Sir Frank Williams, the Formula One giant who died today at the logic-defying age of 79, was one of sport’s great survivors.

A swashbuckling young man, with a lean and fit physique, who was so in love with Virginia that he swept her off her feet, later became the wheelchair-bound, distinctive figure, whose appearance gained him instant attention even among those without a keen interest in grand prix-racing, which captivated him until the very end.

Believed to have been the world’s oldest quadriplegic, Williams led his eponymous team to nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles during their 1980s and 1990s heyday, either side of a terrible road accident.

Williams F1 team founder Sir Frank Williams has sadly passed away at the age of 78

Sir Frank Williams, the founder of Williams F1 has tragically died at the age 78

Right up until 2020, Williams had been a near constant presence in grand prix racing going back to the 1960s. Above he is pictured at his team's former Didcot base where he started his own team Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1978

Williams was a constant presence at grand prix racing since the 1960s, right up to 2020. He is shown above at the Didcot base, where he founded his Williams Grand Prix Engineering team in 1978.

This happened in 1986 as he drove back to the Paul Ricard Circuit in South France after finishing pre-season testing. He had a case of what he called ‘get-home-itus’ (he was due to run a half-marathon on his return, a feat he could manage in about 1hr 20min) and put his foot to the floor, as was his wont.

He was a speed junkie, a bug he caught at school, St Joseph’s College, Dumfries, when he grabbed a ride in his friend’s Jaguar XK150. His mother reluctantly loaned him the Morris 1000 and he eventually rolled it.

In fact, he rode many of the cars that he raced and earned a reputation for his foolhardiness. He was quick, but not without limits. Virginia, who instantly fell head over heels for him three months before her own first marriage, called him a ‘suicide lane driver’.

Williams was born in 1942, pictured above is an early childhood picture of him sitting at a table

Williams was born 1942. The picture above shows Williams sitting at a table in his early childhood.

Williams stands in the pit-lane in the build up to the 1974 Italian Grand Prix at Monza

Overlooking the pit-lane in 1985 at Monza, he stands beside Keke Rosberg's car who became world champion driving a Williams car in 1982

Williams entered his private car into F1 races throughout the 1970s, even before forming his own team. In the photo, he is left with Keke Rosberg and in the pit-lane during the 1974 Italian Grand Prix. In 1982, the Finn was awarded the World Championship in Williams.

It was March 8th 1986 when he took a sharp left-hand turn in his Ford Sierra rental vehicle to get to Nice Airport. His spine was broken when he fell 8ft. He was unhurt. His passenger, Peter Windsor (team PR), wasn’t seriously injured.

Williams was first taken to hospital in France, then later in London. He ‘died’ three times and lost the use of his body from the shoulders down for the rest of his life.

Williams was not affected by his condition. Unblinkingly, he told his wife, whose care and love helped keep him alive: ‘Ginny, as I see it, I have had 40 fantastic years of one sort of life. Now I shall have another 40 years of a different kind of life.’

He did. Always underpinned by Ginny, until her death of cancer in 2013, he refused to let his injuries dim his verve for life – a life essentially given over to motor racing.

Before starting the Williams team seen in Formula One today, Sir Frank had an earlier outfit set up under his own full name before selling it in 1976. Above is the team's garage ahead of the 1973 Swedish Grand Prix in Anderstorp

Sir Frank owned an older outfit before he started the Williams team. It was sold in 1976. This is the garage used by the team for Anderstorp’s 1973 Swedish Grand Prix.

After starting a new team in Didcot in 1978, it took Williams (left) just two years to build a championship winning car driven by Australian Alan Jones (right) in 1980

Williams started a Didcot-based team in 1978. It took Williams just two more years to create a winning championship car, driven by Alan Jones of Australia in 1980.

His cars quickly became attractive to Formula One's  top drivers as he shares a discussion along with three-time world champion Niki Lauda in 1982 at the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder

His cars quickly became attractive to Formula One’s  top drivers as he shares a discussion along with three-time world champion Niki Lauda in 1982 at the Belgian Grand Prix in Zolder

Frank Williams was born in the Second World War, to a South Shields bomber pilot father and teacher mother. After he graduated from Tyneside’s South Shields High School, he began motor racing in his capacity as both a driver or mechanic, before starting Frank Williams Racing Cars.

He struggled to find money in those days and became known as a dealer, or a charmer who used a few tricks just to get by.

Piers Courage, his Eton-educated friend drove for him and finished second in both the Monaco Grand Prix in 1969 and in the US Grand Prix in 1970. Courage passed away in Holland the year after his funeral. Williams was left shaken and unable to bear the thought of losing him.

His phone was shut down due to unpaid bills, which is something that is well-known. A few years later, he hosted a sponsorship event on BT Tower’s revolving floors. He thanked his hosts and said that it was generous considering he still owed money.

