During the last three decades Williams has been one of Formula 1's leading teams. Results finally came after Frank Williams teamed up with Patrick Head in 1977. This very successful partnership has lasted to this day, despite a heavy road accident in 1986 that has left Williams paralysed from the waist down. Major manufacturers like Ford (Cosworth), Honda, Renault and BMW have all achieved great success as the team's engine suppliers. In a time when many rivals developed very close ties with their engine suppliers, the team remained fiercely independent. Operating out of a high-tech facility near Oxford, England, Williams has also branched out into other facets of racing, developing cutting-edge hybrid systems for example. In the past Williams' extracurricular activity included developing the Group B MG Metro 6R4, the hugely successful Renault Laguna touring cars and the Le Mans winning BMW V12 LMR.
This exploration of Williams' history is illustrated by a 50-shot gallery
inside the company's beautiful museum where one example of each Williams is beautifully presented. Part of the Williams F1 Conference Centre, the Collection is unfortunately not open to the public on a general basis. Interested parties can host conferences for 2 - 200 people in the very modern facility.
Very early in his life Frank Williams realised that his future in racing was not behind the wheel; after only a few seasons he hung up his helmet. Williams made a living selling parts and old cars, while he continued his involvement first as a mechanic and later as a team owner. His first entry in Formula 1 came with a year-old Brabham, which Piers Courage placed second in two Grands Prix in 1969. During most of the 1970s he struggled at a variety of ailing teams. The first 'Williams' car was built in 1972 and it achieved a commendable 2nd place during its debut season. By 1977, Williams was in an unhappy 'marriage' with oil-magnate Walter Wolf and decided to leave his own team. People with less determination would have given up after struggling for so long but not Frank Williams. He dusted off his jacket and established Williams Grand Prix Engineering together with an aspiring young designer named Patrick Head. In anticipation of a brand new car, the team fielded an old March for Belgian hopeful Patrick Neve, who achieved some top-ten finishes.
Cosworth years (1978 - 1983)
With substantial backing from Saudi airlines, Head readied the Williams FW06 (the lower numbers had been used for some of Williams' earlier projects) for the 1978 season. Like all British manufacturers in that period, Williams also used the readily available Cosworth DFV V8 engine. Piloted by the seasoned Swiss Clay Regazzoni and the up-and-coming Australian Alan Jones, the FW06 had a promising first season. The very clean design was however no match for the sophisticated ground-effect cars used by Lotus to win both championships. Head had a good look at the revolutionary Lotus 79 and laid down the brand new ground-effect FW07 for 1979. Ten years after Frank Williams' first foray into Formula 1, the white and green liveried FW07 finally provided the first victory when Regazzoni won the British Grand Prix in July. During the second half of the season, the FW07 was the car to beat as Jones took four victories. Williams finished second in the constructor's standings.
The Williams team headed into the 1980 season as the favourite team. A subtle evolution of the successful 1979 car was developed. Jones was retained while the second FW07B was entrusted to Argentinian Carlos Reutemann. The two men won six races that season, which ended with Jones and the Williams Team as World Champions. The simple yet very efficient FW07 had a wide following with many other teams copying its design. Williams was nevertheless in trouble as the turbo-charged engines gradually took over. Consistent performance and a single victory were enough for Williams driver Keijo Rosberg to win the 1982 World Championship. He took one more victory the following season in the FW08C, which was the large Cosworth engined Williams of this period. Between 1978 and 1983 the team scored 17 Grand Prix victories and won two driver's and constructor's championships.
Honda years (1984 - 1988)
During the 1983 season, Frank Williams signed a deal with Honda for turbo-charged V6 engines. The Honda-powered FW09 made its debut in the final race of that year at Kyalami where Rosberg finished an encouraging fifth. Problems with the car's handling and the engine's reliability made for a very difficult first year for the Williams-Honda combo. Rosberg made something of the season with a win at Dallas. With the engine situation sorted, Head set about designing a brand new chassis for the 1985 FW10; the first Williams to use an full carbon-fibre tub. Early in the season the results were disappointing. A substantial upgrade package halfway through the year saw the car evolve into the FW10B and a race winner. Rosberg and new signing Nigel Mansell won two Grands Prix each.
