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Sir Frank Williams: What I've Learned

The founder and team principle of Williams Formula One shares what he's learned in life so far – from family and religion to socialising and sticking to the speed limit

Sir Frank Williams: What I've Learned

I’m English first. Then British.

A rival’s a rival whether it’s on a racetrack or in a schoolroom. I was sent when I was eight to a boarding school in Dumfries. There were 149 English and 151 Scots so the ultimate rivalry began there. There was love and pride for one’s country and also the determination to do better.

The best driver is the one who has the most skill allied to the best control of his brain. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg (son of Williams’ 1982 World Champion, Keke) have the world’s best cars and the world’s best engines (Mercedes). They’ve both got it made. It’s going to be a real fight.

I’m a big fan of Margaret Thatcher. I’m a Tory boy, say no more. She had bottle. What she believed in, she stood up for. Big time.. Fought the unions. Some of the things she did went a bit beyond the pale. But she represented Britain and what it stands for very, very strongly.

When I was 14 or 15, one of the biggest ticking’s off I ever got came from my mother right before I passed my driving test. I had a love affair with my little Morris Minor 1000, which was a light car, and I drove it much to too quickly around a sharp corner and it fell over. Bump.

I’m not a great socialiser or one for hobbies. My work is my passion and my hobby.

I wouldn’t ever encourage anyone to drive like I used to. Stick to the speed limit. I can’t drive anymore but I enjoy being driven by a serious racing driver, which happens all too rarely, sadly. It's quite an experience, though its only happened about five times in my life, sadly. Drivers are a pain and expensive outside the car but when they step inside the car, they transmogrify. They go into another state. To be driven by a world-class racer is just magic. The only driver who has ever frightened me is me.

I was very impatient. I knew my crash was coming, the way I used to drive in the old days [Williams sustained spinal injuries after crashing his hire car in France in 1986 and has been in a wheelchair ever since]. I never took a risk on overtaking although my idea of overtaking may be different to yours. But I was rushing to catch the last flight home. And I went off the road.

When you deal with speed, it becomes a dangerous sport. And it attracts people. Like boxing. Do you think boxing is a great sport? People smashing each other to the ground. It doesn’t attract me at all.

I learned in motor racing, certainly when you get towards Formula One, that you meet very clever people, whether engineers or otherwise, like my business partner Patrick Head. He was an outstanding engineer, a measure of which is that his hero was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Then I always refer to Bernie Ecclestone [president of Formula One Management] who has so much savvy, and Max Mosley [former president of the FIA, the governing body of Formula One. Between the two of them, they could have taken over the UK. Probably couldn’t, but… Max was a terribly clever guy. Double First in Physics and Law at Oxford. And Bernie – a double degree in everything except from going to university. A brilliant businessman who can read people. All these things help you make better decisions and hopefully make more money or get better racing cars. It was hand to mouth for several years in the early days. But we turned the corner financially.

I was never a mechanic. Most racing drivers are grateful for that. I enjoy speed. I enjoy being driven in a fine car well. I am lucky enough to be able to afford them. I love a Mercedes.

We’re coming third or fourth in the Grand Prix, which is a terrific achievement for a company that is still privately owned. We have to watch our budget and work hard to keep it. That’s my daughter Claire’s responsibility these days. We have 500 people working on F1. We are racing against Ferrari and all of Italy, if you like. And Mercedes. Beat that. We’d like to do better. Try, and it will come eventually. These things go in cycles.

Just like with the best football team, to win the championship or the FA Cup, the team has to be the best consistently. You can’t have half a dozen off-matches or you lose touch.

It’s my job to make sure that, when I retire, Williams is a world-class team and not a load of junk surrounded by out-of-date antiquated people.

I have always been close to my family. I feel a certain financial responsibility towards them and hopefully that will help them to do well in their own lives.

Money is important to most people. It’s not important to me in the way that 'Oh, I must give my children jobs'. But I want to help them make a start in life and then make their own way.


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MORE WHAT I'VE LEARNED:

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Sir Geoff Hurst
Yohan Blake
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