Bernie Ecclestone, the billionaire who turned formula one into the world’s premier sport, let Frank Williams out of a bill for a failing auto-design business in 1964. That spring the 70-year-old was sharing a tiny Monaco hotel suite with such colleagues as Niki Lauda and Gabriele Gianelli. It was only two weeks before they would take the first of four consecutive constructors’ championships for the Williams team.
This week, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ended the saga of the 73-year-old’s death-defying campaign to save the Manor team, which he founded in 2006. Filling the void left by his departure, an Oct. 28 feast of high-speed thrills is planned at the Yas Marina circuit, the richest motor-racing track in the world, held at an appreciably higher altitude.
But before he took the permanent helm of the Manor team, Williams was the head engineer for Brabham, the World Series of Racing, from which he pulled the racing reins in 1997. Then he embarked on his odyssey of annual treks to the top of the F1 rankings for the latest crop of drivers.
“He is a brilliant driver himself and probably one of the best drivers never to have won a world championship,” Ecclestone once said of Williams.
At the end of its heyday, Williams’ team counted Williams, Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Damon Hill, Eddie Irvine, Allan McNish, Eddie Irvine, Sebastian Vettel, Ross Brawn, Jenson Button, Jackie Stewart, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Ayrton Senna, Jacques Villeneuve, Sam Ryder, Mark Webber, and Nigel Mansell. His team may never win a world championship again, but it never ceases to make an impression.
Watch a Motor1 YouTube video on Williams’ ascension: