The departure of Head of Engineering Performance Rob Smedley and finishing the last place in the 2018 Formula one Constructors Championship represents a low for the once great team of Williams Grand Prix Engineering. Added to this the team has said that the cost of Formula one is becoming so prohibitive to the smaller nonworks constructors that they have questioned if they can continue at all let alone compete with the other teams. The loss of Williams to the grid would be immense as they have been a fixture on the circuit under their current format since 1977. They are a part of F1 history and legends with a sterling set of results. They have won nine constructors championships and seen seven champion drivers and over 100 race victories alongside McLaren and Ferrari. Whilst they may well be in the doldrums now one thing that Sir Frank Williams and his daughter Claire, the team Principals, are used to is adversity and glory in equal amounts.
Frank Williams had already had two false starts getting into Formula one with Frank Williams Racing Cars and a failed cooperation with Walter Wolf called Wolf-Williams Racing. Fielding a series of uncompetitive cars, Williams joined with a young new designer Patrick Head and founded Williams Grand Prix Engineering. They were to go on to record their first win 2 years later in 1979 fittingly at the British Grand Prix with the car driven by the experienced Clay Regazzoni. More success was to follow the next year when they won the first of their nine championships in 1980. The team would then dominate the sport of the next 22 years producing championship winning cars for the drivers Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Alain Prost, Jacques Villeneuve, Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, and Nelson Piquet. This success was due in part to the powerful Renault engines that were able to challenge and beat the Honda V12’s that were sat in the McLarens. The technical advances of traction control and active suspension resulted in a car that almost drove itself.
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The team has not been without tragedy. Williams was seriously injured and forced to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair following a car accident in 1986. This also was the year that Nigel Mansell came within a few laps of winning the drivers’ championship before a tire blowout almost killed him and ended his dreams. The most remembered event has to be the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994. The team and Williams Senior were accused of the drivers’ manslaughter by Italian authorities only finally being cleared in 2005.