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Sir Frank Williams, legendary Formula One team boss and namesake of the Williams Racing F1 team, has passed away at 79 years old. The Williams family announced his death through his former racing team yesterday, November 28, 2021. 

Though his team was recently sold to private investment firm Dorilton Capital after braving a large part of this difficult pandemic and 43 years under family stewardship, his attitude and genius live on in the post-Williams ownership era of the team. His legacy is one for all of motorsport history. 

Welcome to Headlight. This is a daily news feature that lights up one current event in the car world and breaks it down by three simple subheadings: What Happened, Why It Matters, and What To Look For Next. Look for it in the morning (Eastern time) every weekday.

What Happened

The Williams Racing F1 team has confirmed on behalf of the Williams family that Sir Frank Williams has passed away at age 79 on November 28, 2021, after being admitted to a hospital on Friday, November 26. 

Williams founded Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977 after an unsuccessful first start as Frank Williams Racing Cars. Alongside storied engineer and partial team owner Patrick Head, Williams achieved success as early as a 1979 race win with its own race cars engineered by Head. Their partnership proved fruitful over the 1980s and 1990s and they became one of the most successful teams the sport had ever seen.

A dizzying amount of F1 greats drove for the independent racing team. Nigel Mansell is easily its most successful driver: 28 race wins, 28 pole positions, and one world title in 1992. The inimitable Alan Jones raced for Williams in the 1970s and achieved a single world title in 1980, Keke Rosberg achieved his single championship with the team in 1982, and Damon Hill made his mark on Grand Prix racing with his 1996 world title in a Williams. Nelson Piquet raced and won for the team, as well as Alain Prost, Jacques Villeneuve, and the great Ayrton Senna.

Most of this success came after Sir Frank William’s nearly fatal accident on March 6, 1986, when he rolled a rental Ford Sierra on the way to the airport and suffered a broken neck, paralyzing him for the rest of his life. Despite this, the Williams team became the most winning F1 constructor for several years with nine world constructors titles until Ferrari surpassed them in 2000. Very few F1 teams have matched the level of success of Williams in their best period, nor their technical prowess with the incredibly advanced traction control and active suspension cars of the early 1990s.

His team continues to race to this day, under different ownership. The Williams family stepped away from racing and sold the team in 2020.

Why It Matters

The old guard of racing is beginning to fade away and there is a real shame and sadness in that. Yes, racing of old was incredibly dangerous, unnecessarily so, and we shouldn’t glorify that danger. Still, the stories are amazing and frightening to behold. Without these early pioneers, racing as we know it wouldn’t exist. It was these old motorsport heroes that pushed for safer racing while innovating breakthrough technologies that were so good they are still banned today.

I lament for the lost stories and energy that these folks brought to the sport. The future is undoubtedly bright and anybody who says otherwise is wrong. Yet, there is still plenty to respect in the greatness of the earliest decades of motorsport and I’m sure most of the old guard are glad to see a more inclusive, safer, and diverse motorsport than ever before.

Sir Frank Williams was truly one of the giants of F1. He exists alongside some of the most notable names in motorsport and earned his place there through fierce determination and perseverance. Despite the injuries he suffered early on in his successful career as a team boss and owner, he managed to pilot one of the greatest F1 teams of all time. From any angle, that is something to admire, respect, and remember.

What To Look For Next

The Williams family has yet to announce plans for the upcoming memorial service for Williams. They have asked donations be made to Spinal Injuries Association in place of gifts and that flowers are welcomed at the entrance of the team headquarters in Grove, Oxfordshire. 

Williams Racing will continue on under its current ownership. It is said that the Williams name is kept as a stipulation of the 2020 sale but it is unclear how long or how binding that agreement is. For now, the Williams name races on.

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