If you’re a Formula One fan over the age of thirty, the Williams F1 team probably played a part in how you either discovered the sport or the reason why you fell in love with it.

With 114 Grand Prix victories, 7 Drivers’ Championships and 9 Constructors’ Championships, Williams are one of the most successful teams in F1 history, and since their debut, only two teams – McLaren and Ferrari – have been more successful.

When I think of the Williams team, my mind immediately conjures up images of Damon Hill’s blue-and-white Rothmans-clad car of the mid-nineties, or of Nigel Mansell being mobbed on his way back to the pits, moments after winning the British Grand Prix.

There was, is, and always will be, something special about this team. Grit and determination in abundance, a never say die attitude, and above all else, some of the most beautiful and iconic cars to have ever graced a racetrack.

But have you ever wondered what happens to these cars once their final race has run? It seems a waste to imagine the race-winning machinery of Alain Prost, Hill, Alan Jones and Nelson Piquet now sitting in an empty warehouse, gathering dust.

The Williams heritage collection
The Williams Heritage Collection. Image Courtesy – Williams Grand Prix Engineering

Fortunately, Williams recognised that they were sitting on probably the finest collection of Formula One race machinery in the world, and in 2014 they set about restoring these cars so that they can be returned to the track once again.

The division is headed by Jonathan Williams, son of founder Sir Frank, and managed by former Williams race team manager Dickie Stanford. I spoke with Jonathan at the recent Goodwood Festival of Speed, and he explained to me how they choose which cars to exhibit at which events.

“In terms of having cars available for events such as this, we usually would always keep a DFV (Cosworth Double Four Valve) car in the loop, so an early Williams from the late seventies or early eighties – that’s what you’re seeing here this weekend with the FW08C. We’re trying to identify cars that we can bring to the market to engage with our clients, hence those are the cars that you’re largely seeing here.

The FW13B (the 1990 car) is in that program and the FW17 (from 1995) is working towards that program. It’s still part of the way through its restoration, so we chose to assemble it so we can present it as you see here, but not long after we get back to our factory in Grove it will be disassembled again so Dickie Stanford and his heritage team can continue with the restoration.”

Damon Hill driving the Williams FW17 at Spa in 1995.
Damon Hill in the Williams FW17. Image Credit: F1-Photo.com

At Goodwood, Williams chose to exhibit three iconic cars from their collection – Keke Rosberg’s FW08C, Thierry Boutsen’s FW13B, and Damon Hill’s FW17. Three very different cars, each presenting a unique challenge to the Williams team as they attempt to return them to the track.

“As long as your awareness and monitoring of their storage conditions are good, when that car is something that you wish to focus on, it should be a pretty good platform for you to start with. When you actually get to that point, we would prepare a car as per a Williams race car – such as an FW38 that’s presently racing – we would process a heritage car similarly.” , Jonathan explains.

“We have a great deal of what I call ‘Williams lifers’ – people who have been here as long, if not longer than the cars. We have a lot of hands-on experience which really is the most valuable form of data you can have.”

Dickie Stanford
Dickie Stanford. Image Courtesy – Williams Racing, Glenn Dunbar, LAT Photographic

Jonathan explains that the heritage division owes a lot to the experience of one such ‘Williams lifer’, Dickie Stanford, who has played an important role in getting the project up and running.

“Dickie is the general manager, so the experience he brings is that he has been hands on with many of these cars as they evolve through testing and racing. Dickie and I plan all of the programs which are required to meet any goal we might have. An end goal might be a car for sale or attendance at an event or festival.

Once we have the end goal in mind, we then plan back from that and decide what we need to do, and then he and I will split the responsibilities between us. 

Dickie will largely focus on the preparation of the cars so that will involve planning with the factory, the resource allocation for factory departments, he’ll also plan with outside suppliers and then choreograph human resource.”

Karun Chandhok driving the Williams FW13B at the 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed
Karun Chandhok in the FW13B. Image Courtesy – LAT Photographic/Williams Grand Prix Engineering

Driving the FW08C and FW13B at Goodwood was former F1 driver turned Channel 4 pit-lane reporter, Karun Chandhok. Williams recently confirmed Chandhok as their official Heritage driver, and Jonathan explained to me how the role came about.

“I first met Karun in 2003 when he was competing in the British F3 championship. We had a mutual friend and began spending time together, and I knew straight away that he was someone who had a great knowledge and a deep passion for Formula One, not just contemporary, but also its history.

Several years later in 2008, he came and drove for the team that I was a co-owner of in GP2, iSport International, and we won a race in Hockenheim with him and had a podium in Monaco as well. A couple of years after that I was looking for a driver for, I believe, the 2010 Goodwood Festival of Speed, and it was just a very simple arrival at the idea. Since 2010 he’s driven for us on several occasions both publicly and behind the scenes conducting shakedowns of our heritage cars.

I thought why not make it official? The Formula One division has drivers; why shouldn’t we have a heritage driver?”

In part two, we’ll be speaking with Karun himself to find out which of the Williams heritage cars were trickiest to drive, and which gave him the most satisfaction!