Williams's heyday came in the 1980s and 1990s when Sir Frank and his technical director Sir Patrick Head (left) helped build one of the biggest and successful teams in F1

Williams’s glory days were in the 1980s/90s when Sir Frank, his technical director and Sir Patrick Head (left), built one of F1’s most powerful and successful teams.

NIgel Mansell (left) and Nelson Piquet were Williams team-mates in the 1980s and were among the biggest racing stars of the decade as they duelled for championships in Sir Frank's cars

Nelson Piquet and NIgel Mansell were Williams teammates in 1980s racing. They were the greatest racing stars of that decade, competing for Sir Frank’s championships.

He was forced to close his factory after he sold his company to Walter Wolff (Canadian oil magnate). This crushing blow left him depressed – though that was not a word this proud, almost repressed man, would ever have countenanced – and he spent six weeks in his pyjamas.

He was soon joined by Patrick Head, the star engineer who would later be knighted. Williams Grand Prix Engineering was established in 1977 at Didcot, then Grove, Oxfordshire. Wins and titles followed in a flood, first with Alan Jones in 1980 and then with men like Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and finally Jacques Villeneuve in 1997 – in all, a greater haul than any team other than Ferrari and McLaren.

Ayrton Senna, who was driving a Williams at San Marino Grand Prix 1994, died amid all the excitement. Frank was initially charged in Italy with manslaughter, but these charges were dropped following years of legal conflict.

A 1986 car crash left Williams quadriplegic but he refused to let it drive him away from leading his team as he is pictured alongside Mansell just months after the life changing incident

Williams became quadriplegic in a 1986 car accident. But he refused let this stop him leading his team. He is seen here with Mansell, just months after that life-changing incident.

Williams was always busy around the team garage as he looks on at Damon Hill's car ahead of the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps

Williams spent his time in the garage, while Damon Hill watched from Damon Hill’s car before the 1993 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps. 

Williams led his eponymous team to nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles. Above he is congratulated on his team's double success in 1996 by Prince Albert of Monaco (left) and by then F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone who prepares to award him the constructors' trophy

Williams led his eponymous team to nine constructors’ and seven drivers’ titles. Below, he’s congratulated for his double success with F1 in 1996 by Prince Albert de Monaco (left), and Bernie Ecclestone (right), who are preparing to give him the constructors’ trophy

He said of the Brazilian’s death: ‘It hasn’t sunk in yet, the same slowness of realisation that helped me get over my own accident. I suppose that is why I am so calm about expressing the fact that he (Senna) is dead.’

Williams looked haunted as the country honored his much-loved child at the Sao Paulo funeral.

Williams was loved by all his children and adored by them. He is also a father who will be missed. He took his three kids, Claire, Jamie and Jonathan on an annual vacation to Marbella 32 times. Frank did not join them. He put work first. 

Three-time champion Ayrton Senna (left) was signed by Williams for the 1994 season where he would become team-mate to Damon Hill (right) who won the world title with the team in 1996

Williams signed Ayrton Senna, a three-time world champion (left), for 1994. He would be team-mate with Damon Hill (right), who took home the 1996 title.

Williams was left haunted by the death of Senna following his fatal crash at the 1994 San Marino GP in his car, above he attends the Brazilian's statue unveiling at the Imola circuit

Williams’ tragic death in 1994 San Marino GP was a haunting memory. Below, he attended Senna’s unveiling ceremony at Imola. 

He was not seen as often in recent years due to his declining mental and physical health. Their fortunes also fell apart, with Pastor Maldonado winning the Spanish Grand Prix in 2012.

Following Ginny’s death, he named Claire, his daughter, deputy principal of the team. This caused an uneasy relationship between Claire and her brother Jonathan.

Claire gradually took full command, though ‘Frank’, as even she called him in public at least, remained team principal in name and repute until, struggling for funds, they sold up last September to American investment company Dorilton Capital for £136million.

Williams was to remain at the front door, and the new owners promised it.

Williams watches the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix with his daughter Claire (left) and his wife Ginny who cheers with then shareholder Toto Wolff following the team's last race win in Barcelona

Williams and Claire, his daughter (left), watch the Spanish Grand Prix 2012 with Ginny, his wife Ginny, who is cheering with Toto Wolff after the team’s win in Barcelona.

Claire Williams acted as deputy team principal to her father from 2013 up until the midway point of the 2020 season when the team was sold

Claire Williams was the deputy principal of her team from 2013 until mid-season 2020 when she sold the team.

Despite declining health in recent years, Sir Frank would still attend races when he could and was in the paddock for the 2019 British Grand Prix held at Silverstone (above)

Even though his health has declined in recent years Sir Frank still attended races and was present in the paddock at the British Grand Prix 2019 held at Silverstone (above).