Racing world reacts to death of Frank Williams, legendary F1 team owner

Frank Williams death mourning
Dan Istitene/Getty Images
1 Comment

LONDON — The death of Sir Frank Williams, the legendary founder and former team principal of Williams Racing, has prompted a wave of mourning from the racing world. He was 79.

Williams took his motor racing team from an empty carpet warehouse to the summit of Formula One, overseeing 114 victories, a combined 16 drivers’ and constructors’ world championships, while becoming the longest-serving team boss in the sport’s history.

“After being admitted into hospital on Friday, Sir Frank passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his family,” Williams Racing said in a statement.

Williams driver George Russell remembered Williams as a “genuinely wonderful human being.” Russell, who will move from Williams to become Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate next season, was one of many who reacted to the news on social media.

Williams’ life is all the more extraordinary by the horrific car crash he suffered in France that left him with injuries so devastating 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 career — enabled him to continue with the love of his life, albeit from the confines of a wheelchair.

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 in August.

Francis Owen Garbett Williams was born in South Shields on April 16, 1942 to an RAF officer and a headmistress. He was educated at St Joseph’s College, a private boarding school in Dumfries where he became obsessed with cars following a ride in a Jaguar XK150.

A traveling salesman by day, Williams fulfilled his racing ambitions at the weekend and launched his own team, Frank Williams Racing Cars, at 24.

Four years later, they were competing in Formula Two, and with flatmate and closest friend Piers Courage behind the wheel, Williams graduated to F1 in 1969 using a second-hand Brabham.

But tragedy struck at the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix.

Courage ran off the track, one of his front wheels hit his helmet, and his car burst into flames. Courage’s grizzly death in a car bearing his name left Williams devastated. Broke and with spiralling debts, he reluctantly sold 60 per cent of his team to Walter Wolf in 1975.

But Williams was not made to be a back-seat driver and, desperate for independence, he severed ties with the Canadian businessman.

He set up shop at an old carpet warehouse in Didcot, Oxfordshire and signed a promising young engineer named Patrick Head. The double act would go on to make grand prix history.

With Saudi Arabian funding and the hiring of Australian driver Alan Jones, Williams Grand Prix Engineering became a force.

At the 1979 British Grand Prix, Jones registered Williams’ first pole position before team-mate Clay Regazzoni took the team’s maiden win a day later.

In 1980, Jones delivered Williams their first title. The team also won back-to-back constructors’ championships, while Keke Rosberg was crowned drivers’ champion in 1982. But, in 1986, Williams’ life would change forever.

Following a test at the Paul Ricard circuit in March, Williams set off on a 98-mile dash to Nice Airport in a rented Ford Sierra. Traveling through the windy roads at speed, Williams lost control and the car ended up on its roof following a 2.5-meter drop into a field.

Williams’ passenger, the team’s marketing manager Peter Windsor, escaped with minor injuries. But Williams suffered a spinal fracture that would leave him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“I was late for a plane which I didn’t need to be late for because I got the French time mixed up with the English time,” Williams later said. “The roads were very bumpy, the hire car was not the world’s best, and suddenly I was off the road upside down and with a broken neck.

“It was very unfair on my family, particularly my wife, because of how my circumstances changed. In hindsight, it was a careless and a selfish thing to have done. Life went on, and I was able to continue, but it has been a handicap in the true sense of the word.”

Despite his life-changing injuries, Williams was back at the helm of his team within nine months. Over the ensuing 11 years, five further drivers’ championships — including those for Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill — as well as seven constructors’ titles, followed.

But there would be more heartache for Williams when Ayrton Senna was killed in just his third race for the British team at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

Williams was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999 but his team was never able to replicate its heyday of the 1980s and 1990s. He stepped back in 2013, the year in which his wife died, allowing his daughter Claire to assume the day-to-day running of the team.

Williams fought off pneumonia in 2016, but he has been an irregular fixture in the paddock for a number of years.

And in September 2020 after the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, an historic sporting chapter was closed when the Williams family contested its 739th and concluding race after selling up to Dorilton Capital.

Williams is survived by his three children, sons Jonathan and Jamie and Claire, and grandchildren Ralph and Nathaniel.

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
0 Comments

As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”