After a very brief break for everyone Formula 1 reconvened at Monza on Thursday, with various parties having made the short journey from Belgium by road, rail or air.
Monza is rich in Formula 1 history and has been the scene of numerous iconic moments across its 69 races so far – no other circuit has held more World Championship grands prix.
Williams has played its fair share in that history, having been around for 739 grands prix since Sir Frank founded the current entity to run his own team, following prior ventures.
Last month’s announcement of the team’s sale to Dorilton Capital brought an extraordinary chapter to a close and on Thursday the entire book was completed. It was an unsurprising development yet still one tinged with emotion.
Sir Frank Williams will bow out as Team Principal at the close of play on Sunday, daughter Claire – who took on day-to-day running in 2013 – will relinquish her role as Deputy Team Principal, with the entire Williams family waving goodbye to a sport that has been their lives. In any industry 43 years at the helm is a stunning achievement. In Formula 1 terms it is staggering, particularly given the life-changing injuries Sir Frank sustained in 1986. By way of comparison, Christian Horner, from Monday the longest-serving team boss, joined Red Bull in 2005.
Dorilton Capital’s new management structure has yet to be fully revealed but the appointment to the Board of Directors of James Matthews, the former British Formula Renault champion who is now the brother-in-law of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, provided further insight. It is understood that Graeme Lowdon, formerly of Manor Racing, is likely to play a role.
The new management will control a team on the up after some dreadful low points but they not only have renewed foundations but a strong legacy on which to build.
Under the operation of a single family Williams cemented its position in the Formula 1 record books while off-track it has been the convivial meeting point for many in the close-knit paddock.
It has won 114 grands prix – only Ferrari and McLaren have claimed more – and taken 16 world titles, split across seven Drivers’ crowns and nine Constructors’ trophies. Only Ferrari has been Formula 1’s best team on more occasions.
Williams struggled as budgets spiralled out of control and it went from champions to challengers to mere contestants but the family bows out having contributed enormously to Formula 1, while also securing the future of the team.
“This feels like the appropriate time for us to step away from the sport,” said Claire. “As a family, we have always prioritised Williams.
“We have demonstrated that by our recent actions with the Strategic Review process and we believe now is the right time to hand over the reins and give the new owners the opportunity to take the team into the future.
“We have been in this sport for more than four decades. We are incredibly proud of our track record and the legacy we leave behind.
“We have always been in it for the love of it, for the pure pleasure of going motor racing, so this is not a decision that we have taken lightly but after much reflection and as a family.”
A whole host of Formula 1 drivers are indebted to Williams for the success they achieved in Formula 1 and for merely being given an opportunity. The likes of Jacques Villeneuve, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg all made their debuts with Williams while current front-runner Valtteri Bottas also rose through the ranks while affiliated with the team.
“They definitively gave me my break into Formula 1,” said Bottas. “I still remember the first day I went into the factory and eventually getting the opportunity to be a test driver.
“Then, using that opportunity and they gave me the opportunity to be a race driver. They really believed in me and gave me the opportunity to show what I can do. Definitively, without Williams, especially without Frank, who at the time was still very much in charge, I wouldn’t be here, so I’m forever thankful for Williams, for how they helped me and how they made me develop as a driver.
“I got my first points with them, my first Formula 1 podium with them. Anyone who doesn’t know about Formula 1 history just has to ‘Google’ to see their results, the records they hold, because what they achieved in Formula 1 is very impressive for a family team.”
World Champion Lewis Hamilton added that “I’m a big fan of Sir Frank and his incredible contribution to the sport.
“He was always so positive to me as one of the people I respected most here. It’s definitely sad to see the end of a chapter, end of a book, whatever you want to say.
“But I think the legacy will continue as they keep the name at least. I was hopeful at some stage they were going to come back and be back at the front, I remember dreaming of driving the car Mansell had, or DC’s car, or something like that, but it never turned into an option really. I wish them the best, and all the health in the world, on their next endeavours.”
Current Williams racer George Russell also paid tribute to the team’s stature, commenting: “Frank and Claire gave me my opportunity in F1.
“It’s something I’m very thankful and grateful for and obviously having the opportunity to drive for such an amazing and prestigious team for the two years I’ve been here so far.
“It’s sad to see the Williams family step aside, but the history of Williams will remain and we will continue to fight and represent the family name.”
There is unlikely to be the Hollywood ending for the Williams family – Formula 1 is a sport not a TV drama. The Williams family won’t be bowing out on top but last in the Constructors’ Championship. It has scored only six points in the last 24 months, and none since July 2019, and a good weekend would be a Q2 appearance and beating a Haas or an Alfa Romeo.
But the outcome of Sunday’s grand prix is almost irrelevant. Williams will always have its place in Formula 1 history.