Who better than Jonathan Williams to guide us through the exquisite Williams Grand Prix Collection?
I recently put together the article below for the official journal of the (British) Motor Sports Association (MSA). As the MSA magazine isn’t available on-line (it is sent to all British competition licence holders and industry figures) I thought you might like to see it here:
IT WAS one of those regular Frank chats, born of a thinning pit lane and a dispersing Canadian crowd. Frank, in wheelchair, wearing customary v-necked, dark blue pullover, grey trousers, black Rosettis. Frank, a study in concentration, eyeing a Toro Rosso, a few yards from where he sat.
“How’s it going, Frank? All good?”
“All wonderful, thanks Pete. Just looking at the TR there. Wonder why they’re struggling…”
“Indeed. No telling who’s going to be quick. One race to the next.”
Silence. A Frank silence. Says a thousand words. As in: “You may be right. You may be wrong. No point in speculating. Just get on with it. Things to do, job lists to tick.”
“Do you need anything,” I ask, noticing that Frank’s PA has for the moment disappeared to the back of the garage.
“No. Fine thanks. Just enjoying the sunshine.”
Ah. The sunshine. A memory filters through. Buenos Aires, 1979. The same sun is glowing hot, dominating an azure sky. And Frank is in the forecourt of the Sheraton, sweat pouring from his tender English skin. Wearing a singlet, short shorts and Nikes, he is alternately jogging and then stretching, jogging then stretching.
“Frank! How far? How far you run?”
It is Carlos Reutemann, king of Argentina, who speaks.
“Just a short one today. Eight-miler. Lovely there, down by the docks. Saw Ken and Nora on the way…”
I look down at Frank, whose attention has now turned to the Lewis Hamilton McLaren being pushed down the pit lane towards Parc Ferme. Again his is a face of contemplation.
It is Austria, 1985 – and we’re setting off for a run in the mountain foothills. It is Saturday night. A brief shower has passed. The air is clear.
“Must sign Nelson this weekend,” he says, breathing easily. “Talk to him tomorrow. Ask him to come to the caravan when he gets a moment.”
“I spoke to him this morning,” I say, gasping a little. “He’s fed up at Brabham. He’s definitely ready to move.”
A spurt from a nearby wheelgun – the prelude to a Force India pit stop practice – jolts me back. “How’s the sponsorship going, Frank?” I ask, intrigued as I am by the after-affects of Pastor’s recent win in Spain.
Frank again peers into the middle distance that, over the years, has become his friend and support.
“I think it’s looking pretty good,” he says, choosing each word with care. “Spent a lot of time in the Middle East recently. It’s not the old days. You don’t wait for their response. You provide a service. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve put a lot of effort into the base in Qatar. We provide a service and from that things may grow. That’s the way now. Sponsorship is changing, Peter. We have to maximize every part of the company – maximize what we can do. I love this new aspect of the business. Fascinating…”
I concede (to myself) that I am impressed. McLaren appear to be the world leader in (another F1-word coined!) Applied Technology – in leveraging F1 expertise to generate income or product from other industries while simultaneously opening doors to new sponsors (Lucozade, via GlaxoSmithKline being a classic case in point) – but WilliamsF1, to my eye, lies a strong second in this new race.
There’s the flywheel KERS technology Williams Hybrid supplied to the Le Mans-winning Audi team; there’s the Williams-Jaguar C-X75 hybrid Supercar programme; there’s the partnership with Kinetic Storage Systems for the development of low-carbon mass transit rail and grid networks; there’s the Williams Technology Centre in Qatar, and its association with Silatech, the employment-generating company owned by the region’s royal family; there’s the deal with the Canadian-based multi-national, Hatch, to supply F1 technology for mining, metal processing, energy and transportation; there’s the Qatar simulator deal with Mowasalat; there’s the partnership between Williams Hybrid and Go-Ahead to develop flywheel energy storing applications for buses; there’s the award-winning Williams Conference centre and Museum at Grove, Oxfordshire, and the afore-mentioned, similarly-impressive, facility in Qatar (venue of the global Tedx Summit in April); and there are the nice little touches like the “The Williams Story” topiary – the silhouette of car and pit personnel that won a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show eight days after Pastor’s win in Spain.
All busy, diverse stuff – most of which arose from 2010-11, when Williams were in a racing slump. It is a reminder that Frank always seems to be at his most creative, and at his most industrious, when things appear not to be moving along well. We’d win the British GP but on Monday Frank would walk into the Race Shop with a face like thunder:
“What are those vans doing, parked in the truck bay?”
“Just the mini-vans, Frank, about to go back to the rental company.”
“I don’t care. Get them moved. Now.”
On a bad Monday, however – the day after the race you’d want to forget, Frank would be a different man:
“How’s the wife? How’s the dog? Anything you need?” Read more…
Sir Frank Williams had just begun his post-race pep talk. Many of the WilliamsF1 team members were crouched around him, craning to hear his words. He spoke of the effort they had been making over the past months, of the improvements brought by the technical team….
…and then violently, seemingly from nowhere, came a ball of flame…
We don’t yet know the detailed cause of the explosion. It was fuel-related; that seems to be clear. Many suspect that there was also a KERS element. Hopefully we will know soon.
What is clear is that F1 again showed its grit under pressure. Dr Mark Gillan, Williams’ Chief Operations Engineer, grabbed Frank and moved him swiftly towards safety. Mike Coughlin, Technical Director, was soon on his hands and knees, scouring the garage for anyone possibly in danger, seemingly oblivious to the toxic smoke and flames. And F1’s mechanics – from all teams, including Williams – were exemplary. Local fire-fighting crews had begun to pack up; the race was over. As Diego Merino’s picture shows, mechanics grabbed fire extinguishers and ran to the scene from all directions. These two – James Prosser (tyre man) and Lee Hart (Lewis Hamilton’s car) are from McLaren.
Exposed personnel were cared-for in F1 motorhomes – at Red Bull and Force India; thankfully, as of this writing, there appear to be no critical injuries.
For WilliamsF1, though, the damage has been immense. Bruno Senna’s car – in the garage following its shunt with Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes – has been severely damaged. All of the major computer and garage equipment has been destroyed. Many Williams team people are still in Barcelona, surveying the damage and drawing up contingency plans for Monaco. There are even a few whispers that the team may not be able to race at the Principality.
I doubt that. If necessary, I believe that the other F1 teams will come to Williams’ aid. It is a part of what they do.