Review: Williams F1 Documentary

In 2017 the Williams team celebrated four decades in Formula 1 with the release of a documentary that tells the most incredible story of one of the sport’s most successful teams.

Often sports documentaries have a tendency to be predictable but the perspective from which the Williams story is told is simultaneously unexpected and profound. The film is mainly based on the 1991 book, A Different Kind of Life, written by Lady Virginia Williams, late wife of Sir Frank Williams. As a result the film is infused with the sort of extraordinary authenticity that elevates it well above the average sports documentary.

There is marvelous input from co-founder and designer extraordinaire Sir Patrick Head who minded the store between 1991 and 1997 during which the team won 59 races and four drivers’ titles. It also charts the tumultuous and highly successful time of teammates Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet in 1986-7.

But mostly it is about the seemingly unstoppable Sir Frank Williams and his legacy. With nothing but a single-minded obsession with speed Frank Williams created one of the world’s most successful and enduring F1 teams. Despite nearly losing his life in a 1986 car accident, which left him a tetraplegic, his unconquerable resolve and spirit endures to this day. Though the film charts not only the history of the team it also provides a compassionate portrait of not only Sir Frank Williams’ survival against the odds but his voracious passion.

At 75 years old he remains, technically, as team principal but the duties and responsibilities have, since 2013, fallen to his daughter Claire Williams. Despite more than holding her own as deputy team principal she maintains that she never expected “to be given the keys to the shop”. Sir Frank’s faith in Claire is easily one of the most touching aspects of the film. Further, it is Claire’s presence in the film, her openness when questioned about personal matters, and her poignant readings of excerpts from her mother’s book that create the human connection and shows its sensitivity.

This film is guaranteed to leave you with a deeper and perhaps even emotional appreciation for Williams and what it means to the sport. What’s more, it if wasn’t there before, it will probably leave you with an insightful reverence for the team. And it will leave you with the unmistakable realization that Williams will never stop fighting, never stop working, and never stop racing.

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