Our Formula 1 Journey: Becoming a force

Published on
30 Jan 2024
Est. reading time
4 Min

As we continue our build up to 2024, read more on a crowning moment in our story: the 1980s

Evolving from Frank Williams Racing Cars in the 1970s, where Frank Williams' Formula 1 journey began, the 1980s saw the origins of the modern Williams Racing operation.
Together with drivers Alan Jones and Clay Regazzoni, Williams Grand Prix Engineering scored their first victories in the Patrick Head-designed FW07 over the 1979 season.
That car became the foundation for the team's earliest title triumphs as Frank and Patrick entered a decade with only one winless season in the 1980s.

FW07: Championship Glory

Alan Jones leads the field away at the 1980 Austrian GP
Alan Jones leads the field away at the 1980 Austrian GP
After establishing the Williams name as a serious player at the top of motorsport with the breakthrough 1979 season, the team had two attractive seats for drivers.
Alan had a new name alongside him in 1981 when the regular podium-finishing Argentine driver Carlos Reutemann joined to bring his expertise and experience.
A two-year partnership between Alan and Carlos proved fruitful, and the team took consecutive Constructors' Championship titles with incredible end-of-season point tallies.
First came the then-record 120 points in 1980, along with an equally record-breaking 54-point margin over P2, before another comfortable title in 1981.
The FW07 and its FW07B and FW07C evolutions were at the heart of the success, a ground-effect car that represented the pinnacle of aerodynamic technology of the time.
Fast and reliable, the FW07 gave Alan and Carlos a competitive edge over their rivals, with Alan taking his sole and Williams' first World Drivers' Championship in 1980.
Although the Drivers' Championship eluded either racer in 1981, as Carlos narrowly missed the title by a single point to Nelson Piquet, the team's overall performance with their second Constructors' crown was a testament to the engineering excellence behind the FW07.

New Names: The Rosberg Years

Keke Rosberg (L) deep in conversation with Patrick Head
Keke Rosberg (L) deep in conversation with Patrick Head
The mid-1980s were a period of transition and consolidation for Williams. While the team remained competitive, they faced intense rivalry from other top teams like McLaren and Ferrari.
As Alan retired from the sport at the end of 1981 and Carlos promptly following just a handful of races into the 1982 season, Williams had new faces in the garage.
Keke Rosberg, a Finnish driver known for his raw speed and tenacious racing style, brought a fresh dynamic to the team — not to mention being the father of Nico, who would drive for us two decades later, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Keke's tenure with Williams continued until 1985 as an everpresent figure while partnering Mario Andretti, Jacques Laffite, and eventually the team's first full-time British driver, Nigel Mansell.
The 1982 season proved both challenging and rewarding for the team, with Keke getting used to his new surroundings and having a front-running car for the first time.
An unpredictable championship battle had the team take just one victory at the Swiss Grand Prix at the hands of Keke, something that remarkably still netted the Finn the Drivers' Championship.
His consistent point finishes in a season marred by retirements and fatalities meant Williams won their fourth championship trophy, but it became the last one for many years.
A shift to turbocharged engines represented a major technological change in Formula 1, with Williams lagging a little behind, and a move away from the popular Ford Cosworth DFV engine followed.

Back to the Front: Honda V6

Nelson Piquet (L) and Nigel Mansell (R) with Alain Prost ahead of the 1986 Australian GP
Nelson Piquet (L) and Nigel Mansell (R) with Alain Prost ahead of the 1986 Australian GP
Three years of picking up a solitary win per season after so much success in 1980 and 1981 saw the team needing to fire back into life.
Switching to Honda as an engine supplier helped the Williams name become a competitive force again, as Keke and Nigel enjoyed turbocharged power in 1985, albeit with reliability not on their side.
Keke left for McLaren after a four-year spell with Williams, and two-time champion Nelson Piquet joined to partner Nigel for two successful and often firey seasons together.
With more reliability and some 800 bhp powering the drivers in race trim, the 1986 FW11 was almost peerless, and the new pairing shared seven podiums over the 16-race season to win the Constructors' Championship for Williams.
However, neither driver would take the Drivers' title that year as they duelled the emerging talent Ayrton Senna and eventual champion Alain Prost over the year.
This fearsome foursome continued to lead the way into the 1987 season, too, but with the two Williams drivers firmly on top as the Honda power combined with active suspension made the FW11B the best car on the grid.
Nelson and Nigel fought ferociously for the title, but an injury for Nigel in the penultimate round at Japan settled the fight early.
Nelson took his third championship, with Williams celebrating their fourth Constructors' Championship success.
Although a move away from Honda in 1988 led to a brief downturn in fortune, the 1980s closed with Williams firmly established as a leading force in Formula 1.
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