Racing lines: remembering Sir Frank Williams

Racing lines: remembering Sir Frank Williams

It was meeting Head that changed all that – and Patrick saw a fire in his new friend that convinced him to bet everything on Frank for what had to be the last Williams F1 throw of the dice. My, how it paid off.

“Bravo, Frank”

Head openly admits that his FW07 was a, ahem, homage to the Lotus 79 that swept to the 1978 titles with Mario Andretti and Ronnie Peterson. Now, as Colin Chapman pushed the ground-effect aerodynamics that his team had pioneered to the edge and over it with the Type 80 ‘wing car’ flop, Head watched, learned and produced something close to what Lotus had moved away from – but engineered to his own exacting standards. The FW07 wasn’t innovative, but it was the near-perfect expression of the ground-effect generation. And Jones loved it.

The penny dropped when he tested it away from prying eyes at Ontario Motor Speedway after Williams had raced the FW06 at the Long Beach GP in April 1979. This thing had so much grip. Now Jones understood what Andretti meant when he said his Lotuses were “painted to the road”. Teething troubles held Williams back at first, but by the summer at flatout Silverstone, the FW07 was ready to make its mark. Jones took pole position, by 0.6sec from Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s turbocharged Renault. Now all eyes down the pit lane turned to Frank: who was the w***er now?

A wrinkle in Williams’ history means it was Clay Regazzoni, not Jones, who claimed that first win. A new weld on a water pump cracked, the ensuing leak causing a piston failure in the Aussie’s Cossie. But again, here was serendipity. ‘Rega’ was way past his prime and hadn’t won a GP since 1976, yet here he was delivering the breakthrough. “Bravo, Frank,” he purred in the midst of the gathered press as the boss savoured his sweetest moment.

After Silverstone, Jones swept four of the next five races, only his slow start to the year and a convoluted points system standing between him and a surprise world title that went instead to Ferrari’s Jody Scheckter. But Williams was up and running, its energetic leader pushing from the front. Even a neck-breaking car accident in 1986 couldn’t hold Frank back. He was a force of nature – and grand prix racing will never see his like again.