Since entering Formula One as an outright team owner, Sir Frank Williams can be proud that his cars have won seven drivers Championships over the years.
In chronological order we now reflect on the drivers who won a Championship at the wheel of one of Sir Frank’s cars and their time in the team.
1. Alan Jones (1978 – 1981, Championship winner in 1980)
“Jonesy” first caught the attentions of Frank in 1977 when the Australian won his first race at that year’s Austrian Grand Prix in changeable conditions. At the time he was driving a Shadow but Frank invited him to the old workshop on Station Road in Didcot, where he also met with Patrick Head. After seeing what would become the Williams FW06, the first Williams car to be designed by Head, Jones signed on with the team immediately for the 1978 season.
With the Lotus 79 dominating the 1978 season the FW06 was regarded as one of the best non ground-effect cars on the grid and on several occasions Jones’ gutsy driving saw him dicing with the front-runners. At Long Beach he managed to run in second place, and close down Carlos Reutemann’s Ferrari, when the front wing started to buckle and the Cosworth DFV engine was misfiring. Jones would finish seventh but before the troubles he set a brand new lap record. In the closing stages of the season he managed to get on the podium at Watkins Glen after finishing a superb second. This was after a traumatic practice session in which he crashed due to a wheel bolt failure and the team almost withdrew from the event, until “Charlie” Chrichton-Stuart, a friend of Frank’s, managed to persuade a local heat-treatment company to work on four new bolts overnight.
After a promising debut season for Williams Grand Prix Engineering the team began running another car as well for 1979 and Jones was joined by Clay Regazzoni. The FW06 was used again, until the FW07 was completed and ready for running, and during this period the team struggled to score points as most other runners had already introduced their own ground-effect cars. This didn’t stop Jones finishing third at Long Beach. The FW07 was introduced at the following race in Spain and despite retiring from mechanical trouble Jones set the second fastest race lap, and then at the Zolder circuit in Belgium on lap twenty-four Jones took the lead and more significantly it was the first time the team led a race. Unfortunately the engine cut out with thirty laps remaining.
At the British Grand Prix fairings were put into the FW07, this simple addition tidied up the airflow around the engine and dramatically improved the aerodynamics of the car. Jones would take pole position by more than two seconds. Jones then dominated the race until lap thirty-nine when his engine overheated however the day would be fondly remembered for the team recorded its maiden Grand Prix victory courtesy of Regazzoni. Jones felt robbed however he made amends by winning the followings races in Germany, Austria, The Netherlands and Canada. He finished third in the Championship behind the Ferraris of Gilles Villeneuve and Champion Jody Scheckter.
For 1980 Williams were favourites given their second half of season form, Regazzoni’s contract however was not renewed and in his place came Argentine Carlos Reutemann, a driver who Jones would have a fiery relationship with. The FW07 was upgraded to a B-spec car and with it Jones won the season opener in Argentina, having to contend with a track falling to bits in the process. The team however received stiff opposition from the twin turbo powered Renault cars and Nelson Piquets’ Brabham. Jones then ran into a run of bad luck when he was taken out by Bruno Giacomelli’s Alfa Romeo at Long Beach, whilst trying to lap him, his differential then broke at Monaco and then after winning the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama the results of the race were declared null by FISA, during the bitter FISA / FOCA row as an act of the governing body “flexing its muscles”. Jones however fought back in Paul Ricard against the odds to not only seize the lead from the Ligiers and go on to win, but also the lead of the Championship once again.
After having been made an MBE Jones honoured his recent award by winning at Brands Hatch on British soil but whilst the Championship challenge of the Renaults and Ligiers faded Piquet remained very much in the hunt. The turning point came at the Zaandvoort circuit when Jones, whilst checking his mirror, jumped over the kerbs and damaged one of his car’s skirts. After losing three laps in the pits he could only finish eleventh and to make it worse Piquet won. The Brazilian driver then briefly led the Championship by a single point after beating Jones at Imola and tensions were high coming in the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal. Piquet took pole, Jones lined up alongside second and at the start the two collided going into the fast sweepers just after the start. The race was restarted with Piquet leading, but the Brabham was retired after twenty-four laps with a smoking engine. Didier Pironi in the Ligier crossed the line first but was given a time penalty for a jump-start which handed the race and drivers Championship win to Jones. The Australian then wrapped up the season fittingly winning the final race at Watkins Glen in the United States after dropping down the field early but recovering well.
