This year marks Williams F1 team’s fortieth birthday. Yep, 40 years ago, Sir Frank Williams and automotive engineer Sir Patrick Head (who at the time was skint and working on boats) got together to go racing in the fiercest championship in motoring: Formula One. It’s a partnership that’s become insanely dominant. And was celebrated by a cast of champions and back catalogue of immensely cool cars at a special 40th birthday bash at Silverstone recently.
Over the last 40 years, Williams has won 16 FIA Formula One World Championships (Ferrari is the only other team that’s won more Constructors’ Championships than them), seven drivers’ titles, scored 114 victories, 311 podiums and 128 pole positions. What started out as just 17 people tinkering away on F1 cars has exploded into an engineering and F1 company that has more than 600 extremely brainy people on its books working out of Grove, Oxfordshire.
It’s also been a proving ground for big names, both on the pit wall and driver’s seat. The team gave Ayrton Senna his first F1 test in 1983. It was with Williams that Nigel Mansell scored his first Grand Prix win and his only world title in 1992. Damon Hill took all but one of his 22 race victories and the ’96 world title with them. Then there’s the some of F1’s cleverest clever people including Adrian Newey, Paddy Lowe, Ross Brawn, Neil Oatley and Frank Dernie who all cut their teeth at Williams.
But not content with a cake with forty candles on it, Williams decided to do something a bit bigger to celebrate turning the big Four-Oh. Last week, the team invited 50,000 fans to Silverstone to watch some of its most iconic heritage cars – as well as this year’s F1 car – scream around the track while legends of the sport casually milled around the pit lane: Nico Rosberg (who drove for Williams between 2006-09) joined his father Keke (who won his only Driver’s Championship with Williams in 1982) as well as other champs such as Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill and Williams’ last race winner Pastor Maldonado (we still have no idea how that happened) as well as its current drivers, Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll.
Then there were the cars. A cross section of a forty-year history was present; all the way from the March 761/7 (that started it all when Williams made its Grand Prix debut in 1977) through iconic designs like the FW06, FW07, FW07B, FW08B, FW10, FW11, FW14B, FW15C, FW18, FW19, FW34 and this year’s car were all on display and stretching their legs on track.
It was Nigel Mansell’s title-winning FW14B that stole the show, though. The incredibly technical and revolutionary car took to the track for the first time in 25 years (it hasn’t run since winning the title in 1992). Ex-F1 driver Karun Chandhok – who is the official driver of the Williams Heritage division – fired up the V10 monster, let the active suspension do its thing as he gingerly did a handful of laps in the Renault-powered car desperately trying not to crash it.
We only wish you could have heard it. But as a compromise, click through the gallery above and let us know your favourite car below. Let us guess, it’s the one with six wheels, right?