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F1 History 12

The best of Williams

As with its first win, so with its 114th: Pastor Maldonado’s surprise ending of Williams’ long drought elicited the same reaction as Clay Regazzoni’s surprise opening of the floodgates all those 33 years ago at Silverstone – a universal and heartfelt “Bravo, Frank!”

The company with Engineering tellingly etched in its name is popular in pit and paddock and with the public. The story of Sir Frank’s indefatigability in the face of, first a lack of finance, then a negative perception – the campervan, the wheeler dealer tag, Walter Wolf’s brush-off – and finally physical disability is as sensational as he was typically understated in Barcelona last week. Truly, he has seen all sides of life, not just of Formula 1.

Maldonado’s success in Spain is a contender for Williams’ most memorable victory, coming as it did in the aftermath of a disastrous 2011: the least memorable season in its history. But with 113 others, – third, after Ferrari and McLaren – to choose from, plenty vie for the honour.

1979 British Grand Prix – Clay Regazzoni

history  The best of Williams

FW07 was the ‘Lotus 80’ that Colin Chapman should have built: sturdy and (as) sensible (as any ground effect car could be) while remaining sleekly efficient. Fundamentally white, it possessed an All Blacks aura. Designer Patrick Head was its fearsome flanker, digging out the speed and making it available to one of the few F1 drivers capable of taking up the crash ball. Alan Jones was superb at Silverstone – he possessed good hands as well as a bull’s neck, strength and attitude. On pole by six-tenths, he was leading by a wide margin when his new DFV vented on lap 40.

Many had deemed the signing of Regazzoni an error. The tough-minded Ticinese, however, now proved to be the safe pair of hands that Frank had hoped for: Jones would win the next three Grands Prix – but it was ‘Regga’ who won Williams’ first.

1983 Monaco Grand Prix ­– Keke Rosberg

history  The best of Williams

The Finn stood no chance of successfully defending his world title such was the widening power gap between his atmo and the turbos, but not once did he flinch from the fight. His flamboyance in qualifying, in dry and wet sessions, put him in the position – fifth – where his tyre gamble should be deemed calculated rather than merely hopeful. Slicks put him ‘on pole’ when the expected rain didn’t fall, and he skirted walls, kerbs and patches of damp to win. His every lap was bewitching.

What made his performance unquestionably great, however, was his opening salvo when the track was wettest. He could have played a waiting game, with one eye on the sky. Instead, a bullet start, followed by a slicing pass on Renault’s Alain Prost, meant that his FW08C was leading before the completion of the second lap.

1984 Dallas Grand Prix – Keke Rosberg

history  The best of Williams

Even this most ardent advocate and proponent of opposite-lock was resigned to an understeering future aboard the FW09, a conservative design playing second fiddle to ironing the bugs, of which there were many, from Honda’s new V6 turbo. The latter’s Himalayan power curve ought to have made this concrete-lined, slow-corner track that was fast crumbling an insurmountable summit. Jacques Laffite qualified his FW09 24th and did well to finish fourth, albeit two laps behind the winner – who just happened to be his team-mate.

Rosberg had qualified eighth, almost five seconds faster than unhappy Jacques, and drove with an élan and accuracy that nobody could match on the lung-burningly hot day that François Hesnault, Eddie Cheever, Stefan Bellof, Derek Warwick, Riccardo Patrese, Andrea de Cesaris, Johnny Cecotto, Patrick Tambay, Nelson Piquet, Mark Surer, Michele Alboreto and even Niki Lauda and Alain Prost crashed.

1987 British Grand Prix – Nigel Mansell

history  The best of Williams

The most outrageous dummy since Pelé ‘sold’ the Uruguayan ’keeper at the 1970 World Cup. An overtake, or at least an attempt, was undoubtedly coming such was Mansell’s grip advantage and ferocity of focus, but this being ‘Our Nige’ in front of his hepped-up fans at Silverstone, it was bound to be spectacular to the point of showbiz: a 190mph feint left, then a lunge right into Stowe. Nelson Piquet, the team’s other driver, though hardly a mate, saw it late and moved to block before wisely acceding – without good grace.

