The Men Behind the Success

FwpheadMost people’s view of Frank Williams will be one of a face, just visible above a bank of monitors, sponsors baseball cap on head, eyes firmly fixed staring ahead, never smiling, never showing any emotion. This is the picture that is relayed to millions of homes sixteen times a year.

This view could lead people to believe that Frank Williams is a hard, dispassionate man. One thing is certain, he is passionate about Formula One racing and has guided his team to many championships, in the process turning Williams Grand Prix Engineering from a lowly new entrant to the top team just twenty years later. The man must surely give hope and inspiration to Eddie Jordan and all formula one’s other aspirants.

Born 16th April 1942 in South Shields on Tyneside, UK, Frank Williams had an early interest in cars and started a career in racing at the age of 19. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for the opposition, Frank quickly realised that his talents lay elsewhere and so made his way into management, via buying and selling racing cars. His first driver, the talented Piers Courage, a member of the brewing family, who Frank saw through Formula 3 right up to the top level, was tragically killed during the 1970 Dutch GP at Zandvoort on the verge of success. There followed a number of lean years during which Frank worked for others, such as Walter Wolf, managing their teams.

It was during 1975 that the seeds were sown for what would become a successful partnership when Frank met a young designer – Patrick Head. Together they formed Williams Grand Prix Engineering and success quickly followed when Alan Jones took the championship for the team in 1980.

Tradegy was to touch Frank Williams life again in 1986 when, while travelling home from a test session in France, his car left the road. An accident that could so easily have killed him, broke his back and left him paralysed, away from the team for over a year. This, it is rumoured, is one of the reasons Honda took their engines from the team to McLaren at the end of 1987, believing the team would flounder without Frank’s leadership. Frank was to prove them wrong when the team bounced back in 1989 with Renault and since then neither Frank, nor his team, have looked back , becoming the dominant team of the nineties.

Fwphead2“Basically we didn’t do a very good job”, “That FW12 was a bit of a pig’s ear”. Two quotes from Patrick Head, a refreshingly honest man, quite willing and able to take responsibility for his mistakes, a trait a number of his drivers could do with emulating.

Born 5th June 1945, Head joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16, at his father’s insistence, but soon discovered that it wasn’t to his liking and bought himself out. After taking a mechanical engineering degree Head joined Lola cars where he worked with the like of John Barnard (Currently with Ferrari) and Ron Tauranac on Formula One and 3000 designs. For 1975 Head joined Frank Williams at Walter Wolf Racing where he spent one season before taking what must have been a great gamble and joined Williams Grand Prix Engineering as Chief Designer.

Head quickly established himself as a top designer with his first taste of success coming in 1979 with the FW07, designed by Head with the assistance of Neil Oatley. The same year Head became a partner in WGPE thereby ensuring his place with Williams for many years to come.

Head’s designs were originally considered to be conservative, not something that could be levelled at the all dominant FW14, a car bristling with every leading edge piece of technology imaginable.

Todays Formula One cars can no longer be designed by one man and over the seasons a number of designers have worked with Head – Neil Oatley (Now with McLaren), Frank Derne (Liger and TWR), Ross Brawn (Benetton), Enrique Scalabroni, Sergio Rinland and the current chief designer, Adrian Newey.

One partnership that has lasted is that between Patrick Head and Frank Williams, though like most relationships it has had its ups and downs. Occupants of other factories at the industrial estate in Station Road, Didcot requested that Head and Williams at least shut the windows during their arguments!