A brief history of the Williams F1 team, including the team's origins, past drivers and its racing record in the F1 world championship
The partnership between team owner Frank Williams and chief engineer Patrick Head started in 1977, when the newly-formed Williams F1 team made its début in the Spanish Grand Prix with a customer car provided by March Engineering and driven by Patrick Nève. Next season saw the team's first bespoke chassis, the FW06, designed by Head and driven by Alan Jones. Before the end of the season they had succeeded in capturing their first podium in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
The team's famous first victory came in 1979 at their home race at Silverstone courtesy of Clay Regazzoni. Jones then won four of the next five races, and the following year Jones and Williams succeeded in claiming the first of Williams' seven drivers' and nine constructors' titles. Subsequent world champions who won their campaigns with Williams were Keke Rosberg (1982), Nelson Piquet (1987), Nigel Mansell (1992), Alain Prost (1993), Damon Hill (1996) and Jacques Villeneuve (1997). The team's apex in success came during their nine-year partnership with Renault from 1989 to 1997, not least thanks to significant car design input from rising star Adrian Newey.
But it was not all good news: there was the road accident in March 1986 that left Frank Williams a tetraplegic and wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. And in 1994 came the terrible events at Imola, the fatal accident with Ayrton Senna at the wheel of the FW16 surely the team's darkest hour.
Since the turn of the century, the small independent team has found it increasingly hard to keep on an equal footing with the huge budgets of the likes of Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes. A switch to BMW power and a four-year driver partnership comprised of Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher delivered ten wins between 2001 and 2004 and two runners-up places in the constructors standings, but after that came a very lean spell. Partnerships with Toyota and Cosworth failed to deliver and not even a reunion with Renault in 2012-13 could revive Williams' flagging fortunes - although it did deliver one final Grand Prix win at Spain with Pastor Maldonado.
In the last two years, however, a switch to Mercedes engines and hiring Felipe Massa to partner Valtteri Bottas, together with Frank's daughter Claire taking over as deputy team principal, seems to have revived the team's fortunes. Together, they have given the Grove-based team a deserved new optimism for the future after back-to-back third places in the constructors’ standings in 2014 and ‘15.
2016 was somewhat disappointing for Williams, a 5th place finish in the constructors championship highlighting the issues the team faced with performance.
Felipe Massa announced his retirement from F1 in September 2016 only to announce his return in January 2017 following the departure of Valtteri Bottas to Mercedes (a result of Nico Rosberg's decision to retire after clinching the 2016 F1 Driver's championship). This leaves Williams with Lance Stroll and Felipe Massa in 2017 as the team hopes to improve on their 2016 results.