Williams’ first world champion reflects on a ‘sad day’
By Mat Coch
Friday 4th September, 2020 - 5:40pm
The departure of the Williams family from Formula 1 is a sad day for 1980 world champion Alan Jones.
The first driver to win a championship for Williams, Jones has remained in contact with the team and its eponymous owner Frank Williams ever since.
With news that the team has been sold to Dorilton Capital, it marks the end of a more than five-decade run for the family name in the sport.
“It’s sad in one respect, but working on the basis that nothing remains the same forever, I mean you look at the number of Formula 1 teams that have come and gone,” Jones, who is an Ambassador and Adviser to Lloyd’s Auctions, told Speedcafe.com.
“I just think this has a special connotation because it has the family involvement, and I think that appealed to a lot of people.
“It was a true family effort and the passion and the time and the effort that Frank put into that team was just extraordinary.
“I think it’s just an unbelievable testament to his enthusiasm and passion that he kept at it for so long.”
Jones joined Williams in 1978 at a time when he’d been set to move to Ferrari – his seat there taken by Gilles Villeneuve.
Paddock conversations with Williams, and a meeting with designer and team co-founder Patrick Head, convinced him to join the team.
At that point, Williams had not achieved success, though had laid the ground work for the team that became Wolff, which won races with Jody Scheckter in 1977.
A second place at the United States Grand Prix in 1978 was the highlight of the year before the introduction of the FW07 midway through the following season helped transform the team into world championship contenders.
“I had a contract but Ferrari chose to ignore that and signed up Villeneuve because they wanted to enhance the sales of their vehicles in North America,” Jones recounted.
“But I was talking to Frank, as I was a lot of other people.
“I’ve always liked Frank. I always used to speak to him in the paddock, passing by and so forth.
“He seemed a very amicable sort of a bloke. I knew that he was a major trier; he mightn’t have had the runs on the board but I knew that he was a major trier.
“Meeting Patrick (Head) at Didcot and talking to him, seeing FW06 was a major turning point, besides the fact it had Saudia written all over it and I knew they had plenty of money!”
The FW06 was the first car fully designed by Williams, making its debut in 1978 before carrying on for the opening four rounds of 1979.
Jones won three races in a row in the second half of the season, and fourth in five races to finish third in the championship behind Scheckter and Villeneuve in the drivers’ championship.
Williams finished second in the title race, laying the foundation for future success in the process.
In 1980, Jones led the team to a maiden world championship, an especially fond memory for the Australian.
“I’m very proud that I was in the foundation of it, for sure,” he said.
“I’m very proud of what I achieved with Williams.
“The fact that Patrick and Frank and myself were all similar ages and all had a singular goal, obviously, and we all just worked to that affect, it all gelled. It just worked perfectly.
“Obviously winning the world championship with them is irreplaceable in terms of memories, but I had some wonderful times with Frank and Patrick,” he added.
“I used to go to Frank’s house and play tennis on the weekend. My wife got on very well with Ginny (Williams, Frank’s wife).
“I got on really well with Patrick, it was all just – it was more or less a family.
“Frank has this ability to be able to get the very best out of me; I don’t know about the other drivers, but it always felt very comfortable with Frank.”
In the years since his retirement Jones has remained in contact with his former bosses, and speaks occasionally to this day.
“I speak to them occasionally,” he said.
“Obviously see them if I go to a race, I always make a b-line down to the Williams hospitality thing for a free coffee!
“I speak to Patrick occasionally, I still try and keep in touch with them.
“Geographically I’m a little bit disadvantaged; If I lived in England I’d probably see a lot more of them.”
It’s left him feeling part of the extended family, a theme that was true of the atmosphere within the team while he was a driver and, he suggests, has remained to this day.
“I can only speak for the time I was there, and on the odd occasions I’ve observed, but Frank’s always managed to have a great atmosphere within the team,” he said
“Most people that work for Frank loved him, they would do anything for him.
“He always managed to have a very good atmosphere. It was in the working relationship and on a personal basis.”
From next weekend the Williams name will be the only legacy of Frank Williams’ career in the F1 paddock, a point which has left Jones somewhat philosophical.
“The older I get the less I get to know people in the paddock anyway,” he reasoned.
“Nothing is forever. Everything changes.
“You know, Formula 1 is a great sort of eater-upper of people; whether you burn out or whether you go on to other things, it’s very rare to see an extremely long term employment situation.
“With Frank, I know Dickie Stanford that runs the racing car museum, he’s been there forever, and there are people that have been there for a long, long time.
“I think that’s a pretty good indictment on Frank and Claire.
“If you go to any industry and you see that some guy’s been there for 20, 30, 40 years, you think they must be doing something right.
“In all respects, (Williams) right up there in terms of results, it’s up there in terms of continued, the participation,” he added.
“You had Lotus with Colin Chapman, well that’s no longer; you had Ligier, that’s no longer.
“These were all basically individuals who started and helped run the teams, but they’re no longer.
“For me, it’s very pleasing that the name Williams will continue.”