Despite winning the opening race of the 1981 season Jones’ Championship defence year would be difficult as he understood he had No. 1 status in the team and there was an arrangement where if Reutemann was leading with Jones’ behind by less than seven seconds, the Australian would be let through to lead. This came to light at the following race in Brazil where Reutemann was leading by the said gap and the Argentine ignored the pit boards ordering him to move over!
Jones’ icy relationship with Reutemann hit an all-time low and the two began to take points away from each other, allowing Piquet in the Brabham to once again put himself in contention. The Australian’s challenge than faded completely at Montreal, spinning off in the lead, and announced he would retire at the end of the season, but ended the season on a high winning the final race in Las Vegas. Reutemann meanwhile drove rather sheepishly after starting from pole, handing Piquet the first of his three titles.
Frank was determined to make Jones change his mind, the infamous “six-wheeler” FW07 was built in an attempt to do just that, however the car was quickly banned when Jones’ eventual replacement, Keke Rosberg, shattered the lap record at Paul Ricard when the car was tested.
2. Keke Rosberg (1982 – 1985, Championship winner in 1982)
Keke was signed up by Frank with not very long to go before the first race of the season, the super-cool Finn then immediately proved his worth by out-qualifying an already unnerved Reutemann in the first two races. Rosberg finished an excellent fifth on his first outing in South Africa which was then overshadowed with being fined, along with many other drivers, for taking part in the infamous hotel suite lock-in protesting a contract FISA demanded they signed. At the next race his well-earned second place was stripped, along with winner Nelson Piquet, when their cars were found to be underweight in yet another controversy that occurred in the FISA / FOCA row.
Later into the season in Austria, Rosberg had a terrific final lap showdown with Lotus’ Elio De Angelis, the two crossed the line side-by-side but the Italian just edged him out. At the Swiss Grand Prix, despite it being held in Dijon-Prenois in France, Rosberg picked up his maiden win through a better tyre choice which allowed him to storm through the field, catch and then pass Alain Prost’s Renault in the closing laps. Due to the organisers forgetting to wave the chequered flag, Rosberg decided to do one more lap to be sure. It was Rosberg’s only win of the season but by the time the teams arrived in Las Vegas once again, Rosberg was leading McLaren’s John Watson by nine points. The Ulsterman could only manage second, as Rosberg finished fifth and with it the Championship.
With almost the entire field using turbo engines in 1983, Williams struggled with the now out-gunned Cosworth DFV, now in a special DFY spec. Although the team would get their hands on brand new Honda turbo engine by the end of the season, and a new car as well built for it, Rosberg had virtually no chance of defending his title, but it didn’t stop him wringing the neck of the FW08B to the best of his abilities. At Monaco a rain shower caused havoc with turbo runners struggling to stay on the track, whist Keke stayed on slick tyres and utilised the smoother power curve from the ageing Cosworth unit to take a famous win around the principality. At the end of the year the Honda engines and the new FW09 arrived, and Rosberg finished a credible fifth at Kyalami in South Africa.
1984 proved a troublesome season as the Williams team struggled to get to grips with their new engine and what was a heavy, bulky and draggy chassis. For Keke the highlight of the year came on the infamous Dallas street circuit where he literally kept his cool, thanks to an ice cold skull-cap, to win on a track that crumbled badly and saw a very high attrition rate.
The FW10 was the first carbon-fibre Williams car built for the 1985 season. This would go on to be Keke’s final season as he would depart for McLaren to challenge eventual Champion Alain Prost. When Honda supplied upgraded engines in time for the race in Detroit, Rosberg put them to good use instantly by claiming victory and then famously took pole at Silverstone with an average speed of over 160 mph. It was the fastest lap ever, until Juan Pablo Montoya went faster in a BMW powered Williams at Monza in 2002, and more incredibly with a deflated front tyre in the closing corners! Rosberg signed off his career with Williams with a farewell victory in the inaugural Australian Grand Prix held on the streets of Adelaide.
3. Nelson Piquet (1986 – 1987, Championship winner in 1987)
Nelson Piquet was signed as Rosberg’s replacement almost as soon as Rosberg announced his departure to McLaren. He was already a two-time Champion and came to Williams seeking his third as Brabham were starting their slow decline. When he first joined Williams he had an agreement with Frank that he would be the No. 1 driver, however with Frank having suffered his near-fatal car accident life in the Williams team was about to prove difficult for the Brazilian
Despite winning infront of his home crowd in Brazil at the first attempt Piquet often found himself outpaced by team-mate Nigel Mansell. Piquet was unnerved after the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch when not only had he been caught, pressured into a mistake, passed and beaten by Mansell but the Englishman had done it using Piquet’s spare car, after problems with Mansell’s own race car.
