‘He was one of the special guys’: Bernie Ecclestone says Sir Frank Williams helped Formula One become what it is today as he leads tributes to the founder of Williams Racing following his death at the age of 79
- British motorsport is in mourning following the death of Sir Frank Williams, 79
- Williams’ passing comes just months after selling his Formula One racing team
- He oversaw seven drivers’ and nine constructors’ championships in his time
- Bernie Ecclestone has led the tributes following his death on Sunday
Bernie Ecclestone led the tributes to Sir Frank Williams after his death at the age of 79.
Williams, who was wheelchair-bound following a road accident in 1986 after setting up Williams Racing in the late 1970s, oversaw nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles as the Oxfordshire-based team that he and his star engineer Sir Patrick Head built dominated much of motor racing in the 1980s and 1990s.
He was the longest-serving team principal in the sport’s history, accumulating 114 victories across more than 40 years.
Bernie Ecclestone (L) says Sir Frank Williams (R) helped Formula One become what it is today
The founder of Williams Racing (right) sadly passed away at the age of 79 on Sunday
His eponymous organisation in Grove lit up the scene through championship-winning drivers Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve.
Only Ferrari and McLaren have won more garlands.
Ecclestone, who owned the Brabham team before running Formula One for four decades, told Sportsmail: ‘Frank was a one-off.
‘But he was also part and parcel of the way it was back then. We sat together, had dinner together and we did whatever was best for Formula One.
Williams oversaw seven drivers’ championships including Keke Rosberg (right) in 1982
After a brief career as a mechanic, Williams founded Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966, funded by salesman work.
He first ran a team in F1 in 1969 and set-up Williams GP Engineering in 1977.
Two decades of success followed. In total his team won seven drivers’ titles and nine constructors’ titles.
First F1 race win came in 1979 with Clay Regazzoni. The next year they won the title with Alan Jones.
They have not won a title since Jacques Villeneuve’s 1997 drivers’ triumph.
‘His daughter Claire (who took control of the team as ‘deputy’ to Frank when age and illness got to him, before the team’s sale to Dorilton Capital last September for £136million) rang me this morning to break the sad news.
‘He was one of the special guys. He had suffered enough, being in a wheelchair, and I asked Claire how his last days were.
‘I am pleased to say that she said he had been OK, pain-free — or at least as good as you could hope for, thankfully.
‘But he was one of the tough guys, as well. He was a proper person.
‘He and I always had a very good relationship.
‘There were days when I gave him a loan. There was never a contract.
‘We didn’t need one. He always honoured any arrangement we had. He was a real friend.
‘Yesterday Ron Dennis (former McLaren boss) rang me and we shared our memories. These are the kind of people who made Formula One what it is today.’
Current F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali said: ‘Frank was a true giant of our sport who overcame the most difficult challenges of life and battled every day to win.
‘We have lost a much-loved and respected member of the F1 family, and he will be hugely missed.
Williams (right) founded the team under his own name in the 1970s and was a much loved member of the F1 paddock
Current Williams driver George Russell described Williams as a ‘mentor and friend’
‘His incredible achievements and personality will be etched on our sport for ever.’
Williams driver George Russell also paid his respects, saying: ‘Sir Frank was such a genuinely wonderful human being. I’ll 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.