“Williams” (Maurice Hamilton, 2009)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Williams by Maurice Hamilton
Williams by Maurice Hamilton
Although it’s five years since Williams last won a Grand Prix, and 12 since their last championship triumph, it still feels odd not to see their blue-and-white cars regularly at the sharp end of a race. By which I mean leading it by upwards of half a minute.

That was what I got used to growing up with F1 in the 1990s. But Williams’ remarkable story stretched back much further than that, back to more humble origins when, as Frank Williams Racing Cars Ltd, they entered F1 races on a shoestring budget using customer chassis.

The irony that Williams of all teams should have fought so vehemently against customer cars in recent years is just one of the ironies that hits you when reading Maurice Hamilton’s new history of the team.

Another is how Williams is counter-evolving, becoming ever more like its original incarnation. The Frank Williams of the 1960s and 1970s often found himself forced to accept uncompetitive drivers because of the cash injection their sponsors brought. In much the same way the team now fields Kazuki Nakajima because he guarantees a supply of Toyota engines. In the 1980s Williams spurned Kazuki’s father Saturo and, in doing so, lost their Honda supply.

There can be few people better placed than paddock veteran Maurice Hamilton to write a book like this, and he’s secured interviews with dozens of names, big and small, many with fascinating and often hilarious anecdotes to share. Not least the one about Williams briefly selling pornography to get his fledgling racing empire started.

In Hamilton’s own words, he “managed” rather than wrote the book: each chapter begins with his prose and then gives way to long quotes from the people who were. It’s not just the championship winners (all of whom are present) and the big players (Bernie Ecclestone, Patrick Head and, of course, the man himself and his family) but the mechanics who fettled the cars and the lesser-known names that were there at the beginning.

Only one name is conspicuous by its absence: Carlos Reutemann, who departed the team in strange circumstances at the beginning of 1982. Competing theories abound: he was unhappy with Williams or his new team mate Keke Rosberg, disillusioned with F1 after his 11th-hour championship defeat the previous year, or, as others have suggested, put in an uncomfortable position as England and Argentina went to war over the Falkland Islands.

It’s hard to believe the author would have contemplated writing this book without inviting Reutemann to comment and it seems reasonable to assume that, even 27 years later, he’s still not willing to talk about the events.

Compressing the 40-year history of the team into a little more than 350 pages inevitably means some sections are less well-developed than others: the BMW period and the seasons since are among the thinnest.

A substantial section is devoted to the death of Ayrton Senna and it provides some especially interesting new insights from the likes of Adrian Newey and Patrick Head, the latter explaining how the team was incorrectly told Senna’s injuries were much lighter than they were.

I must admit the style “Williams” is written in didn’t gel with me when I first sat down with it – I felt it tended towards repetition. By the final chapters I was flying through the book and now I’ve polished it off I wish there were a second and third volume.

Giving over so much room to the people who were there makes an already fascinating story that bit richer and more compelling. It’s an excellent work – unmissable reading for a fan of the team or, indeed, anyone who’s watched an F1 race in the last four decades.

“Williams: The legendary story of Frank Williams and his F1 team in their own words”
Ebury Press
ISBN 9780091933671
Released 20th August 2009

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