The FW11Bs had dominated throughout the weekend, Piquet stealing Mansell’s pole thunder and leading for 62 of 65 laps. Their initial plan was to run non-stop, but an imbalance forced Mansell to fit new rubber at mid-distance. Ignoring his fuel readout’s red warning, this blue-collar cavalier then hunted Piquet down, and the kill, when it came, was merciless.

1994 Japanese Grand Prix – Damon Hill

history  The best of Williams

Benetton’s nimbler car and strategies had given Michael Schumacher an edge that he did not in truth require in the void left by Ayrton Senna. Hill, despite impressing as the conduit of a distraught team’s efforts, was by now searching his soul: was he really the man, the driver, to take on Schumacher? Having chased shadows all season, he turned the tables at storm-hit Suzuka.

Runaway Schumacher held a seven-second lead when the race was halted after 13 laps because of a deluge. Soon after the restart, however, it became clear that he and Hill were on different strategies: a two- and one-stopper respectively. Both suffered enforced compromises: Schumacher’s was the extra 10 litres of fuel at his first stop in case the race finished, as had been indicated, 10 laps early behind the Safety Car; Hill’s was a stuck rear that meant he was sent out on just three new boots. The Englishman adapted and was the faster, moving into the lead on aggregate as well as on the road. After a Schumacher splash ’n’ dash, however, it was the same old story: the German closing relentlessly on another win – until Hill conjured a second on the last lap to win by 3.4.

When Schumacher reached into the FW16B to respectfully congratulate his rival, he grabbed the hand of a man who knew that he had earned that respect and that their rules of engagement had been redrawn. These were annulled one week later in Adelaide.

1996 Portuguese Grand Prix – Jacques Villeneuve

history  The best of Williams

Father Gilles was an impulsive genius whereas Jacques was a compulsive theoriser who mulled over every possible eventuality. This was difficult in his rookie year on tracks he did not know. Estoril, however, was the exception, thanks to 3000km of testing. He disarmed his race engineer by informing him that an outside pass was possible at the long final right-hander and that he wanted his FW18 set up accordingly.

A tardy start saw him slip to fourth behind team-mate Hill, the Benetton of Jean Alesi and Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari. It stayed that way until lap 16, whereupon Jacques, as mooted, swept around Schuey. Michael’s entry speed had been compromised by a backmarker – but even so. A clean pass of Schumacher was something that Damon had never managed. Hence his being released.

Villeneuve’s victory – Hill was hampered by late-race clutch problems – and more significantly that move signalled that the Canadian was indubitably ready to win a world championship, if not this season’s then the next’s.

Add your comments

12 comments on The best of Williams

  1. Andrew Scoley, 17 May 2012 14:21

    Alan Jones, Hockenheim, 1979, 25 laps with a deflating tyre, 15 laps with a misfire.

    AJ Montreal 1979 Racelong, 72 lap duel with GV

    AJ French GP 1980 Beating supposedly superior Renault and Ligier teams.

    A list without Jones doesn’t seem complete to me.

  2. Tony Geran, 17 May 2012 22:47


    I couldn’t agree more. The man would have been triple world champ if Williams had sorted the FW07 out earlier and don’t forget the 4 races he lost in ’81, admittedly he threw two away – Zolder and Jarama, both while leading – but fuel starvation cost him victory in Monaco and Hockenheim and Goodyear’s prevarication about F1 possibly cost him in Canada when their wets were no match for the Michelins.

    I notice there is a different slant on Mansell’s win at Silverstone in 1987 in Autosport last week.

  3. Rich Ambroson, 18 May 2012 00:38

    Maybe this one’s more of “The Best of Patrese”, but I remember the Portugal GP of 1991. Patrese stormed to pole in a backup car set up for Mansell, then won the race after Peter Windsor let Mansell out of his pitbox before the right rear was fully attached. Patrese’s drive that weekend on Saturday and Sunday was one of my favorite Williams wins. (being a Patrese fan, it would be; but then, I understand Frank Williams rates Riccardo very highly as a human being and a team member)

  4. hamfan, 18 May 2012 14:50

    “I notice there is a different slant on Mansell’s win at Silverstone in 1987 in Autosport last week.”

