Frank Williams special: 600 not out

In 600 Formula One races, Frank Williams has had all sort of feelings. From joy to sadness, and from frustration to jubilation

Frank Williams special: 600 not out

Already the longest serving entrant in F1 history, the veteran team boss arrived at the Monaco Grand Prix to celebrate his 600th grand prix.

Autosport.com heard from Williams about his experiences, his regrets and his triumphs in the sport that he loves.

Q. Frank, you are celebrating 600 races in F1 in Monaco this weekend. Does it mean anything?

Frank Williams: Yeah, I'm kind of proud of the number in a way. It's a long journey, but it doesn't mean a great deal. I've enjoyed most of it, that's the important thing. It's a great place to be. I think you would all agree with that.

Q. Do you still enjoy F1 as much now?

FW: Probably more, as there is less financial pressure these days on the team compared to, say, 20 years ago.

Q. What is the secret to your longevity?

FW: When I'm dead, I'll tell you. But you're young. I don't feel I'm old anyway; put it that way.

Q. Could you go back to being a shoestring team owner?

FW: Depends how I can control my ego, doesn't it. I mean, I wouldn't want to leave Formula One until I'm ready to leave it, but if we had to run on a much tighter budget, it would be hard to survive, actually. I wouldn't necessarily be in control of that.

Q. Would you do it all the same way again?

FW: Well obviously not, because one always makes a lot of mistakes, and with hindsight you always say to yourself, 'if I have to do it again, I'll do it differently'. Most things were OK, but some things were wrong directions.

Q. Which were the wrong directions?

FW: I knew you'd ask that question, so my answer straight away is that there is a mental block on the bad news. It's human protection - self-protection from flight. You understand obviously that Patrick (Head) joined me in 1975, and some of the years before that he wasn't there. When Patrick arrived he got me sorted out, and got the team sorted out, and made a vast difference.

Q. Are there any particular memories that stand out?

FW: I think winning that first Grand Prix at Silverstone and the first championship in Canada that same year. That day - those of you who might remember Alan Jones - that day there were some brutal tactics at the start between he and Nelson. But it was OK. It was a great year for us, for the team, and I'm very proud of it. Obviously championships and wins.

Q. Who have you had the most satisfaction beating?

FW: It was very much about McLaren, because that was the other team to beat, I suppose, in the 1990s. And 1980s. And then it became Ferrari, and then it became ourselves.

Q. Was there any moment where you wanted to quit?

FW: I think our bank manager had a few moments where he wanted us to stop Formula One. But we've been banking with the same bank since 1967, which is 42 years. They are a fantastic bank. I won't say who they are, but they have always helped to see us through. We've had some dodgy moments; some bad moments, but I don't think it ever really was a question of, 'I don't think we're going to make it'. It never got to that.

Q. Which driver have you had the most pleasure working with, and which was the most difficult?

FW: I think the most pleasure/fun was Jonesy (Alan Jones). He was our age, and he just got on and did things in a very Australian way, and we liked that. The most difficult ... I couldn't really say. I'm not being nice ... if I think hard I might be able to come up with one. If it comes back to me I'll tell you.

Q. Does it not matter if a driver is difficult as long as he produces the results?

FW: That was always the point, yes. It was important that they delivered, not how they delivered. As long as it wasn't cheating, or dishonest driving, it was fine. All the drivers we've ever had just gave it whatever they'd got. Some had more than others to give. Some were disappointing, some were brilliant at what they did.

Q. Which drivers do you regret not having signed?

FW: Well, Ayrton was with us for about five racing laps, I think. He did much of Brazil, but in the next race he was pushed off at the start by Hakkinen from behind, and at the next race he was killed on the second lap of the race. So we never really saw ... that's my biggest regret, and Patrick's, too. Beyond that, I rather fancy that James Hunt would have been fun, but he just wasn't around at the time when we were getting to be an attractive team. But there's no one in particular, actually. We didn't go near Michael (Schumacher) because he was embedded at Ferrari.

Q. And what about Lewis Hamilton?

FW: The thing about Lewis ... it was obvious from his GP2 season, which he dominated, that he was going to be wall-to-wall trouble. And unfortunately, that has proven to be the case. But he was a McLaren man for many, many years, to Ron's credit. I think Ron funded a lot of his racing in the early days, and Ron deserves the payback, if you like, which he is presently getting. So Lewis wasn't really on our radar because he wasn't our driver.