The Brazilian then put himself back into contention by winning the following races in Germany and a hard-fought win in Hungary against Ayrton Senna, a race in which Piquet powerslided past Senna to take the lead. After this race there was a bitter dispute in the team as Piquet had been using a special differential that apparently Mansell didn’t know about. Mansell accused Piquet of conspiring with Frank Dernie to keep it a secret, although other team personnel were perfectly aware of this differential.
Piquet won again at Monza, but with Prost consistently scoring solid points finishes, he had sneaked his way into contention for the drivers Championship. Going into the final race in Australia Piquet had to win at all costs, and after Mansell’s high-speed tyre failure Piquet found himself in the right place to pick up his third title, however he was called in for an emergency tyre change, which he felt cost him the Championship. On fresh rubber Piquet had a chance of catching Prost as he was nursing his car which was now low on fuel, but the Frenchman held on and Piquet ran out of laps.
1987 saw Piquet finally achieve his third and last title, but he was made to earn it by Mansell as the already rocky relationship between the two took a turn for the worse. Piquet won on just three occasions compared to Mansell’s five, but the Brazilian finished constantly in solid points positions. Piquet was the first to use a special variant of the FW11B which featured active suspension, a feature that the team would turn to once again in 1992, and used it to full effect too by winning at Monza.
The season ended in another anti-climax at Suzuka in Japan as Piquet won the Championship in Saturday qualifying whilst in his garage as Mansell had crashed heavily and injured his back, ruling him out of the rest of the season. Piquet was glad to be away from Williams at the end of the season, not only had he grown tired of Mansell but Patrick Head as well. On his departure Piquet called Mansell an “uneducated blockhead”, then at the same time made other slanderous comments about countryman Senna, and he headed to Lotus.
4. Nigel Mansell (1985 – 1988, 1991 – 1992, 1994, Championship winner in 1992)
An interesting piece of trivia not widely known is that Nigel Mansell wasn’t the first choice for Williams to drive for them in 1985. Frank rated Derek Warwick higher, but when he decided he wanted to remain with Renault Frank turned his attentions to Mansell. Frank did not rate Mansell highly at first but signed him on the spot after turning to Patrick Head to make the decision.
After having his confidence almost destroyed by Peter Warr’s micro-management at Lotus Mansell found himself a lot more at home in the Williams team. Things did not go to plan for him at the first race in Brazil when he collided with another car and dropped out. He then even managed to crash on the reconnaissance lap to the grid in Portugal, however whilst handling the vicious Honda turbo power in appalling wet weather he worked his way from the back to finish fifth. By the end of the season the Englishman had not only won his first race at Brands Hatch but followed it up immediately by taking pole position and winning in South Africa.
Going into 1986 he was unfazed by the arrival of Nelson Piquet as he felt his seniority in the team meant he should be equal No. 1. At the first race in Brazil for the second year in a row Mansell dropped out after tangling with Senna. He eventually got his season fully going by winning the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps when Piquet retired with a turbo failure. After notching up more wins in Canada and France he found himself within a point of Championship leader Prost and 15 clear of Piquet. Mansell-Mania at the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch helped the Englishman overcome Piquet once again, whilst using the Brazilian’s spare car, by hounding him into an error, taking full advantage and then comfortably staying ahead.
At the Mexican Grand Prix Mansell had the first opportunity to wrap up the title, however he had difficulty selecting first gear off the line and was forced to fight his way through the field to fifth. This ensured the title went down to the wire in Australia against Piquet and Prost. Despite what was at stake Mansell was the heavy favourite, as Championship leader, and only needed third if Piquet and Prost were to finish ahead of him. After taking pole position Mansell decided to drive a cautious race and let Piquet and Prost race each other, but then late into the race whilst cruising in that vital third position his rear right exploded in a shower of sparks. Despite managing to regain control of the car to point it down an escape road Mansell’s Championship challenge was over in a flash.
