English Heart, English Blood

Williams are the ultimate English institution. The backbone of their success has been Englishmen, they have produced world champions from UK and in 2012, are the perhaps the last remaining team from a by-gone era.

The team's first car in 1978

First years

1978 was the team’s debut season. Australia’s Alan Jones scored Williams’ first points of its history, the Aussie bringing the car home in 4th place at the South African GP. At the United States Grand Prix later that season,a first podium was the reward for Jones. 1979 was to bring with it a close battle for victory at Monaco as Swiss Clay Regazzoni finished 2nd behind eventual winner South African Jody Scheckter.  The following race at Dijon, France, was the first time the team scored a double-points finish, with both cars finishing in the points. Win number one for Williams was achieved by Regazzoni in the constructor’s home race, the British GP. Further wins were to come as the following three GPs were all claimed by Williams. Ferrari won the follow-up, their home race at Monza in Italy. One more win was to come for the English team in 1979 as Jones took 1st place at the Canadian GP.

Alan Jones

Jones and Rosberg

Australia’s 2nd Formula One world champion was crowned following the end of the 1980 season as Jones took many wins. Williams had their first driver’s world championship and also took their first constructor’s championship win. ’81 saw a repeat of it’s constructors title win, but no driver’s championship. Alan Jones retired following the season’s conclusion. Finnish driver Keke Rosberg took his place, after an ’81 which was literally pointless for the Finn, who raced for Fittipaldi Automotive, ran by brothers Wilson and Emerson Fittipaldi, both racing drivers, but Emerson the former double champion. Keke Rosberg won the championship in 1982, which was all the more remarkable considering he won only one race. Consistent point finishing was how he managed to continuously score on his way to his sole championship win.

Frank Williams, confined to a wheelchair

Honda power

The following years were a partnership with Honda who began supplying engines to the team from 1984. Though they only achieved one driver’s world championship, they did get 21 race wins between 1984 and 1988 as Honda began to show that they were the engine force to be reckoned with. This was all to pale into insignificance with subsequent events. While returning home from Nicé, France, the Ford Sierra car Frank Williams was driving lost control and with no seatbelt to stop him, he crashed onto the roof as the car rolled over. The accident rendered him totally paralyzed. He returned to the F1 paddock a year later, now needing to use a wheelchair for life.

The Renault Years

The Williams cars, far right

1988 was the first season where the team would not have a Honda engine. Instead, they used naturally-aspirated Judd powerplants, which gave them a high disadvantage in comparison to their rivals who ran turbo-charged engines. Far from a championship win, not even a single race victory was won in the entire season. Renault signed a deal with the team from 1989 onwards which was to see a rapid improvement in their fortunes. The San Marino GP of ’89 was the first points finish of the Renault partnership., the first podium finish was at the Mexican GP and their first win in Canada, which also had a 1-2 finish for Williams, Thierry Boutsen the victor followed home by Ricardo Patrese. 1990 was less successful, although each driver did get one victory each. 1991 was where the team would return back to consistent winning ways, dropping Boutsen for Englishman Nigel Mansell.

Car woes

1991 saw improved results

1991 saw promising pace in the early races but these were blighted by reliability issues for both Mansell and Patrese. This including the Canadian GP, where Patrese retired from the race with gearbox problems following a front-row start and an agonising last-lap electrical fault for pole-sitter Mansell whilst the man from Birmingham was in the lead. A failure-free race finally came in the follow-up at Mexico, where Patrese led home a 1-2. With two wins in the next 2 races, a home win for Mansell at Silverstone and another win for the Briton in Germany began to move the moustached-man into serious championship contention. Williams won three more races but were ultimately beaten in the constructors’ championship by McLaren, while Mansell finished 2nd in the driver’s title, behind Ayrton Senna.

Mansell

Mansell giving Senna a lift, following the Englishman's dominant British GP win

1992 was to be one of the most dominant years ever seen. The first 5 races of the season were all won by Williams and Mansell, four of those being 1-2 finishes, with the exception being in Spain where Patrese spun off. McLaren’s Ayrton Senna won race six of the season, and in race seven at Canada, both drivers retired. In the remainder of the season, Mansell won four more times, setting a new record for race victories in a season. Both driver’s and constructor’s championships were secured for the team based in Oxfordshire.  Mansell left the team to race in America while Ricardo Patrese moved to the Benetton team for 1993.

