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End Of An Era At Williams

There were tears at Monza as Claire Williams farewelled the team that was founded by her father, Frank.

She was given the honorary role of Chief Engineer for the last race so she could officially wave her two cars out from the garage and onto the start line for the last time.

“This team has been my whole life and it’s going to be pretty brutal when I wake up at home on Tuesday morning and realise that it’s no longer ours,” Claire said from the pitwall, unable to hold back the tears.

Her symbolic farewell came after the announcement that the Williams family will no longer be involved in the running of the Williams F1 team. Claire is even taking on the surname of her husband, Mark Harris, as part of the symbolic shift.

The sale of team means the end of the 43-year dynasty begun by Sir Frank Williams, the world’s longest surviving tetraplegic after a car crash in 1986, that netted 16 world championships, the first of which went to Australia’s Alan Jones in 1980.

One of his championship winning cars, the Williams FW14B known as ‘Red Five’ because it carried Nigel Mansell’s number on the way to his world championship, is even in the personal car collection of four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

The changes at the top of Williams Grand Prix Engineering (WGPE) are fundamental, as all the previous directors of the company have all resigned and a new board has been named with three directors: Matthew Savage, Darren Fultz and James Matthews.

The paperwork also shows that Williams Grand Prix Holdings plc is no longer the significant controlling interest in WGPE and that this control has now passed to a Bermuda limited company called BCE Ltd, which was registered in Hamilton, Bermuda, in August 2019.

WGPE was established back in February 1977, although prior to that Frank Williams was a shareholder in Frank Williams Racing Cars Ltd, which was first involved in F1 in March 1969 when it ran a Brabham for Piers Courage in the pre-season non-championship F1 races, before making its championship debut in May in Spain.

The record books show Sir Frank’s teams have won 114 World Championship race victories and collected nine Constructors’ titles and seven Drivers’ championships. It’s an impressive record, beaten only by Ferrari and McLaren.

Williams’s achievements led to him being appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1987, for services to motor racing. He was knighted in January 1999, while the success achieved with Renault led to his rare appointment as a chevalier in France’s Légion d’Honneur.

“Frank Williams is Britain’s Enzo Ferrari,” said Damon Hill, who won his world title with Williams.

“He is very British. He had no other interests other than racing and F1. He just loved it. And he was proud of having own F1 team. He loved every second of it.”

Although he remained as Team Principal throughout, Williams had other people running the team as long ago as 2005 when he appointed Chris Chapple as CEO.

This was not a great success and 18 months later Adam Parr took over and stayed until 2012. A similar role was then given to Toto Wolff but he departed when offered the role he now has with Mercedes F1.

Frank then chose his daughter Claire to run the team but the path was downhill from then on, despite having a deal to use Mercedes power units.

The new board has yet to name a CEO or team principal but there has been speculation that one of these roles may go to Graeme Lowdon, who was previously a partner in the Manor F1 teams. The team is currently being run by managing director Simon Roberts.

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