Determined to make up for the tragedy of the blow-out in Adelaide Mansell once again took the challenge to Piquet, the title was contested solely between the two of them despite Ayrton Senna having lead the Championship early on. Mansell took five wins to Piquet’s three but suffered a high speed accident in qualifying at Suzuka, injuring his back. Once again Mansell played second fiddle for the second year in a row. On the bright side he had one of his greatest drives at Silverstone in the summer when he not only caught Piquet in the closing laps, after making an unscheduled tyre stop, but also pulled off the famous “dummy move” to overtake his great rival into Stowe.
The 1988 season was a torrid year for Mansell, Williams lost their Honda turbo engines and were now using normally aspirated Judd V8′s which spent almost the entire season overheating. The new FW12 was also a handful to drive with the active suspension proving especially troublesome, as a result Mansell only finished twice out of sixteen races! However in the two races he finished he came second after a good wet-weather drive through the field at Silverstone and at Jerez in Spain where for a time he challenged the dominant McLarens for victory. At the end of the season he departed for Ferrari and was the last driver to be chosen by Enzo Ferrari before “Il Commandatore” passed away.
In the summer of 1990 after being shafted by the prancing horse on many occasions Mansell decided to retire from the sport, Frank saw it as an opportunity to begin tempting the Englishman to return to Williams. On more than one occasion Mansell rebuffed every offer Frank made, however in October that year Mansell, after being granted No. 1 status and a large salary, made a u-turn on his decision to retire, and not for the first time in his career!
The radical new FW14 for the 1991 season had little running time and it took Mansell some time to get acquainted with the new car, this led to team-mate Riccardo Patrese outpacing him for the majority of the first half of the season. For Mansell the 1991 season was lost in the first half of the season when reliability problems with the new semi-automatic gearbox were frequent, in the meantime Senna had won the first four races on the trot. At the Canadian Grand Prix Mansell had led from the start when it was Senna’s turn to have a gearbox problem on lap 25, leading the Englishman clear out infront. Going into the hairpin on the final lap Mansell was set to claim his first win of the season when he accidentally stalled the engine, allegedly having not shifted down the gears enough whilst waving to the crowd! This left his old nemesis Nelson Piquet to collect a lucky win to rub the salt in even more, although Mansell was classified sixth.
After finishing second in Mexico to team-mate Patrese, the French Grand Prix at Magny Cours is where Mansell’s season really took off. He muscled his way past Alain Prost twice at the Adelaide hairpin and went on to collect his first ten points of the season. A week later at Silverstone Mansell-Mania once again turned out in full force where “red five” was unstoppable all weekend and won again. He then completed a hat-trick of wins at Hockenheim leading Patrese home for another Williams 1-2 finish, Mansell had now closed right in on Senna. This however was short lived as thanks to major advancements with the Honda engine the Brazilian won again at the Hungaroring. Mansell was plagued by yet another gearbox issue in Belgium after having taken the lead through the pit stops, Senna won yet again. After beating Senna in a straight fight at Monza, Mansell was leading once again in Portugal where, not for the first time in his career at the same track, there was a mix-up in his pit stop where the rear right had not been tightened enough and came loose in the middle of the pit lane. The mechanics got the wheel back on in the middle of the pit road however this was illegal as despite Mansell fighting his way back into the points he was disqualified, undoing his hard work.
It is felt that this is where Mansell’s Championship hopes really crumbled apart, although he kept them alive by winning at the Catalunya circuit in Spain after his famous wheel-to-wheel overtake on Senna down the main straight. At the penultimate race in Japan whilst harrying Senna he had a sticky brake pedal which forced him into the gravel at the first corner where he was stuck fast, out and his Championship challenge was over with Senna winning his third, and unknown to everyone at the time, and last title.
For the 1992 season Mansell returned to the paddock much fitter after spending the winter at his Florida home, eager to do everything he could to become Champion. The FW14 was upgraded into the famous FW14B which now had active suspension, traction control and ABS brakes which would aid him and the Williams team enormously.
Mansell dominated the season in emphatic style and broke many records that season including most poles in a season, a record which stood for nineteen years until Sebastian Vettel came along last year, and the most wins in a season, equalled by Michael Schumacher three years later and subsequently broken in 2002.
Along the way he once again brought Mansell-Mania to fever point at Silverstone by topping every practice session, taking pole and winning, and by the Hungarian Grand Prix he had the chance to wrap up the Championship. Mansell only needed to finish second, he managed it but he had to fight for it after suffering a puncture late on and had to fight his way back past Mika Hakkinen’s Lotus, Martin Brundle’s Benetton and Gerhard Berger’s McLaren.
