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Why Sir Frank is Sir Frank…

At the House of Lords reception for Sir Frank Williams on November 28 plenty of people paid fitting tribute the great man.  He is “passionate” about his chosen profession.  He is “a true ambassador” of British motor sport.  “His dedication knows no bounds”.

All true.  Very true.

What do those words really mean, however?  What is their context?  What lies behind them?

I thought the following extract from a February, 1971, edition of Autosport might add a little texture to today’s image of Sir Frank Williams.  It is the Formula 2 Temporada series in South America (Bogota, Colombia, to be precise).  F1 drivers like Graham Hill, Henri Pescarolo and Jo Siffert are competing.  And everyone, as ever, is right on the limit….

“For some, the four clear days between races provided time to relax,” wrote Paul Watson.  “but for others there had been little time for enjoyment.  Immediately following the first Colombian GP, Frank Williams had hot-footed it back to England, carrying with him the two March chassis as hand baggage (!) and with an order list from other drivers as long as your arm.

“Williams, who has a reputation for getting things done smartly, was on March’s doorstep by Tuesday morning and back on a plane for Bogota by Wednesday so that he arrived back in Colombia by Thursday night, much to Derek Bell’s astonishment!  The two March chassis had been repaired and strengthened where they were broken, this being where the front of the monocoque joins the bulkhead.  As the Bogota series was very much a  development programme for Williams, he had fitted aluminium braces to the top and bottom of Pescarolo’s bulkhead while Bell’s had been left without, to find out whether any permanent additional strength will be needed for future races.

“Williams took with him orders for a great many other spares and these were supposed to be sent in time for practice on Feb 12.  However, as is often the case when freight has to change planes, it got lost, so that all the spares Natalie Goodwin had been waiting for to repair Cyd Williams’ car never arrived.  Neither did Jurg Dubler’s gearbox parts, the Eifelland tyres and a number of other items.  However the Kyalami-spec 4000 ft fuel metering units did arrive in Frank Williams’ pocket and these were duly distributed to Stommelen, Hannelore Werner and Brian Cullen, all of whom had suffered fluffy engines in the previous race due to the use of standard, sea-level cams.  It had been hoped to build up some special 8000ft cams at Felday Engineering, but Mac Daghorn just hadn’t had enough time to get this done…”

For the record, Frank’s two March 712Ms qualified third (Stommelen) and ninth (Bell) and finished second and third in the race (in that order).

Just another weekend in the life of the racer that is Sir Frank.

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8 thoughts on “Why Sir Frank is Sir Frank…

  1. Thanks for that vignette, Peter! What a fascinating couple of days and a lot of air miles for what Sir Frank accomplished that weekend. I suppose it is that type of work ethic and tactile efficiency that, step by step, year by year, and after so many decades, created such a sterling luster for him and his inimitable organization. In a way, it resounds quite like how Mark Donohue–through engineering and constant, small engineering steps–created a legacy for himself. Fascinating. Thanks so much for that account!!

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  3. kowalsky on said:

    one thing that surprised me watching a documentary about the 1971 or 1972 seasons, at the italian gp, was seeing frank, winning the marathon style race. After watching him on a wheel chair, i had a wrong percepcion of him. He was an athlete, a long distance runner. An the story about the flight, shows that he had stamina to spare. I grew up with his car winning championships, and i was happy when they won again this year. I hope they win many more championships.

  4. Yes – Frank was an enthusiastic runner pre-accident. That Monza race started on the back straight before the Parabolica, involved some hurdles and was run on a very hot afternoon. Frank won it. Amazingly, the very determined Alastair Caldwell (McLaren Team Manager) finished second. Also competing were James Hunt, Jackie Stewart, Peter Revson and Art Merzario.

  5. Thanks Mike. What made me smile in Paul’s report was the concept of Frank flying home (and then back to Bogota) with two damaged March chassis as his cabin baggage! He probably didn’t even have room for a toothbrush!

  6. That’s dedication for real, lot’s of air miles too! Most of us would probably be tired after just one flight (without such heavy luggage!), well, at least those who are not used to travelling around the world, your humble servant included. A romantic story, reminds us why motor racing is so rewarding when you get that win or a podium, all the hadr work that goes into the effort. Frank rocks!

  7. kowalsky on said:

    Dear peter, we all know you are very close to the williams team in many ways. With nigel mansell, and british motorsports in general. But i never heard your opinion on senna vs prost. Could you write some of your thoughts about it. Or send a link if you already did?

  8. Peter,
    Thanks for sharing this gem from the past. As a motorsports fan and lifelong Williams fan, stories like these strengthen the bond with the sports and my team.

    Regards,
    W4E

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