When he speaks about Formula One, Frank Williams has a shine in his eyes and an infectious enthusiasm that belies his 41 years in the sport. But in 2009, as the founding owner and director of the Williams team, one of the last independent teams in a series that has been nearly taken over by car manufacturers, it is clearly the key to both his success and his longevity.
Still, the success goes back more than a decade in terms of the last world title won by this third most successful team of all time and the even the last great years of victory go back half a decade to when Williams fought for the world title with its BMW engine partner in 2003.
Frank Williams' Recipe: Reinvigoration and Rejuvination
But in an interview Williams said that the secret to continuing to be a driving force in the series – and not falling into the kind of irrelevance that teams like Tyrrell did in its final years – lay in rejuvenation.
"Reinvigorate and rejuvenate your company every decade," Williams said. "But it goes on all the time. Younger people turn up and two out of three don’t make it, disappear."
The daily operations are undergoing a transitional period as they hired Adam Parr to work as CEO and Sam Michael as technical director, essentially learning and fulfilling the roles played by Williams and Patrick Head, the team’s co-owner and former technical director, who has increasingly stepped back from daily operations in recent years.
The Williams Regret: No Title Since 1997
Moreover, it is easy to sense Williams’ emotional letdown when he talks about how long it has been since the team last won the world titles, with Jacques Villeneuve driving in 1997. He said that he and Head are sickened by it, but more than aware and working toward resolving the problem.
Williams and Head have worked together since Williams started up his team in its current incarnation in 1977. Together they won 9 constructors’ titles, 7 drivers’ titles and 113 victories. But the last victory also goes back to the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2004.
"We’re very upset with ourselves because we haven’t done any real winning for a very long time," said Williams. "And it’s very embarrassing, but we have to live with that. It’s our own fault, nobody else’s."
The Williams Champion Drivers: Villeneuve, Prost, Mansell et al
Williams has had some of the greatest drivers in the sport, including Alain Prost in 1993 and Ayrton Senna in 1994, Keke Rosberg from 1982 to 1985, Nigel Mansell in 1992 and he currently has Nico Rosberg, Keke’s son, driving for him alongside Kazuki Nakajima.
Like the championship leading Brawn team that finished in last place in the series last season because it sacrificed results last year in favor of developing the 2009 car from scratch, Williams had also begun work very early in order to take advantage of the complete overhaul in the technical regulations that effectively put all teams on an equal footing with a blank sheet of paper for designing the car.
The result was that Williams began the 2009 season with one of the three or four quickest cars. But results have been a little deceiving as the other teams have caught up and the Brawn car proved unbeatable, while another car, the Red Bull, designed by Adrian Newey, was also exceptionally successful in design.
Unlike the car manufacturer teams, Williams says his team’s only business and reason for existing is to go racing. He said that his desire to remain in the series as an independent is rooted in both his and Head’s simple love of racing.
"It’s all that I’ve ever wanted to do," he said. "I love what I do. All the people at Williams love what they do. Patrick, my partner, feels exactly the same — he just wants to go racing, winning."
Frank Williams' Accident: South of France 1986
There is a sense in which his love of racing may be interpreted as going way beyond that into the realm of personal survival.In 1986 at the height of his power as a director of the Formula One team in the 1980s Williams was involved in an accident in a car that he lost control of as he drove quickly from the Castellet Circuit to the Nice airport in the south of France to catch an airplane. As a result of his injuries he lost the use of his legs and most of his arm and hand movement and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
With need for permanent assistance for his daily functions, it is sensed that racing has helped him survive the unlikely 23 years since the accident. Now 67, he said that he has no plans to stop racing.
"Either Patrick my partner says, 'Frank, you’re past it because you’re making too many mistakes or forgetting,'" he said. "Or I become sick. One of the two will happen eventually, as you get old things happen, your abilities change. And that’s why I’m prepared for the future."
The basis of his undying enthusiasm for racing, he said, was simple, and almost childlike: "I just love racing, I love speed," he said. "I love the noise."