    Yes, that Autosport report does look at it from an original, and after a bit of thought a very very plausible, angle. But surely we don’t want our myths messed about with?…

  5. Adrian Muldrew, 18 May 2012 15:05

    Andrew, Tony and Rich have mentioned two cogs in the Williams wheel that were vital in their different ways: AJ obviously, Riccardo more subtly perhaps, but he laid much of the groundwork in 89-91 for the all-conquering Williams-Renault romps through which other drivers would take more spoils. And yes, any sift through Team Willy’s greatest moments is incomplete without AJ. I’ll opt for Canada ’80, as it was the race win which also brought world titles to Didcot (pre-Grove then, of course) for the first time. As for ’81, Tony, you are so right, and you can add Rio and the famous “JONES-REUT” incident to the list of Alan’s “what ifs” that year. People might say he should have passed Carlos on merit, but he would surely have done so if he hadn’t held back in the false belief that Carlos would yield, only realising otherwise when it was too late, as he recently recounted to Steve Rider in typically humorous fashion on Sky’s excellent F1 Legends programme on him.
    The race I would like to add to the list is one Williams didn’t win – Silverstone ’88, midway through a terrible season when they were getting nowhere with Judd engines and early active suspension. After another hopeless qualifying, some of the lads famously went to a nearby garage and got plain roadcar parts to convert the FW12 back to passive suspension, working through Saturday night to do it. In torrential raceday rain, Mansell scythed up to second, behind only Senna, but if his virtuosity clearly played a part, it would have been impossible without typical Team Willy ingenuity, resourcefulness and dedication.

  6. Adrian Muldrew, 18 May 2012 15:21

    By the way, Paul, I’m not sure if I’d describe Silverstone ’79 as a “surprise win”, at least certainly not to the extent that recent events in Barcelona were a surprise. I clearly remember the air of expectation that weekend, though it was still a joyful moment, as you say, when the chequered flag fell after all of Frank’s years of struggle. If there was an element of surprise it was that Clay, rather than Alan, took the win.

  7. Lewis Lane, 18 May 2012 15:46

    In terms of wins, Williams are best summed up for me by Brands ’86, (although paradoxically i don’t particularly hold a candle for either driver) – building the quickest car and then letting it’s drivers sort it out between themselves. And having that very approach cost them the drivers title that year… Racers to the core. It seems that Frank’s always been damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t with team orders. Otherwise, it’s Keke at Spa in ’83 with the Cosworth power, somehow hanging on to the leading turbo’s tails and running in the top six by driving the wheels off the 08. Not sure i’ve seen a better drive without a podium…

  8. Paul Fearnley, 18 May 2012 16:25

    Dear Adrian,

    Thanks for your reply.

    The 1979 Silverstone ‘surprise’ was that it was ‘Regga’ wot won it rather than AJ.

    I’m a big fan of Patrese too. V much enjoyed his sequence of outqualifying Nigel in early 1991. Impressive. As was Nigel’s eventual mastery/monstering of FW14/B’s gizmos.

  9. Rich Ambroson, 18 May 2012 16:55

    Adrian, I’m glad someone posted a remark about the ’88 season. The Williams team punched above their weight with the normally aspirated Judd that year, for sure.

  10. Piero Dessimone, 22 May 2012 17:47

    Not a win but Jacques Laffite 2nd place at the Nurburgirng in 1975 kept the team going for the rest of the season.

  11. Michael Day, 22 May 2012 18:45

    A nice note of synchronicity…Pastor won for Williams-Renault on the same date in May that Riccardo ended his own winless drought at San Marino in 1990 for the same combination.

  12. David Ruddick, 23 May 2012 14:12

    Williams Grand Prix Engineering…………Racers!!

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