Q. If it wasn't motor racing, what else would you have done?

FW: I'd have gone unhesitatingly into the army. I was rejected, but I'd have gone back again.

Q. What do you remember of the first GP you visited?

FW: I hitch-hiked from Nottingham to Silverstone, which is 70 miles, on race day ... in July, I think it must have been. 1955. It was won by Peter Collins in a Ferrari. It took eight hours to get there and about 16 to get back, but it was worth it. I'm not exaggerating.

Q. Can you imagine your life without motor sport?

FW: I don't want to. This has happened, so it is just fine.

Q. Have you ever thought of retiring? Of handing over control of the team to someone else?

FW: Not yet, but it's inevitable and there is a succession plan in Williams. And it's going to work well, I think. So eventually I'll disappear, but not for a wee while yet.

Q. Is there a burning desire to see team back on top?

FW: Naturally, yeah. Sure. Very strongly throughout the team - not just me, but Patrick and everybody that matters wants the same thing.

Q. Can you get there as an independent team against the might of the big-money manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz?

FW: Without quoting one or two names in the paddock, there are one or two teams that are awash in cash that haven't been there yet. So it's not just the money. We haven't got that sort of money but we've got good people, and I suppose if our people were the very best in the pitlane we would definitely be further up the grid. It's just trying to assemble these people together at the right time and give them the resources. You would never find myself or Patrick saying, 'oh it's not fair, we haven't got enough money'.

Q. Will next year's regulation changes and budget cap help?

FW: Well if the budget cap happens we think it will help us, yes. We'll have to make the best of whatever happens. The cost of cars can be expensive, but I think the solution that we are following ... certainly we can afford it, only just. But you're reading now about the price of oil, and oil is going up because there is a shortage of it.

As there is a greater and greater shortage, and some of these oil companies are seeing all their production figures dropping and dropping, which is screwing it up to some extent. And the more and more pressure on fuel, the more and more people are pointing at us saying you're wasting fuel. The fact is, it's only a question of money.

Q. Do you share Max Mosley's view that there is an imminent financial crisis in F1?

FW: I suppose I can cheekily say that there has been one coming for 40 years. There is always a financial crisis. People are generally speaking very determined to achieve things But yes, it's very hard.

Q. Is the sport in good shape politically though?

FW: It's in quite good shape, as long as the manufacturers stay here. If they all suddenly pull out then that's a problem. And no engines. And the thought of having to go to Ferrari to buy engines causes us considerable dismay.

The reason I mentioned manufacturers is that I do share Max's view on the money side. I can't believe - I'd like to believe it and see it happen - they'll go on forever spending that kind of money. But I don't run them. And I don't have any direct relationship - well we do with Toyota - but we're totally remote from what their management thinks. I just hope they carry on for decades.

Q. What do you make of Max's view that it would be wrong for F1 to be run by Bernie and CVC?

FW: I don't know if that's true or not. It's not a feasible idea because we need a sporting authority. I don't think it's legally possible. I don't know, I haven't looked far into it. Adam Parr (Williams CEO) knows these matters far more competently and intricately than I do. It's not simple, whichever way you want to do it.

Q. Can you give us some words on Patrick Head?

FW: I unhesitatingly say that he is an amazing man; a truly gifted engineer, understands it very thoroughly, and is actually the real architect of the team's achievement. That's a fact.

Q. What do yo think about the future of traditional races, especially with Silverstone under such threat?

FW: I think that Formula One should be as international as possible. On that basis Bernie will have wanderlust to fly around the world and see where he can get the best deals. He'd love to have one in North America. But I think he recognises that he must keep the core heritage races, which I understand to be Britain, Monte Carlo, Germany, Italy and France. I don't think they'll disappear. Even if he gets less money from them. (But) I can't second-guess Bernie that well.

Q. Do you think we'll always keep coming back to Monaco?

FW: It's very important. It doesn't make sense on Sunday at three o'clock when no-one can overtake anybody, but until then it's dramatic and fantastic. People love coming here, sponsors and guests and so on.

Q. Will it get dangerous as speeds rise?

FW: Well, I'm no expert on safety but you can die in stupid little accidents. An incomplete guard rail, for instance, can kill a driver. I don't think it's any more dangerous. The cars are - thanks to Max, I must say - are incredibly safe. But someone will still get killed one day. Aeroplanes are fantastically safe, but pilots still make mistakes sometimes.

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