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How Frank Williams started his eponymous F1 team after the wolf split

Last season, Frank interacted with wealthy Canadian oil entrepreneur Walter Wolf. After seven years of endless economic struggle, his dream seemed to come true when he finally found a generous benefactor.

Wolf acquired the car and assets of the deceased Hesketh Team and re-badged the 308C as Wolf Williams FW05. However, the 1976 season was supposed to be catastrophic as the car was desperately uncompetitive.

The ambitious wolf commissioned Harvey Postlethwaite, who came as part of a contract with Hesketh, to design a new car for 1977.

Then, at the end of 1976, he welcomed former Lotus man Peter Warr as team manager. Initially, the boss Williams was given the status of Sponsorship Finder, so he realized he was being kicked out of the organization he founded as Frank Williams Racing Car. He wasn’t present when the Wolf team brought the new WR1 to Argentina in January 1977 and Jody Scheckter won.

Dissatisfied with the frustration, he decided to quit Wolff’s operation and set up a company called Williams Grand Prix Engineering to start over. After many years of hard grafting since his debut at Piers Courage in 1969, he had nothing. I lost the FOCA membership that I had a hard time earning under the Wolf contract.

However, there was light at the end of the tunnel as he was in contact with Belgian driver Patrick Nève, who was sponsored by the concerns of the Bellevue brewery.

After reasonable success in the UK’s FF1600 and F3, Nave found an F1 chance in RAM in early 1976 and made one start in a home race at Zolder. He also raced for a second lieutenant in France, but Bernie Ecclestone asked the city of Birmingham to drive Brabham Alpha’s work as a taster of the F3000 race that only happened ten years later. ..

After signing a contract with Frank, Nave took part in the International Trophy F2 race at Silverstone, where he performed sensationally. Alas, the form was never backed up on his F1 outing, and it was later speculated that his car hadn’t fully reached the weight limit of the day.

Meanwhile, Frank found a modest additional amount from a man representing Saudia and was convinced that his boss wanted a Grand Prix race.

Patrick Head and Frank Williams at the launch of the Williams FW06 in the new factory

Photo: Sutton image

Williams had an ace on his sleeve in the form of Patrick Head, who first brought to Williams at the end of 1975, just before the wolf trade took place. After that, Head, who was working on the WR1 project under Postlethwaite, was tempted by the challenge of designing a car from scratch for the next season.

“I was still in Wolff and was actually taking the test in South Africa,” Patrick recalls. “Frank called me and said,” I got up again. I have the budget to do 10 races, would you like to join us? “I thought about it and he when I returned. I told you to talk to.

“I think it’s time to really do my own thing. I used someone else’s car for the first year and then my car in 1978. But after the first year I’ve been thinking a lot. I don’t think it was. “

Patrick Nève, Williams Bell-Saudi Arabia March 761

Patrick Nève, Williams Bell-Saudi Arabia March 761

Photo: Sutton image

Frank’s main job was to find a used chassis. He chose March 761 and paid Max Mosley a fortune of £ 14,000 before buying four used Cosworth DFVs at a bargain price.

The next step was to find a suitable factory, and he settled at Didcot’s Station Road No. 10, a site that was once thought to be the wolf’s house. There was a delay in completing the paperwork, but they moved prematurely on a day that was still engraved in Head’s heart.

“I forgot why I didn’t have the key,” says Head. “We were just desperate to get started. The Spanish Grand Prix arrived and broke in on March 28, 1977. The factory was the dirtiest floor. It was a carpet warehouse or something. Machines and equipment. There was nothing. Everything had to be set up and we were just desperate to get started. “

In early May, the team set out for Harama. Wolf had this amazing gleaming blue track, and in our first race our guy happened to go back to it and do a fair amount of damage … “

In Spain, Neve qualified in humble 22nd place, finishing in 12th place and lapping the winner Mario Andretti four times. Nevertheless, WGPE was on the way.

The team skipped Monaco and instead Nave went to test with Zolder, but crashed the car comprehensively. It took a lot of effort to fix it.

“Frank was said to be the chassis of 1976,” recalls Head. “When I returned to March for repairs, the manufacturer did a great job, but when I stripped the paint, I said it was a 1974 Vittorio Brambilla car. Was re-skinned. “

Given that the team was running on shoelaces, the accident certainly didn’t help.

“The budget was supposed to be 200 grounds,” says Head. “Neb was supposed to bring 100 and Frank was supposed to put in 100. He was with 80, so it ended up being 180, but at the time it was a lot of money. rice field.

