In honour of Frank
Last month’s induction of Frank Williams into the Motor Sport Hall of Fame gives me an opportunity to reflect on the man with whom I have been in business for more than 30 years.
I first met Frank in 1975. I had done some work for Guy Edwards on his Formula 5000 car while building myself a schooner in the Surrey Docks, having left Trojan where I’d worked with Ron Tauranac. Guy recommended me to Frank who I gathered was looking for a cheap designer but I’d only vaguely heard of him. I was broke at the time and had pretty much decided motor racing was a mug’s game and that I’d better get myself a proper job. I went to see Frank at the Carlton Towers hotel in Sloane Street, drove up in my multicoloured Renault 4 van and offered the keys to the concierge who wasn’t too impressed. I was wearing old jeans and a sweater covered in smelly bonding resin, and there was Frank, full of energy and bouncing up out from his chair looking extremely neat and dapper. He was like a jack-in-abox. We had a brief chat and the following Monday, November 25, I started work in Reading. I only discovered later that I was an emergency backstop for him.
My first job was to sort out the FW04, which had fuel pick-up problems and kept blowing its engines. So I designed a new oil tank and fuel system. A week later Frank told me he’d sold the team to Walter Wolf and taken on Harvey Postlethwaite. I could either take £500 in cash and go, or stay and work with Harvey, and staying was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I learnt a lot working with Harvey on a new car, the Wolf WR01, and I went racing with Frank, finding him to be a very straightforward person to deal with. I admired his energy, and I thought, OK, I can work with this man. Then Peter Warr came on board, Frank was sidelined, and he decided to cut his ties with Walter Wolf and start back on his own. He asked me to join him and we moved into our new building on March 28, 1977, running a March that Frank had bought from Max Mosley. I was young, it was a great opportunity and a big decision, though some people thought it was motor racing suicide.
Frank often says he owes all the success that came later to me, but that’s simply not true. He’d had some terrible cars and learnt early on that F1 is largely about engineering and trying harder doesn’t get the job done on its own. So he respected my engineering capability while I respected his energy, drive and ability to take a positive view however difficult things got. I see the problems, but he doesn’t even recognise they exist, just gets his head down and baffles on. I saw in him something I needed, and he saw things in me that he didn’t have, so there was a mutual respect. He was operationally very good, not as a race engineer but as someone who could get all the right things in the right place at the right time. And he was good at the finance side. If I said I needed some piece of new equipment, he’d never baulk at that, and he’s always been that way, leaving the engineering to me.
Frank has an extraordinary single-minded determination to succeed and that has never wavered to this day. And he doesn’t worry. When he puts his head down he goes straight to sleep, whatever is happening around him, and that’s particularly annoying to someone like me who worries over problems. Frank never bothers his brain with things he can’t do anything about, he is totally pragmatic, positive about overcoming the next challenge. He deals with his own problems in a very quiet way. If he’s not at work, you have to enquire pretty deeply to discover that he’s at Stoke Mandeville being put through his paces. But he has become more thoughtful, less of a jack-in-a-box, and that’s made him more effective in his senior role in the company than perhaps he would have been had he not had his accident. Frank’s very single-minded.
In honour of Frank