Despite Williams entering Formula One in the 1970's and well after both Ferrari and McLaren and only on a shoestring budget to begin with, the Williams team have the pride and prestige of saying they hold the most cup victories. They won their record ninth title in 1997.
Frank Williams is living proof that one can overcome adversity. Only a driver of amateur talent, Frank developed a firm friendship with Piers Courage and together they teamed up in 1969.
The following season Frank ran Piers in a de Tomaso, but it was nowhere up to the standard of the Brabham he had raced in 69. Piers was tragically killed in a fiery accident in the Dutch Grand Prix later that year and Frank was devastated. He struggled financially, running a selection of paying no-hopers. He teamed up with Walter Wolf in 1976, but that turned very sour, so the decision was made, he founded Williams Grand Prix Engineering with Patrick Head. While Frank was spending many hours trying to attract Saudi Arabian backing, Patrick's FW06 allowed Alan Jones to put in some decent performances in 1978. The Williams team first Grand Prix victory came in 1979 when Clay Regazzoni won in the FW07 at Silverstone, then Alan Jones went on to finish the season with some great drives.
In 1980, Alan Jones had a new teammate, Carlos Reutemann and that year Jones won the drivers title and Williams first Constructors title. The team won again the following year, although Jones lost out to Nelson Piquet in the drivers fight and quit the sport. Turbos began to appear, but Keke Rosberg won the drivers title still in the Ford Cosworth powered Williams, although the team didn't celebrate victory that season, Ferrari did. A deal was struck with Honda, and although the V6 turbo was heavy and brutal, with development and time, the team once again saw victory in 86 although the drivers title went to Alain Prost due to a blow out on Mansells' car in Adelaide with only 18 laps to go.
Although the team saw victory with the Constructors title again that year, they also saw tragedy as Frank Williams was involved in a car accident on his way back from testing at Paul Ricard and was paralysed.
In 1987 with Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell in his cars, Frank watched as his drivers once again won both the drivers and Constructors championship in the FW11. Piquet left for Lotus the following year and as well as losing a driver, the team lost the Honda engines, which proved dreadful for the 1988 season. After struggling through the year, 1989 saw them team up with Renault and although the cars were fast, they didn't have a good driver line up until 1991 when Mansell returned after his two year spell with Ferrari. Although the new FW14 was a superb machine, Mansell lost out to McLarens' Ayrton Senna due to gearbox reliability problems, but the following year, Mansell was unbeatable, winning nine straight races to win both titles for Williams once again.
After a battle over contracts, Mansell left for Indy racing and Alain Prost claimed his seat, delivering Williams second back-to-back double victory. Frank was the first team owner to give Senna a test in a Formula One car, and he wanted the Brazilian star on his team. He eventually signed the greatest driver of those times for the 94 season, but tragically, Ayrton was killed in only his third race for the team. With this latest blow, Frank and the team's moral were at an all time low. Damon Hill rose from the teams test driver to fill Senna's' empty seat and saved the terribly sad year by challenging Michael Schumacher for the crown. Although the Englishman lost out on the drivers' crown, he did secure another Constructors title for the team.
In 1995, Benetton also had use of the great Renault engines, as well as the superb driving of Michael Schumacher. Williams only scored five wins that year, four for Damon Hill and one for David Coulthard as poor race strategy cost them dearly. 1996 was by far a better year, with Jacques Villeneuve, fresh from Indy Cars and Damon Hill won all bar four races between them. Hill won the drivers' crown with Jacques a close second, and between them, they delivered Franks' eighth Constructors trophy. Damon left the team at the end of that season, and Villeneuve, partnered now by Heinz-Harald Frentzen went on to win Williams third back-to-back double victory. Their record ninth victory.
Unfortunately for the team, a combination of things made the 98 and 99 seasons nothing short of disasters. Renault quit the Formula One scene and they were left with the under powered Supertec engines and McLaren looked certain to reclaim their dominance from earlier years. At the end of the 97 season, Jacques left for the new revamped Tyrrell team, renamed BAR while Heinz-Harald Frentzen joined Jordan. For 1999, Frank signed the then CART World champion, Alex Zanardi, hoping for a repeat of Villeneuves winning drives. Alongside him was Ralf Schumacher. Although Zanardi proved to be well below what Frank was looking for, and finished the season pointless, Ralf had grown in leaps and bounds as a driver and secured a few podium finishes, but it wasn't enough and the team finished the lowest it has in the past ten years, down in fifth.
Alex Zanardi didn't start the 2000 season with the team, after his contract was terminated in January of 2000. Williams opted to go for the raw young talent of 20-year-old English driver, Jenson Button in the hope that he could deliver what Zanardi couldn't. The season was a lot better with the arrival of the new BMW engines, despite the fact that the team thought they wouldn't do any better than mid field, between both drivers, they managed to secure third place in the constructors fight. Button proved to be a blessing in disguise, however Sir Frank was faced with a very tough choice, to keep the young Englishman or opt for Colombian superstar, Juan Pablo Montoya. He opted to go for the latter, loaning Button out to the Benetton team for two years, and it appears as if it wasn't a decision he regrets.
Stunning the Formula One world in his rookie season, the Colombian driver was plagued by reliability issues throughout the year but after securing several pole positions and podium finishes, he took his maiden victory at the Italian Grand Prix. Together with teammate Ralf Schumacher the team laid claim to four victories and were hot on the gearbox of rivals at McLaren in the constructors championship, but were forced to settle for third place overall.
2002 saw them move ahead of McLaren and claim second in the constructor's championship with Montoya securing third and Ralf fourth place in the drivers campaign.
The two drivers continued together in 2003 and while they were able to close the gap to Ferrari and momentarily led the Constructors' Championship come Japan they had to once again settle for second place.
Like or not, BMW Williams' 2004 season will be remembered for the tusk nose design that was abandoned mid-season and not the results the team achieved on track. After four years together, the partnership of German car giant BMW and the WilliamsF1 team has yet to deliver a package to take on the might of Ferrari.
Juan Pablo Montoya won the final race of the season for BMW Williams, capping off what had been a difficult season, in style. With four podium appearances this year, the squad finished fourth in the constructors' championship 17-points behind Renault who incidentally powered Williams to the title last in 1997. Foe 2005, the team have a new lineup in Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld and it is time for the team to win on a regular basis.