“I wasn’t really sniffing a lot of my budget, but we weren’t spending almost anything. We’re on a Chipo Chipo flight and some of Frank’s cheap hotels I was staying.

“It was a lot of fun back then, but now I’m not sure if I’ll be very happy about some of those places! At each circuit, we rented a small 12-foot caravan as a motorhome .. ..

“I had 11 races that year, but I think it was 3 races that didn’t qualify. It really reaches you. When you’re packing and leaving on Saturday night, and It hurts when everyone else keeps their car around and preparing for the race. Really … “

Patrick Nève, Williams March 761

Patrick Nève, Williams March 761

Photo courtesy of: Motorsport image

Neve was in the top 10 four times, scoring a lucky seventh place in Monza.

“To be honest, I have to say he wasn’t that tough,” recalls Head. “F1 was a little better than his league. I was working on a new car so I didn’t actually go to Watkins Glen. But apparently he once curbed the chicane.

“He came in and said he was a little further away and asked to check around the suspension. There was a gap of about an hour between exercises, but he could stay in the car and get off. I couldn’t. They couldn’t understand why.

“When they left that night, the whole underside of the monocoque was buckling. That was very interesting for him. Any ordinary person climbed and said,” I’m sorry, I’m a monocoque. A little confusion. “

“We weren’t that heavy. We didn’t give him a big fuss. He was an interesting character …”

As Williams slowly expanded until 1977, its growing staff included a young maker / mechanic called Ross Brawn, who was formerly at Wolf Williams.

“I think it was romantic at first,” Brown recalls. “I was taken to Patrick and Frank, and Frank was a pretty iconic guy. It seems wrong to me that it happened when he was fooled as a romantic little kid. It looked like.

“When the opportunity was gone, I didn’t feel the attachment to Wolf Racing that Frank and Patrick would probably have been there if they were still there. The decision was easy.”

Brown joined the new Williams outfit at the end of the year after spending most of 1977 in F3.

“Frank and Patrick left Wolf and resumed at Williams Grand Prix Engineering. I went back and joined them. Knowing Patrick at Wolf and working for him, he and Frank gave Williams. That was the reason I got back there when I started.

“I remember being the eleventh employee, including Patrick, Frank and the secretary. When I arrived at Didcot, there weren’t many.”

Head admits that he didn’t expect Brown to be a key figure in the sport.

“That’s really extraordinary,” he says. “I interviewed Ross for a job at Wolf. He was an apprentice at Harwell. [Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Didcot], And I took him as a mechanic in the very minimal machine shop they had.

“It was clear that Ross was an intelligent companion, but even when he moved to Williams and gave him some projects to do, I gave him what he gave him. I didn’t realize that I could do more than I could.

“It’s always one of the interesting things when hiring people and identifies people who can do more.

“Ross was much easier than he was then. At that time you didn’t really feel the ambition with Ross. If you were there, he did a good job of hiding it!”

Alan Jones, Williams

Alan Jones, Williams

Photo: Williams F1

Head and his second Neil Oatley spent late 1977 designing what would be the Williams FW06. In January 1978, the new signer Alan Jones was sitting on the grid of a machine sponsored by Saudia, Argentina.

The car looked good and was well designed, and with Jones winning the Austrian Grand Prix shadow last year, there was no doubt about his qualifications as a driver. Suddenly Williams became a serious player – and within 18 months, the team will win the race and set the pace.

“I didn’t play a tournament against the giant in 1977,” says Head. “In 1978 it started to frustrate a few people. We had about £ 350,000 in 1978. This is a budget feasible for a single car, but Frank still Let us stay in his dos house … “

Nave, on the other hand, was never taken seriously as a potential driver in 1978. That season, he was seen only once when he failed to qualify in Zolder after signing a contract to run March under his own name. Following the touring car spell, he disappeared from the scene. He died in 2017 at the age of 67.

For Frank, the old March, the first season of 1977, and the rebirth it represents, have always remained important.

When the team celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1997, he told the writer, “I have no bad memories of 77 years.” Roar the pits and give us the fuss to get in that way when we were rapped.

“In the first round, I didn’t go anywhere myself. But I was given the opportunity to start again and I took it. I think ’69 was unforgettable and played that role, The main thing was in 1977. It was very difficult, but it was fun, worth it, and I was confident that I would get there. “ How Frank Williams started his eponymous F1 team after the wolf split

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