Frank Williams, the founder and former team principal of the Williams Racing Formula One team, has died, aged 79, marking the end of an era in motor sport.
Under Williams’ stewardship, the British team won the F1 drivers’ title seven times – including the first one that was annexed by Australian Alan Jones in 1980 – and the constructors’ championship on nine occasions.
Williams was one of the most remarkable figures in British sport, taking his team from an empty carpet warehouse to the summit of Formula One.
He was part of the sport’s fabric for more than half a century. His story was all the more extraordinary following a horrific car crash he suffered in France, which left him with injuries so devastating that doctors considered turning off his life-support machine.
But his wife Virginia ordered that her husband be kept alive and his sheer determination and courage – characteristics that personified his life and career – enabled him to continue from his wheelchair.
Until his death, he was recognised as the world’s oldest surviving tetraplegic.
He would remain in his role as Williams team principal for a further 34 years before F1’s greatest family team was sold to an American investment group.
“One wonders that if people like Frank had not been around in the early days whether Formula One would have survived today,” said Bernie Ecclestone, who ruled F1 for 40 years.
“He was one of the people that built Formula One.
“His story is incredible. Nobody lived as long as him in his condition (as a tetraplegic).
“But Frank never complained. He never whined and grizzled. He got on with things the best he could. He was a fighter. Frank was just Frank. He gelled with everyone, and everyone liked him.”
Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill both won championships in a Williams car.
Triple world champion Ayrton Senna also drove for Williams before his death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. Williams was charged with manslaughter for Senna’s death but was acquitted several years later.
Hill, the 1996 world champion, told Sky Sports: “The only person I could compare him to is [Ferrari founder] Enzo Ferrari.
“Frank loved Formula One and he loved racing. Anyone who runs a team would like to aspire to his achievements and to his record.
“He was a man of few words. He could speak many languages but he didn’t really engage in idle gossip. He’s a huge part of the history of the sport.”
Briton George Russell, the Williams driver who will join Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes next season, said: “Today, we say goodbye to the man who defined our team.
“Sir Frank was such a genuinely wonderful human being and I’ll always remember the laughs we shared.
“He was more than a boss – he was a mentor and a friend to everybody who joined the Williams Racing family and so many others.”