Off the track there was trouble for Mansell as Renault were pressuring Williams to sign Alain Prost for 1993, the Englishman took great exception to this as it was Prost’s political games at Ferrari in 1990 that forced Mansell to initially announce his retirement. Ayrton Senna was also negotiating with Frank for a 1993 drive, however this move was scuppered due to Prost’s “no Senna” clause. Mansell once again “retired” from the sport and announced he would be going to race in the American IndyCar series. At the final race of the season Mansell was taken out by Senna after the Brazilian mis-judged his braking and slammed into the back of the Williams, by then the Englishman was glad to be getting away from Formula One and went on to win the IndyCar Championship in his “rookie” season.
After Senna’s tragic death at Imola in 1994, Formula One suddenly found itself with no Champions left on the grid, Prost had retired after the end of the 1993 season. Mansell was having a dismal season defending his title in America, Frank wanted him back in the team as the sport needed a hero. Mansell agreed to return for a few races in between his IndyCar commitments, in the meantime the vacant seat at Williams would be given to test driver David Coulthard. Mansell made his return at the French Grand Prix and immediately made his presence felt by helping Damon Hill take pole position, Mansell would line up second. In the race Mansell retired after struggling to keep up with Hill and Schumacher.
Mansell would return for the European Grand Prix at Jerez onwards, but it was at the final two races of the season where signs of his true pace started to show again. In the torrential conditions at Suzuka he spent the majority of the race duelling with Jean Alesi’s Ferrari in a superb display of racecraft by both drivers. Mansell did get past Alesi in the closing stages at the Casio Chicane, however due to the race running on aggregate timing, after being red flagged earlier, Mansell was still classified behind the French-Sicilian.
At the final race of the season in Adelaide, where Damon Hill and Michael Schumacher were challenging for the Championship, Mansell stole pole position from Schumacher by a few thousandths of a second. Come race day Mansell made a poor start and dropped several places on the first lap. After Schumacher controversially took out Hill and claimed the Championship Gerhard Berger was leading from Mansell, however the Ferrari driver then made an error coming onto the back straight allowing the Williams driver back into lead. After a torrid 1994 for the Williams team Mansell’s win did a lot to try and end the season on a happier note. This would be Mansell’s final victory and although he was in frame for a 1995 seat with Williams, David Coulthard was eventually chosen over him.
5. Alain Prost (1993, Championship winner in 1993)
Thanks to political pressure from Renault, desiring to see a French Champion with Renault power, Prost was given a drive at Williams for 1993, after a sabbatical year “the professor” was back in Formula One. Ayrton Senna had also been pushing for a Williams drive throughout 1992 but Prost had a “no Senna” clause inserted into his contract, enraging the Brazilian leading him to label Prost as a “coward”.
Many predicted Prost would stroll to the title with ease, the FW15C was, and still is today, regarded as the most technologically advanced Formula One car ever built. It was also purpose built around the driver-aids, as these had essentially been “bodged on” to the FW14. Prost won at the first time of asking in South Africa despite making a poor start, which became very common throughout the season. Prost then crashed out in Brazil after tangling with a backmarker when the heavens opened. At the following race at Donington Park in the wet Prost not only found himself beaten by Senna yet again but also by his new team-mate Damon Hill, and almost beaten by Rookie Rubens Barrichello in the Jordan. In San Marino and Spain it was business as usual with Prost re-stamping his authority on the Championship.
At the Monaco Grand Prix Prost was judged to have jumped the start and was given a 10 second penalty for it, however after he served it he stalled the car and had trouble getting away several times! It allowed his great rival Senna to open a five point lead however Prost then won the following four races on the trot, including another win on home-soil in France and a gifted win at Silverstone when team-mate Hill’s engine expired whilst beating the Frenchman. Prost earned another win in Germany thanks to Hill’s misfortune whilst leading, despite having earned another 10 second penalty for missing a chicane on the first lap. This would go on to be Prost’s fifty-first and final Grand Prix win.
After stalling on the grid in Hungary Prost could only manage twelfth, but by finishing third in Belgium he was set to win the Championship at Monza until it was his turn to have an engine failure. Prost eventually claimed the Championship by finishing second in Portugal to Michael Schumacher, and raced the German to the line. At this time Senna had finally got himself the Williams drive he had wanted so much for the 1994 season and Prost decided to retire now he had collected his fourth title.
Senna won the final two races in Japan and Australia, but on the podium at the final race Senna and Prost embraced each other, their bitter feud was over.
6. Damon Hill (1993 – 1996, Championship winner in 1996)
The son of Graham was signed by Williams as a test driver in 1991 and 1992. Having made his Formula One debut for the dying Brabham team in 1992 Hill was a surprise choice for the Williams drive alongside Alain Prost for 1993. Hill’s many testing miles behind the FW14 and FW14B meant he knew the cars well and he was a good development driver.
Hill qualified fourth on his debut in South Africa but spun out early on after tangling with Alex Zanardi’s Lotus. In Brazil, after Prost dropped out when it started to rain, Hill found himself leading his first Grand Prix and in only his fourth Grand Prix start. Predictably in the wet conditions he was caught and passed by Senna, but still finished a fine. Halfway through the season at the British Grand Prix he overtook Prost at the start and calmly led every lap since, until his engine failed in a cloud of smoke. A fortnight later in Germany there was another cruel twist of fate for Hill when he had a tyre failure in the closing laps, once again handing the win to Prost. In Hungary it was Hill’s turn to benefit from troubles which plagued Prost, the Frenchman not only stalled on the grid but finished eleventh after having to pit to repair his rear wing, and the Englishman took his very first victory. Hill proved this was not a fluke for he followed his maiden win up by beating Prost in a straight fight in Belgium and benefited from Prost suffering an engine failure in Italy, completing a hat-trick that Graham would have been proud of.
After finishing third in the Championship 1994 saw a very tough start for the team and himself. The new FW16 was plagued with problems, but whilst Prost’s replacement Senna was able to drive around the problems Hill found himself outpaced considerably. After the tragic weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix where Senna lost his life Hill found himself as the team leader, very much like his father Graham did at Lotus in 1968 after the death of team-mate Jim Clark. Just like his father Damon carried the team forward to challenge Schumacher, taking an emotional victory in Spain courtesy of the German’s Benetton getting stuck in fifth gear. In July that season Hill finally managed to do what his father didn’t during his career, win the British Grand Prix. After taking pole by 0.003 seconds from Schumacher Hill drove superbly whilst Schumacher and Benetton self-destructed after the German twice overtook the Williams on the formation lap, failed to take a penalty and got subsequently disqualified.
After Benetton appealed Schumacher’s disqualification and lost, the German was banned for the Italian and Portuguese Grand Prix, races which Hill duly won. Hill was also gifted a win in Belgium after Schumacher crossed the line first, but was later disqualified for having too much wear on the wooden plank attached to the underside of his Benetton. Despite Schumacher winning again on his return at the European Grand Prix at Jerez, one of Hill’s best drives came at Suzuka in a torrential downpour. Hill drove superbly in conditions that favoured Schumacher to beat the German by three seconds on aggregate timing, and close to one point going into the final race. At the Adelaide circuit on race day both Schumacher and Hill passed Mansell at the start and remained nose-to-tail for thirty-four laps until Schumacher ran wide and grazed the wall, damaging his car. Hill saw Schumacher re-join the track but wasn’t aware Schumacher had terminally damaged his car, the Englishman went on the inside of the Benetton but the German turned into the Williams, damaging its wishbone, putting him out of the race. Hill returned to the pits but the damage was too much to repair and Schumacher won the first of his seven Championships, in controversial style.
Hill vowed to come back fighting in 1995, however despite the FW17 being a much superior car to the Benetton B195 Schumacher won the title yet again. Both the team and drivers lost both Championships thanks to many errors and bad strategies that season. For Hill the worst of these came in Germany where he inexplicably spun off into the gravel at the first corner on the start of lap two, Britain when he tried a risky overtake on Schumacher going into Priory and took himself and the German out and Italy when he tangled with Schumacher again whilst lapping Taki Inoue. Although Hill got his act together to win the final Australian Grand Prix to be held at Adelaide, by two whole laps, the title had long gone to Schumacher and behind the scenes there was talk of him being replaced.