Tragedy and recovery

Senna's death was a dark moment for the sport

Former triple-world champion Alain Prost and promotee from the test driver role, Damon Hill, were the team’s two drivers. Both men won multiple races but it was Prost who won his fourth and final title, with another constructor’s championship also in the bag. The charismatic Ayrton Senna was to be the lead driver at Williams in 1994, causing the Brazilian’s great rival Prost to retire as he said they could never be team-mates. Though the team were heavy favourites for the season, the car was said to be difficult to drive in pre-season testing although it’s pace was evidently quick. The first two races had Senna taking pole but failing to finish. Race three was yet another pole position but come race day, there was to be a tragic end. Senna’s car appeared to drive straight off the road on lap seven of the San Marino GP, killing the man who many had deemed to be immortal. Shockwaves ran through the sport and it fell to young Englishman Hill to lead the team through such dark times. Scotsman David Coulthard was brought in as second driver. Hill fought on and the championship came down to the final race h rival Michael Schumacher in Adelaide, Australia where he lost the title following a collision with the German.

Continuing challenge

Schumacher and Hill would be title rivals over the next 3 years

From 1995 to 1997 was a succession of title challenges. ’95 wasn’t as close with Hill finishing over 30 points behind Michael in 2nd position in the driver’s championship. 1996 was to be Damon’s year as he started every race from the front-row, a 100% success rate matched only twice, by Senna in ’89 and Prost in ’93.  Nothing up eight wins, Hill won the championship and became part of the only father-son combination to both be world champions as his father, the late Graham Hill, was himself a two-time champion in the 1960s. Hill left the team following the season and in replacement for him was to be German Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Yet again the car was a clear contender, with Jacques Villeneuve, a Canadian who came to the team for ’96, who was to be the team’s star man. Frentzen was supposed to be the team’s top peformer, but was a big disappointment, winning only once at the San Marino GP. The Canadian on the other hand, was to win seven races to title-rival Michael Schumacher’s five. In the final race, a pre-meditated collision between the two at the European GP handed the championship to Villeneuve. It was to be their last driver’s title to date.

Short burst of speed

Montoya (left) and Schumacher (right), were team-mates

In the ensuing years, the team switched engine supplier and were no longer title contenders as those honours went to Ferrari and McLaren. 1998 and 1999 saw winless seasons. 2000 was the first season with new engine-supplier BMW. 2000 saw podiums and 2001 race wins,with Ralf Schumacher, brother of Michael, winning three times and newboy Juan Pablo Montoya winning once at Monza. More wins could have followed but for retirements and pitstop errors. 2003 was the team’s first and only title challenge of the BMW era, four race wins, two for both Ralf and Montoya, left the team in contention for the championship throughout the season. At the end, it was Ferrari and the other Schumacher who took the spoils. 2004 was largely uncompetitive for the team and Montoya secured their only race win in the final GP of the season in Brazil. it remains their last race victory as of 2011’s finish.

Downhill from here

Changes of drivers didn't change much fortune

Changes of drivers didn't change much fortune

In the years afterward, glory was far away and the team went further and further downhill. A switch to Cosworth engines for 2006, engines which are affordable for those short of money, and Toyota engines from 2007 to 2009, didn’t help the team as they only served a succession of mid-table championship finishes. The same was to come for 2010 and 2011 after a return to Cosworth.

As 2012 approaches, it can be hard to believe that this is the same team that on many occasions, ruled the sport. As with many things, money is an issue and it is a ground on which the team struggle to compete with the bigger teams. A recent deal was believed to be in the making which was to bring in money from Qatar, but this is believed to not have materialized. Third in the table of all-time most successful teams, it would be a great shame to see the proud heritage of Williams leave the sport, but as a team with racing as its only interests, a failure to return to the top soon could see them bow out, no matter how unthinkable that may be.

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