Frank Williams: exclusive interview on his 500th grand prix

Published: 11 September 2008

This weekend is Frank Williams' and the Williams F1 team's 500th Formula 1 race. To celebrate this anniversary CAR has sat down with the great man himself to talk about his team and his favourite car and driver, plus we've charted the highs and lows of the Williams F1 team.

Williams F1: 500 Formula 1 races

The Italian Grand Prix will be Williams’ 500th race at the top echelon. Their first race was the 1978 Argentine Grand Prix, in which they entered just one car for Alan Jones. Since then they’ve become the third most successful constructor of all time, winning 113 GPs, seven drivers’ titles and nine constructors’ titles.

What does Frank Williams have to say about his 500th race?

Typically, Frank Williams doesn’t want to celebrate the landmark. He is a man who only looks forward, so when people tried to persuade him to run a few old cars prior to the race at Monza, he poured cold water on the idea. At Spa last weekend, however, CAR caught up with Frank and he was surprisingly candid about his big 5-0-0.

'Five hundred is a significant number,' he said, 'but it’s been years since we last won a championship and that’s not good enough. All the teams are here to win races and to prove that they are the best in the world.

'Having said that, I take a lot of pleasure from the fact that we’ve been around for a long time. I’ve enjoyed my life; I’ve enjoyed the challenges and I’ve worked with some bloody brilliant racing drivers.'

What do these great drivers have to say about Frank Williams?

'Frank loves racing almost more than anyone else in the pitlane,' says Keke Rosberg, who won the 1982 World Championship in a Williams FW08. 'Even now, after all his success, he would sell his house if it would help his team. With that kind of spirit, it’s unsurprising that he’s been around so long.'

Such reverence is echoed by Damon Hill, 1996 World Champion in an FW18. 'I see Frank as a kind of monarch,' says Damon. 'Williams is his army; Patrick is his general and he fights the fire breathing Ferrari dragon for England. I suppose that would make me one of his knights! Or one of those nights?! Either way, Frank is a stupendous fighter; the epitome of stoicism and a great man.'

Only Ferrari and McLaren have contested more races than Williams; here’s to the next 500.

Click 'Next' below to read Frank William's comments on his best ever car and driver

Frank Williams on...

His most satisfying moment?
'That’s probably a test day at Silverstone, about two weeks before the 1979 British Grand Prix. Patrick [Head, technical director] and Frank Dernie had come up with a couple of important aerodynamic parts for the FW07 and Alan Jones went out and just went faster and faster and faster. Two weeks later that car won our first race and the success of that car made Williams. Our reputation was built on that success.'

His best car?
'The active ride car of 1992, the  FW14B. It was utterly dominant, about two seconds per lap faster than anything else.'

His best driver?
“Ayrton [Senna] by reputation. Nigel won the most races for us and gave us a lot of satisfaction. He was not a pleasure to work with because he was very pushy, very blunt and very awkward. But in the car he was magic and we forgave him everything that happened outside it. He was so strong mentally.'

Williams' statistics

GPs entered: 499
Drivers’ Championships: 7
Constructors’ Championships: 9
Wins: 113
Poles: 125
Fastest laps: 128

Click 'Next' below to read about Williams' highs and lows

The highs and lows of Williams F1 team

1978: Cosworth engines
Williams Grand Prix Engineering Founded
Alan Jones finishes second at Watkins Glen, giving the team their first podium finish

1979: Cosworth engines
Clay Regazzoni takes their first win, at Silverstone

1980: Cosworth engines
Jones wins the World Championship; Williams win the Constructors’ title

1981: Cosworth engines
Carlos Reutemann misses out on the world title at the final round, but Williams clinch the Constructors’ Championship for the second time

1982: Cosworth engines
Keke Rosberg wins the team’s second drivers’ title

1984: Honda engines
Rosberg wins the team’s first race with Honda at Dallas

1985: Honda engines
Rosberg finishes third in the World Championship
Nigel Mansell, his new team-mate, wins his first grand prix at Brands Hatch

1986: Honda engines
Williams win the Constructors’ Championship
There’s disappointment in the drivers’ championship when Mansell and his new team-mate Nelson Piquet miss out on the drivers’ title at the final round

1987: Honda engines
Constructors’ champions and Piquet wins the team’s third drivers’ title

1988: Judd engines
With Honda switching their engine supply to McLaren and Lotus, Williams are left in the lurch and use naturally-aspirated Judd engines. The highlight of the season is Mansell’s second place at the British GP. The British driver then leaves for Ferrari at the end of the season

1989: Renault engines
The team win two races in their first season with Renault engines

1990: Renault engines
Fourth in the Constructors’ Championship: the team’s least successful season with Renault

1991: Renault engines
The team lures Mansell back, who finishes second in the World Championship

1992: Renault engines
The FW14B is the most dominant car of the modern era. Mansell storms to the drivers’ title and the team wins the constructors’ championship by 65 points. Mansell then leaves for America in a huff when he learns that Alain Prost is to join the team for ’93

1993: Renault engines
Another year of Williams domination. This time it’s Prost who wins the drivers’ title

1994: Renault engines
Ayrton Senna, the team’s lead driver, is killed at the third race of the season. Damon Hill takes the fight to Michael Schumacher, only to lose out on the World Championship at the final race. Williams win the constructors’ title

1995: Renault engines
A missed opportunity. Despite having the best car, the team miss out on both world titles with Hill and David Coulthard at the helm

1996: Renault engines
Damon wins the title and the team scores more than double the points of any other team in the constructors’ battle. Damon then leaves for Arrows

1997: Renault engines
This time it’s Jacques Villeneuve’s turn to win the title for Williams, who storm to their ninth constructors’ title. These are the team’s most recent world titles

1998/’99: Supertec engines
With a BMW engine supply already in the bag for 2000, the team bridge the gap with these customer V10s. There is little success

2000: BMW engines
The team finish third in the Constructors’ Championship in their first season with BMW

2003: BMW engines
Second in the Constructors’ Championship, giving the team their most successful season with BMW

2006: Cosworth engines
A return to Cosworth brings little success. Poor reliability sees the team finish eighth in the constructors’ championship, their lowest ever position

2007/’08: Toyota engines
Third place in Melbourne ’08 was a highlight, but when will the team win another race?

By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller