Wil­liams F1 know how to throw a party. He­roes and rac­ing gems from the past drew a huge crowd to a lively (and loud) an­niver­sary shindig at Sil­ver­stone



The grand­stand op­po­site Sil­ver­stone’s dra­matic ‘Wing’ pit com­plex is ev­ery bit as packed as it will be over the week­end of the Bri­tish Grand Prix, and each per­son within it is xing their gaze rmly on the line of garages on the other side of the track. Any­one with a phone is point­ing its cam­era in this di­rec­tion rather than idly scrolling through Face­book.

Within the Wing, four decades of For­mula 1 and sportscar his­toric ma­chin­ery is bark­ing into life in turn. The fa­mil­iar growl of Ford’s ven­er­a­ble DFV V8 gives way to the an­gry squall of a BMW V12, which, in turn, hands over to the high-strung blare of a Re­nault V10.

To para­phrase Louis Armstrong’s fa­mous quote about jazz mu­sic, if you have to ask what makes Wil­liams such a vi­tal part of the past, present and fu­ture of For­mula 1, you’re never go­ing to know. Such has been the de­mand for ac­cess to this event that Sil­ver­stone has made pro­vi­sions for 50,000 spec­ta­tors. Af­ter all, it’s not ev­ery day that an F1 team reaches its 40th birth­day, let alone cel­e­brates it by run­ning cars span­ning those decades.

And what a fan­tas­tic mix­ture of ob­jects and peo­ple this is. Sir Frank Wil­liams had been en­ter­ing cars since 1969, but 1977 was the deni­tive Year Zero for Wil­liams Grand Prix En­gi­neer­ing, in which the team el­ded a solo DFV-en­gined March 761 for Pa­trick Nève. Sadly Nève passed away ear­lier this year, and is one of very few ab­sences to­day from Wil­liams’ his­toric driver ros­ter, but his car is here, oc­cu­py­ing pole po­si­tion in a chrono­log­i­cal line of 20 that stretches back to the 2017 FW40 and in­cludes cu­rios such as the ex­per­i­men­tal six-wheeled FW08B.

“The 761 spent years in a mu­seum in Stavelot in Bel­gium,” ex­plains Mark Hig­son, who owns and races the ex-Nève March 761. “Pa­trick was Bel­gian, and the main spon­sor, Belle Vue, was a Bel­gian beer. The car was re­stored in 2008 and I bought it two years later. And I’ve been rac­ing it ever since.”

With its shovel wing, ex­posed ra­di­a­tors, and coil-over shocks hang­ing in the airstream, the March seems agri­cul­tural com­pared with the car parked im­me­di­ately along­side it: the car that was its im­me­di­ate suc­ces­sor, the el­e­gant and neatly in­te­grated Wil­liams FW06. Also ad­mir­ing the de­tails are Wil­liams’ old hands Neil Oat­ley – now de­sign and de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor at McLaren – Frank Dernie and Ross Brawn.

“When I joined in the win­ter of 1977 they were just nish­ing the rst sea­son with the March, so the FW06 was the rst car we built,” says Ross. “It’s pretty spe­cial to me. And then the move to the ground-ef­fect cars with the FW07, that was the point where Wil­liams started to lead and win races – and even­tu­ally cham­pi­onships. It was a big step on in the sta­tus and for­tunes of the team and such an ex­cit­ing time to be part of some­thing like

that. So, yes, th­ese early cars are the ones I’m es­pe­cially fond of.

“There have been lots of re­minders for me to­day, and some good point­ers for For­mula 1’s fu­ture,” he adds, nod­ding ap­prov­ingly both at the line of cars and the massed ranks of fans stand­ing out­side the garage. “The en­gage­ment with the fans has been fab­u­lous, and some­thing else that’s ap­peal­ing is the sim­plic­ity of the cars.”

In­deed, many of those fans are call­ing out to him now, so we leave Ross with them to con­tinue his pro­gramme of en­gage­ment, and run al­most im­me­di­ately into 2016 world cham­pion Nico Ros­berg, who is con­tem­plat­ing the FW10 in which his fa­ther Keke set a fastest-lap record that stood for 17 years. “I only drove for two teams in my F1 ca­reer,” he says (per­haps suf­fer­ing from se­lec­tive am­ne­sia when it came to re­call­ing that he also drove for Theodore, Wolf, Fit­ti­paldi and ATS...). “So to have been part of the Wil­liams story means a lot. They gave me the big break in my ca­reer, and I’m very thank­ful for that. I’m also a fan of rac­ing his­tory, so I’m just en­joy­ing walk­ing around here and look­ing. And it’s great to see so many other peo­ple here who were part of Wil­liams, in­clud­ing… is that Ross Brawn? Awe­some!”

Alex Wurz, some­time Wil­liams racer and now a team ad­vi­sor, stands be­tween the ground-ef­fect FW08 and the FW08B with a slightly for­lorn ex­pres­sion. Had he been hold­ing out for an of­fer to drive one of th­ese cars?

“Ah, I wouldn’t t in any of them! Some tech­ni­cal di­rec­tors have told me it would be cheaper to shorten my legs than to mod­ify the chas­sis…”

In the mid­dle of the line, briey in­ter­rupt­ing the F1 ow, stand a num­ber of cars deeply touched by Wil­liams ex­per­tise even if they don’t bear the ‘W’ logo: the 1999 Le Mans-win­ning BMW V12 LMR, Jaguar’s new For­mula E

chal­lenger, the As­ton Martin RapidE con­cept car, and the Jaguar C-X75 last seen wreak­ing havoc on the streets of Rome in Bond movie Spec­tre. The BMW’s engine cover is off, and to­day’s driver, Steve Soper (who raced it with JJ Le­hto in the Amer­i­can Le Mans Se­ries), has saun­tered off for a cup of tea. Mean­while, Mark Web­ber is re­gal­ing a group of BMW Mo­tor­sport tech­ni­cians with the story of how Sir Pa­trick Head in­sisted on shav­ing sev­eral inches from the bot­tom of the no­to­ri­ously tall V12 lump. Per­haps it’s a good thing Pa­trick was in semi-re­tire­ment when Alex Wurz was driv­ing for Wil­liams…

Not all the cars are run­ners – some will see an el­e­ment of irony in the Honda-en­gined Wil­liams cars be­ing on static dis­play only – but there’s one that ev­ery­one wants to see out on track: Nigel Mansell’s 1992 ti­tlewin­ning FW14B. Plenty want to drive it, too – ex-Wil­liams driv­ers in­clud­ing both Ros­bergs, Mansell him­self, Da­mon Hill, An­to­nio Piz­zo­nia, Pas­tor Mal­don­ado, Martin Brun­dle and Ric­cardo Pa­trese are hov­er­ing nearby like bees around a hon­ey­pot, along with a Mar­tini-suited Felipe Massa.

“I would love to drive the fa­mous Red 5,” he condes. “An amaz­ing car. But I had some good fun in the six-wheeler – it had a bit of a misre so I had to stop, oth­er­wise I’d have done an­other two, three, or 100 laps!”

As the FW14B un­der­goes a last-minute change of fuel tank, Pa­trese com­pares notes with a pal­pa­bly ex­cited Karun Chand­hok, the lucky in­di­vid­ual due to drive it – if it can be per­suaded to run.

“Her­itage have had their work cut out,” ex­plains deputy team prin­ci­pal Claire Wil­liams, “be­cause much as th­ese cars are all here and look great, a lot of ef­fort has to go into mak­ing them run and keep­ing them run­ning. Old rac­ing cars can be quite tem­per­a­men­tal beasts. The one we re­ally wanted to do was the Wil­liams FW14B, which hasn’t run since 1992, and it’s a very com­plex ma­chine. There was an is­sue with it, which is why we didn’t pub­li­cise its ap­pear­ance in ad­vance – we didn’t want to dis­ap­point peo­ple. We had all th­ese en­gi­neers sit­ting around the ta­ble dis­cussing it, and it was like some­thing out of a lm, as if they were talk­ing about some alien space­ship that had just landed and how they might get it work­ing.”


One of the main rea­sons the FW14B hasn’t run since 1992 is that it wouldn’t run. Some elec­tronic grem­lin deep within this car, chas­sis num­ber six, has re­buffed all ef­forts to re­turn it to work­ing or­der. Jonathan Wil­liams, who heads up Wil­liams Her­itage ac­tiv­i­ties along­side for­mer team man­ager Dickie Stan­ford, ex­plains that the car’s res­ur­rec­tion came about with some un­likely as­sis­tance.

“We had been talk­ing to Cos­worth about restor­ing other Wil­liams ma­chines for cus­tomer use,” he ex­plains, “and we asked them for help with the FW14B at pretty short no­tice. They came through and it’s now run­ning with a com­plete Cos­worth elec­tronic con­trol sys­tem. Which is ironic, con­sid­er­ing it was com­pet­ing against Cos­worth prod­ucts in pe­riod. But with­out their help, it wouldn’t be here to­day.”

All other ac­tiv­ity stops as the Re­nault V10 engine sud­denly res into life. Chand­hok belts him­self in, and the car exes and jig­gles on its sus­pen­sion as its oleo-pneu­matic juices start to ow. Re­cently ap­pointed chief tech­ni­cal ofcer, Paddy Lowe, one of the ar­chi­tects of the ac­tive sus­pen­sion sys­tem back in its day, is doc­u­ment­ing ev­ery sec­ond of the car’s ac­tiv­ity on his phone’s cam­era as the FW14B pulls out of a Sil­ver­stone garage for the rst time in a quar­ter of a cen­tury.

Out on track Chand­hok roars past us again and again. The signicance of this mo­ment isn’t lost on any­one; when Karun nally guides the FW14B back into the pit­lane and cuts the engine, the denizens of the grand­stand rise from their seats and ap­plaud.

“I’m buzzing!” says Claire Wil­liams. “It’s been an ab­so­lutely bril­liant day. What has re­ally made it so spe­cial for me has been the fans – to have all th­ese peo­ple out here with us to share our 40th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, I couldn’t be more proud.”

Also here for this very spe­cial day, tak­ing in the scene, soak­ing up the at­mos­phere and beam­ing pa­ter­nally, is the man who started it all: Sir Frank Wil­liams him­self. He’s been in poor health re­cently, but, like the tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who came to Sil­ver­stone to­day, he wouldn’t have missed this for the world.


Fa­mil­iar F1 faces old and new turned up to view – and, in some cases, drive – a daz­zling ar­ray of his­toric Wil­liams ma­chin­ery, dat­ing back to 1977

Team founder Sir Frank Wil­liams (bot­tom right) was present to en­joy the 40th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, which in­cluded demo runs of some of the cars

The Wil­liams ma­chine that ev­ery­one’s come to see in ac­tion is Nigel Mansell’s ti­tle-win­ning FW14B, driven here by Karun Chand­hok (above left)

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