• Woman power

Woman power

Maurice Hamilton June 26, 2013
Virginia Williams received the constructors' trophy on behalf of Frank Williams at Brands Hatch in 1986 while he recovered from the accident that paralysed him from the chest down © Sutton Images

Williams may be about to celebrate their 600th Grand Prix but Sir Frank will be the first to tell you that none of this would have been possible without the feisty lady whose life was celebrated in London on Tuesday morning.

More than 250 people - many of them from Formula One - gathered in Knightsbridge to remember Lady Virginia 'Ginny' Williams. The Vicar of St. Paul's Church in Wilton Place summed up the sense and purpose of the occasion when he said it had been a sad, cold day in March when Lady Williams succumbed to cancer but, on this glorious summer's morning, it was time to spread sunshine and recall a full and active life.

The plain and enchanting fact is that Ginny Williams fell madly in love with Frank on first sight even though he was on the bones of his backside. Usually, in a romantic narrative such as this, it might be added that the struggling party had holes in his shoes and a shiny seat to his suit but Frank's priorities were such that, regardless of his dire financial situation, he would continue to view the tailors of Turnbull & Asser far ahead of Sainsbury's and only a shirt cuff behind Cosworth Engineering in his list of essentials for surviving.

Ginny's comfortable background came in handy when she sold her London apartment (without her family's knowledge) to help fund Frank's racing in 1973. She colluded with Frank in persuading landlords they would be suitable tenants for various cottages and houses in Berkshire when, in truth, they had to borrow the deposit, never mind finding the funds for the following month's rent.

It was a similar story at the rented factory in Reading where Frank based his fledgling team, the frequent arrival of bailiffs prompting a shift of office to the local telephone box at the end of the road. Ginny may have been slight in stature but she was huge on inner strength as she supported her man through this struggle to survive.

When they eventually got married in Reading Registry Office in August 1974, Frank allowed himself enough time to nip from the factory, smile all the way through the ceremony and then dash back to work, apologising profusely for having to forgo a lunch Ginny had organised with the Best Man and his wife. 'Terribly sorry, there's a Grand Prix coming up and - well, you know how it is…'

Frank's team was a Robbing Peter to Pay Paul outfit as his two or three mechanics were sent to Goodyear to root through the cast-offs from Ferrari in order to find a matching set for practice. Often, Frank would borrow £50 from Bernie Ecclestone or Ken Tyrrell in order to buy enough diesel to get the transporter home, Frank himself then scrounging the couple of quid necessary to get his motor out of the car park on returning to Heathrow.

All of that changed following the formation of Williams Grand Prix Engineering with Patrick Head in 1977 and the arrival of decent sponsorship. By the time Williams won their first Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1979, Mr. and Mrs. F. O. G. Williams finally had a decent roof over their heads and a place for Ginny to exercise her exquisite taste in furnishing and design.

Their well-deserved life style came crashing down in March 1986 when Frank had the road accident that would confine him to a wheelchair for the rest of his days. And he was, you could say, lucky to get that far. If it hadn't been for Ginny's dogged persistence and point blank refusal to accept the proffered inevitable by local medics, Frank would have died in the French hospital.

Ginny's feisty nature would work in parallel with Frank's refusal to feel sorry for himself but there could be no getting away from the fact that their lives had changed for ever. Ginny recorded her thoughts during these difficult days in one of the most honest and moving accounts you are ever likely to read on such a personal subject.

Her *book will help explain why the significant milestone of 600 Grands Prix has been reached through much more than the usual F1 requirements of engineering excellence, financial husbandry and clinical organisation.

The paraphrased saying 'Behind every great man and Grand Prix win stands a great woman' has never been so true in this instance.

*'A Different Kind of Life' by Virginia Williams and Pamela Cockerill (Doubleday).

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1 in the build-up to each Grand Prix.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
Maurice Hamilton Close
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live