Flashback: Frank Williams serves the soup

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we are at Williams’ Didcot HQ off-season in 1985, along with a few journalists, being served soup by Frank


Maurice Hamilton

Browse pages

Frank Williams was breaking bread and new ground when this was taken in January 1985. It was Frank’s idea to have some of ‘the lads’ to lunch and chew the fat prior to the start of a new season. The only formality in this easy-going gathering was that Frank – to a background of rude remarks – insisted on serving us from a soup cauldron brought from the canteen. None of your posh catering and silver service here. There were no speeches or rash promises for the races ahead. Frank, as usual, wanted to extract as much information from his guests as we could from him.

Williams had been in this purpose-built headquarters in Didcot’s Basil Hill Road for less than a year. A significant aspect was a separate unit within the site for Honda; a sign of serious intent as these two began working as closely as technical integrity and secrecy would allow.

An essential part of the package had also been the arrival of Nigel Mansell to accompany Keke Rosberg – who had scored the sole victory for the fledgling Williams-Honda partnership in 1984. Nigel had endured a difficult time at Lotus following the death of his mentor, Colin Chapman, in December 1982. Flashes of latent promise had been overshadowed more often than not by dramatic incidents, many of which were recited over lunch by Frank’s sceptical guests – as he knew they would. His decision, of course, would be brilliantly justified.

There were no more than eight of us seated around the small table in the boardroom. If you had told Frank that his team would one day have a museum celebrating 114 wins and 16 world championships, and he would be selling that heritage on the Deutsche Börse in Frankfurt, he’d have suggested you’d either had a bang on the head or there was something suspicious in the soup.

Frank quickly learned that these lunches during the off-season were manna from heaven for journalists and wonderful PR for his team. The date became a regular fixture and eventually expanded into a two-day affair (split between specialist press and national newspapers). In 2011, when a Michelin-starred chef was part of the team, the assembled company tucked into Loch Duart salmon and ravioli of Brixham crab, eased down by a nice drop of Chablis AC, Durup 2008.

Williams (by then, Sir Frank) may have come a long way since a bowl of soup and a cup of tea, but I’ve a feeling I know which menu and occasion he would have preferred.