While Frank Williams was recovering from his crippling accident, his team dominated the 1986 season with the FW11. Two-time world champion Nelson Piquet and Mansell won five races each, securing the constructor's trophy with a sizeable lead. Surprisingly the driver's title was snatched away from the Williams' pilots by McLaren's Alain Prost after Mansell's tyre spectacularly exploded in the season finale at Adelaide. In 1987 the Williams-Honda package again dominated, clinching yet another constructor's trophy. Consistency brought Piquet his third title despite winning just three races against runner-up Mansell's six. Before the season was over, Honda had announced that it would focus all its resources on McLaren and Ayrton Senna in 1988, leaving World Champion Williams without a Works engine. The best option was a naturally aspirated Judd V8, which powered Mansell to two second place finishes. For the first time since 1978 no victories were scored in a season completely dominated by the Honda-engined McLaren. Fortunately Williams had already secured a deal to run Renault's all-new, 3.5-litre V10 as F1 stepped away from turbo-charged engines. The Honda engine had delivered Williams 25 victories, 2 constructor's trophies and a single driver's title.
Renault years (1989 - 1999)
Williams' partnership with Renault started off with four victories in the first two seasons. Fresh blood in the form of talented designer Adrian Newey really got the ball rolling for the Anglo-French combination. His FW14 needed some sorting but from the sixth race of the 1991 season, it proved to be a winner. Mansell won five races, including the all-important French and British Grands Prix. Riccardo Patrese contributed a further two wins to the FW14's tally. The subsequent FW14B and FW15C fielded in the next two seasons were the class of the field. Packed with electronics to control every aspect of the car, these remain as some of the most advanced racing cars ever constructed. The constructor's trophy was for Williams in 1992 and 1993, and its drivers Mansell and Prost won the driver's titles respectively.
Although all electronic aids were banned for 1994, Williams had little reason to worry as it had just signed Senna to replace Prost, who had retired after winning his fourth championship. It was not to be as the hugely talented Brazilian fatally crashed his FW16 in the fourth race of season. Since then all new Williams F1 cars have carried the Senna 'S' on the nose as a remembrance. Damon Hill made the most of the tragic season by winning six races, which was enough for the team's third constructor's trophy in a row. The following season rival Benetton also had access to the hugely potent Renault V10 engine. Four victories for Hill and one for Coulthard were not enough to challenge Schumacher and Benetton team.
At the end of the year Schumacher and other key figures left Benetton for Ferrari, making Williams' life a little easier. For 1996 Hill was partnered by CART Champion Jacques Villeneuve. The two sons of legendary fathers decimated the opposition and finished first and second in the standings. World champion Hill left at the end of the season but with Villeneuve as lead driver, the Williams dominance continued. The highly successful era came to an abrupt end in 1998 after Newey left for McLaren and Renault withdrew their support. Williams carried on with Mecachrome and Supertech batched versions of the Renault engine but in 1998 and 1999 the best result was second for Ralf Schumacher at the 1999 Italian Grand Prix. The Renault years were the most successful for the British team, yielding 62 Grand Prix wins, five constructor's titles and four driver's championships.
BMW years (2000 - 2005)
While the Formula 1 team was struggling on with the outdated and rebadged Renault engines, the upcoming partnership with BMW was taking shape. The Williams developed BMW V12 LMR won Le Mans in 1999 and throughout the season the new BMW V10 was tested in the back of a Williams chassis. In the first season with the BMW engine, Williams struggled and finished third in the championship behind Ferrari and McLaren. Williams finished in the same position the following year but with more than twice the number of points and four victories behind their name. Numerous podium finishes and a single victory promoted the team to second behind Ferrari in 2002. Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher were finally able to challenge Ferrari with the BMW-engined FW25 in 2003. Both drivers won two Grands Prix and Montoya was in contention for the title until the final races of the season. This was to be the best season of the BMW era. Dwindling results and Williams' refusal to sell a stake in the team to BMW eventually saw the two part ways. BMW took over the Sauber team and re-entered the sport under their own name. Williams opted for the all-new Cosworth V8 engine for the 2006 season. Six seasons with BMW power left the team with ten victories.
Toyota and beyond (2006 - )
The Cosworth CA engine in the back of the FW28 was reputedly capable of running well over 20,000 rpm but it was not powerful enough to enable Williams to challenge the leading teams. The once dominant team was unable to match the big works and semi-works teams with their gigantic budgets. Disappointed in the engine's performance, Williams replaced the Cosworth with Toyota power in 2007. The Japanese V8 was used for three seasons with three podium finishes as rare highlights. Although it was a small consolation, the modestly funded team could pride itself on outpacing the official Toyota team, with reportedly the largest budget in the paddock, on more than one occasion. Halfway through the 2009 season and ahead of Toyota's withdrawal from the sport, Williams announced a new deal with Cosworth for the new year. BMW followed hot on Toyota's heals and also quit F1 at the end of 2009. Williams' strong desire to remain independent helped the team to overcome the departure of yet another engine supplier without too many problems.
Having secured 113 victories, nine constructor's trophies and eight driver's titles, Williams is the third most successful team in Formula 1 history. With a significant drop in manufacturer presence and proposed budget caps, Williams may soon be able to return to the winner's circle.