With Schumacher going to Ferrari for 1996 many thought this would easily be Hill’s year, which it would go on to be, but it wouldn’t be without a fight. The challenge came from reigning IndyCar Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Whilst Hill led the Championship the entire season, with his younger French-Canadian team-mate managing to take the title to the wire, it was revealed during the summer that Hill’s contract would not be renewed for the 1997 season and he would be replaced by Heinz-Harald Frentzen. This move caused public outrage with the British fans and media, but with Frank keen to have the coveted No. 1 on his car, the team started to focus more on Jacques. Adrian Newey, responsible for designing the Williams cars that contributed to their 1990′s dominance, had been disgusted with this turn of events and was due to leave the team at the end of the season. He offered Damon his support.
For 1996 the FW18 featured a new hand-clutch, Hill struggled to get to grips with it and it caused him to have some terrible starts around mid-season, undoing all the hard work he had put in during qualifying. Come the closing stages of the season a foot-clutch was finally put in Hill’s car and with this he was able to make a superb start at the Japanese Grand Prix, from second behind his title rival Jacques, to take the lead. He stayed there for the entire race, clinching his well-deserved Championship on lap thirty-six, when a wheel fell off Jacques’ car, and made the occasion even more special by winning the race. Hill had finally followed his father Graham into the record books, and BBC commentator Murray Walker was so overcome with emotion he “had to stop” because he had a “lump in his throat”.
7. Jacques Villeneuve (1996 – 1998)
The debut of Gilles’ son in Formula One was regarded as one of the most spectacular in history, until Lewis Hamilton arrived on the scene eleven years later. Jacques was the reigning IndyCar Champion and had won the 1995 Indy 500.
At the season opener in Melbourne Australia the French-Canadian surprised many when he qualified on pole ahead of his more experienced team-mate. Jacques held of Hill for most of the race until he had an oil leak and was forced to slow, crucially dropping him to second place. With Champion Michael Schumacher having a shaky first season at Ferrari Jacques was Hill’s immediate rival for the Championship, he took wins in Germany, Britain and Hungary. On his way to winning in Portugal he crucially overtook Schumacher on the outside of the Parabollica and used the draft from a slower Minardi to pull ahead of the Ferrari. Going into the final race in Japan he was nine points behind Hill and had to win, despite starting on pole he made a dreadful start and dropped to seventh at the first corner. On lap thirty-six his right-rear came flying off the car and into the crowd, the title was Hill’s.
With Hill forced out of Williams and into the Arrows team everybody thought Jacques would have it all his way for 1997, however he didn’t even make the first corner in Australia as he collided with Johnny Herbert’s Sauber. In Brazil he almost suffered the same fate again as he ran wide at the first corner, but drove a good recovery drive to take the lead back and win his first race of the season. This was followed up by wins in Argentina, after withstanding late pressure from Eddie Irvine’s Ferrari, and Spain, but at the Monaco Grand Prix the team made a bad decision to put both Jacques and team-mate Heinz Harald Frentzen on slick tyres in wet conditions. The team believed it would stop raining, but Jacques crashed out on lap 17.
Schumacher would go on to win this race and then again in Canada and France, where embarrassingly on home soil Jacques had an early crash into the infamous “Wall of Champions”. Jacques would take four more victories going into the penultimate race at Suzuka, however during a free practice session he failed to slow down for yellow flags being waved for Jos Verstappen’s stricken Tyrrell. Jacques believed he didn’t need to slow down as it was on a straight however the stewards took a dim view and relegated him to the back of the grid, however under appeal he started from the pole position spot. Schumacher won the race and although Jacques finished fifth he was disqualified.
The title went down to the wire once again at Jerez in Spain Jacques took pole, but incredibly Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen set exactly the same times as him, however with Jacques being the first to set the time he kept the pole. At the start Schumacher stormed into the lead and Frentzen passed Jacques, only to be ordered out of the way by the team on lap eight. Schumacher pulled out a large lead however by the second round of pit stops Jacques was rapidly closing, then on lap forty-eight he dived down the inside of Schumacher into the Dry Sack corner. Just as with Hill in 1994 the German turned in on Jacques deliberately, damaging the Williams but not enough to put it out of the race. Jacques continued to finish third, although he dropped behind both McLarens on the last lap, it was enough to see him win the Championship and to this day it is the last drivers and constructors Championship Williams has won. Schumacher meanwhile was disqualified from the Championship for his dangerous tactics.
The FW20 for 1998 was not competitive and only Ferrari were quick enough to challenge the stronger McLarens. Jacques could not defend his crown and was eventually tempted to the new British American Racing project for 1999, set up by his manager Craig Pollock.