Williams F1: One of the Year’s Essential Documentaries

Williams F1 documentary
I feel the need for speed.

Williams is much more than just an F1 documentary, it’s a film about changing social attitudes, women’s liberation, success, tragedy, and disability.

It’s a story for everyone as it takes in the struggles of life, dealing with adversity, and battling on in the name of your passion.

The Williams F1 Documentary

If you have no interest in Formula One, fear not, as this is a riveting documentary about one family which rose to become a legend.

Led by Frank William’s relentless enthusiasm for motorsport but, also, his wife Virginia and now daughter Claire, who fronts the Williams F1 team and its £110 million annual assault for glory.

As with Senna from 2010, this is more of a study on the human condition as opposed to a look at F1.

What struck us was how moving everything becomes, from the early days of youthful hedonism in the early ’60s to international success, big business, controversy, tragedy, severe injury, disability, and battling against adversity.

This documentary rather profoundly affected us after the first viewing, we must admit. We went in concerned it might be a corporate romp along.

The team is, essentially, a global business after all, but the family didn’t hold back and this is a deeply personal and moving account of 40+ years of triumph and tragedy.

Summarising the team for those not in the know, in the 1960s a young Frank Williams began a racing team after his failures as a driver convinced him to try something new.

Teaming up with dashing young British driver Piers Courage, events spiralled around for a decade until Frank formed the Williams F1 team in the late ’70s.

In the early 1980s, after signing brilliant engineers Frank Dernie and Patrick Head, things drastically changed and Williams became one of the leading F1 teams, winning titles in 1980 and 1982.

Then came 1986. The gregarious, energetic, charismatic Frank Williams was paralysed in a road accident.

Having almost died and left quadriplegic (he’s able to use his arms to propel himself in a wheelchair, but has no feeling in his arms and can’t use his fingers), the man’s attitude to all this has been remarkable.

To this day he remains largely jovial about his situation. He hasn’t complained once and has approached his life-changing accident with a sense of humour, although the period of adaptation took its psychological toll on his family.

Whilst Williams went from success to success in F1, further tragedy marred events, including the death of Ayrton Senna, which led to numerous legal inquiries. The Italian courts hounded Williams and Patrick Head up until the mid-’00s.

Head has since retired and Frank Williams presides over events more as an enthusiast (incidentally, for their efforts in motorsport both have been knighted).

His fabulous daughter Claire has been a trailblazing force for women in F1, rising to the top of the team by hard grit.

Seriously, her father didn’t give her an easy route and didn’t seem, at first, to want her to run the team.

But you could argue the central, unseen figure of the whole documentary is Virginia (“Ginny”) Williams, Frank’s charismatic wife.

Although she sadly died in 2013 of cancer, she was clearly a force to be reckoned with and had played a huge part in ensuring the Williams team stayed afloat following the 1986 disaster.

The book she wrote about her experiences remains a key talking point in the film as her husband has yet to read it, which leads to a particularly moving end to the documentary.

Following her passing, Frank Williams admits in the documentary he now rarely goes home and, instead, sleeps in the team’s factory.

At the heart of it all is F1 and his love for the sport, speed, technology, and everything else, which keeps the Sir Frank Williams more than occupied and humble.

He never fails to point out how privileged and lucky he’s been in life, and we think that’s an inspiration for all of us.

Tribute to Sir Frank Williams

Sadly, we’re updating this documentary review on 28/11/2021 with the incredibly sad news Sir Frank Williams passed away today.

Many tributes have been flooding in to celebrate the life and achievements of this iconic figure of the sport.

We have a huge amount of respect for him and think he was pretty much a one-off as a personality and someone who added so much to Formula 1.

Along with the loss of Murray Walker in March of this year, we’re now reaching the end of several eras in the sport’s storied history.

Sir Frank Williams will be greatly missed.

We can only add rest in peace and our many condolences to Claire Williams and the entire family. He leaves behind an amazing legacy.

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