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Formula 1

Mark Hughes: Frank Williams was a cunning, mischievous delight

by Mark Hughes
3 min read

Frank Williams was in love with racing like no other. He charmed his way into it from nothing, from nowhere. No head start, no being born into it, no being anywhere near a race track, nothing. He was just totally captivated and enraptured and once he’d found a way in around the sides he couldn’t possibly imagine life without it, refused to let the dream die even when all the signs were that he should.

Nov 29 : Frank Williams tribute: his life and legacy

Debt and bailiffs were just an occupational hazard in his early days, but he had a charm and jaunty confidence that allowed him to fit in chameleon-like to any surroundings or situations that would make it possible to stay in the game for just one more race.

At first as a would-be driver, later as a team owner, he lived on the precipice, lived his life like this, 100% optimist, someone who might have just been deemed a dreamer were it not for his uncanny ability to make things happen and an even greater ability to somehow scramble out of trouble.

Everyone loved him. They couldn’t not. The naughty smile which invited the other person to be in on his latest shenanigans, making them feel thrilled to be allowed into his world of schemes – but not for anything other than getting a car on the track and competing.

Bouncing back from the latest setback, he’d always return, big wide smile, full of plans – and like this, he was able to be around long enough to make two crucial partnerships.

Piers Courage Williams F1

The first was with Piers Courage (pictured above), whose talent allowed Frank to show that actually, he could get the job done – and they went all the way to F1 together. That dream died along with Piers at Zandvoort 1970, putting Frank back on the margins of F1.

He remained there ducking and diving for years – and eventually, his next big break happened along in the form of Patrick Head, the wonderful engineer with his feet on the ground whose qualities allowed Frank to fly.

One of Frank’s mates from the old days, Charlie Creighton Stuart, found some backing – and they were up and away, the foundations in place for one of the greatest F1 teams in history, with Patrick engineering and Frank finding the money and providing the impetus and limitless optimism.

Frank Williams Patrick Head Williams F1

I only got to know him sometime after his crippling road accident in ’86 but even after all those years in this most cut-throat and often cynical of sports, he’d still love to just talk and enthuse about drivers. “What do you think of…” would be the opener and he’d listen, then play devil’s advocate.

Before we properly met, he’d passed a message to me through his old friend Alan Henry that he’d like to chat – back in 2000 – because he’d been intrigued by something I’d written and wanted to discuss it further.

But before that meeting happened, I was at a post-qualifying press briefing and just listening, without anything pressing I needed answering. He must have heard me talk at some point though because as the briefing broke up he looked across and said in broad Geordie, “Whey man, yi didn’t ask any questions ya daft Geordie bugger!” with a broad grin across his face.

How could you not warm to a man like that? Just like everyone else did. He could be naughty, cunning, difficult, tread the margins of truth sometimes. But he was extraordinary and there won’t be another like him.

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