By Alan Baldwin
SILVERSTONE, England (Reuters) – The British Grand Prix at Silverstone has always been a season’s highlight for Frank Williams and this weekend is no exception even if his 50th year in the sport sees his team last and without a point.
Formula One’s longest serving team boss, now 77, is back in the team garage for the first time since last year’s race at Silverstone.
“He doesn’t travel as he used to so he comes to Silverstone,” said daughter Claire, who effectively runs the team but carries the title of deputy principal. There has never been any question of her father stepping down.
“We’re hoping he will come to Spa this year as well because you can drive there. So we’re putting those plans in at the moment.”
Williams has been quadriplegic and in a wheelchair since a road accident after leaving a test in southern France in 1986, a year that ended with his team as constructors’ champions and heading for an era of dominance in the 1990s.
The glory days are far in the past for the winners of nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles between 1980 and 1997, but Silverstone has a special place in the team’s history.
The current Williams team, winners of 114 races, were founded by Frank Williams and Patrick Head in 1977 and took their first grand prix triumph at Silverstone in 1979 with the late Swiss Clay Regazzoni.
“For Frank, it’s all about the future, but that was the start of what has been a phenomenal career in this sport,” said Claire.
Williams had first made the step up to Formula One with British brewing scion Piers Courage racing one of his cars in 1969.
“He started his own career racing himself, realised quite quickly he wasn’t any good at it — didn’t quite understand where the brakes were — and decided to be a constructor,” continued Claire.
“It took him a decade to get that first grand prix win here. He fought incredibly hard. He had no money; he came from nothing. He had to sell the team at one point and then he had to again start from nothing.
“But he never gave up and we talked a lot about that yesterday with the team, Frank’s resilience, his tenacity, and he really deserved that victory in 1979.”
The team have not won a race since Spain in 2012 and the team have veered from third overall as recently as 2015 to their current lows of 10th in 2018 and even worse performance this season.
In the early 1990s, however, Williams were the team to beat with their 1992 champion Nigel Mansell attracting huge crowds to Silverstone at the height of ‘Mansell Mania’.
Claire Williams said bringing back such emotions and achievements was still the main motivation for the team.
“Formula One has obviously changed dramatically since that time but nothing is unachievable in this life if you fight hard enough,” she said.
“Those were the glory days of Williams and they were wonderful and it’s lovely to be able to celebrate Frank here this weekend and remind everybody of Frank’s role, not just in Williams but in Formula One as a whole.
“He was part of the generation that made this sport what it is today and what we all benefit from and are so privileged to be a part of.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)