrick Head and reported back on the big stage in 1978. This time, however, under different circumstances.

For years, Frank Williams had to count every penny. For years he had to grasp at straws to keep the business running. But now Frank Williams had financially strong sponsors from Saudi Arabia who put the racing team on a solid footing.

Success came quickly after the rebuild. In 1979 Williams celebrated their first GP victory with Clay Regazzoni at their home event in Silverstone. By then, at the latest, the racing team had become an integral part of Formula 1. In 2012, Pastor Maldonado achieved the 114th and, for the time being, last success for the third-oldest Formula 1 racing team after Ferrari and McLaren.

There are seven drivers' and nine constructors' trophies in between. The first in 1980 as a team and with Australian Alan Jones as world champion. The last with Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. At that time, the Canadian prevailed despite being rammed by Michael Schumacher – and Williams against Ferrari. After that, however, no further world championships were added. Williams merged with BMW (2000-2005), but the Anglo-Bavarian alliance never really took off. Ferrari was too dominant in the early 2000s.

Knighted in 1999

The greatest blow of fate restricted Sir Frank physically, but it didn't reduce the passion, the will to live, or the work mania of the iron general, who sometimes kicked world champions out of the door. After test drives in Paul Ricard in March 1986, the Englishman wanted to get to the airport too quickly – and paid for it with a serious traffic accident that left him chained to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. A paraplegic made the previously passionate runner in need of care. He endured it without complaining.

However, Sir Frank, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999, quickly reappeared at the world's racetracks. He remained obsessed. A driven one. One who is 100 percent dedicated to motorsport. A bundle of energy in a wheelchair.He wasn't a racing car genius like Colin Chapman, but he was a good organizer. He had a congenial partner in technical director Patrick Head.

Frank Williams was looking for a challenge and Formula 1 gave it to him. He was a workaholic who preferred to spend Christmas in the office rather than at home with his family. Who, after his own wedding, did not go to the party, but instead went to work.

Sir Frank Williams has been part of the paddock inventory since the 1970s. He was one of those classic English garage owners who made a lot out of little – thanks to their heart and soul. In recent years he has become increasingly withdrawn and only occasionally appeared at the racecourse. For example in 2019 when Lewis Hamilton drove him around the Silverstone circuit in a road car.

The sale of Williams

The sprightly Englishman had long since passed on his tasks. In 2016, pneumonia weakened him. Frank finally passed the baton to his daughter Claire, who took care of the business even more from then on. However, success did not return. Money was always a factor. Bernie Ecclestone is also said to have helped out the team on several occasions. In August 2020, Williams sold the racing team to the private US investment firm Dorilton Capital. Since then, the Dino has no longer belonged to the family, but has retained its name.

Even if the personal memories of a Hollywood-mature life story have faded more and more in recent years - Sir Frank Williams has immortalized himself in the history books. He will never be forgotten.


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