On April 16, 1932, Frank Owen Garbutt Williams was born in Jarrow — the cradle of the Hunger Marches, the first of which took place in that year. Numerous parts of the country were suffering, but it was the men of Jarrow who had the grit and guts to organise a march to London.

Frank has displayed the same grit throughout his life — and it was to see him through what was to lie ahead. Sent to boarding school at the age of three (his mother having been abandoned by her husband had to work hard to maintain her child).

He was brought up in various Roman Catholic boarding schools, completing his education aged 18, from the Marist Brothers’ school in Dumfries.

Frank does have some happy memories of holidays spent messing about in rowing boats at Broadstairs where his mother had a teaching job between 1953-56.

A headship then took her to a village near Nottingham, and by that time Frank says he was “really into motor racing”. Before he was ten he was memorising car specifications from the pages of magazines such as The Motor and The Autocar.

A flair for languages saw Frank leaving school with excellent passes in Latin, French, Italian and German. However, he felt he had spent virtually all of his life so far in institutions and could not face university.

After briefly considering the Army, the passion for motoring won out and 1960 saw Frank joining a management trainee course with Cripps Brothers of Nottingham, the local Rootes Group distributor.

The first car he learnt to drive was his mother’s Morris Minor 1000 in the grounds of her school. He passed his driving test in Nottingham, at the first attempt.

Frank’s first car was an ex-Graham Hill Austin A35, a street-legal (adjusted for racing), tuned car. By the age of 20 he was mixing with other racing enthusiasts, some of whom were to become professionals — Jonathan Williams (no relation) and Piers Courage (of the brewery family) were examples. Frank would keep his car parked outside Jonathan and Piers’ London flat and hitch-hike back to his job in Nottingham to save the cost of petrol.

After a brief career as a driver and mechanic, funded by his work as a travelling grocery salesman, Williams founded Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1966.

He ran drivers Piers Courage, Richard Burton, Tetsu Ikuzawa and Tony Trimmer for several years in Formula Two and Formula Three.

Piers did not win a Formula Two race for Frank, but his performances were quick and consistent. Williams was moving inevitably towards the upper echelon of motorsport — Formula One.

But, where was the money coming from to pay for it?

As it happened Frank was introduced to racing enthusiast, T W Ward, a prosperous tool manufacturer.

Ward’s financial backing gave Frank his chance to get into Formula One racing — and Williams purchased an old Brabham BT26 Formula One chassis which Courage drove in several F1 events.

Frank said of his friend: “I realised just what a natural talent he was. This was confirmed when I saw him in the wet at Silverstone. He drove fantastically well. A good driver is always best in the wet and he had the most wonderful reactions. I could see he was very special.”

In 1969 the fledgling team competed in its second Grand Prix at Monte Carlo. Frank watched his driver and long-time friend Piers Courage, shake hands with Prince Rainier as he received a trophy for finishing second behind Monaco expert Graham Hill in his Lotus-Ford. He was also to finish second in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

A magical moment — but sadly, only a year later at the Zandvoort circuit in Holland, Courage died in a racing accident.

In August 1974 Frank married Virginia Sawyer-Hoare. Ginny, as she was known, had bravely married a man who was “married” to motor racing.

She gave up a comfortable life, selling her maisonette just behind Harrods in London’s Knightsbridge to join Frank in a totally uncertain way of living where the next race came before everything — including knowing where they would be living or whether they could pay the bills at the end of the next quarter.

There is a Formula One myth that in the early days Frank was so poor that he conducted his business from a telephone kiosk. This is, of course, untrue. Frank always used the office telephone — when it was connected. Unfortunately cash flow was such a problem that is was frequently disconnected due to late payment of bills — on those occasions Frank and his team no doubt did resort to the local phone box and this presumably gave rise to the story.

In 1975, Frank met Patrick Head, a young designer, the son of Colonel Michael Head, a military attaché.

Though neither of them probably thought it at the time, they were to become a winning combination, their very different talents complementing each other. Together they formed Williams Grand Prix Engineering.

It was Ginny who found the new firm’s business premises, a former carpet warehouse at Unit 10, Station Road, Didcot and in 1977 the team moved in. Frank had a staff of 21 — today 520 people are employed at the Williams F1 HQ at Grove.

After months of commuting between Britain and Saudi Arabia, Frank had negotiated an amazing sponsorship deal with Prince Mohammad bin Fahd of Saudi Arabia and his associates.

On July 14, 1979, Frank flew his new sponsor, Prince Muhammed to Silverstone in a helicopter to see a Williams’ driver Clay Regazzoni, win the British Grand Prix. This date must surely have been etched in Frank and Ginny’s hearts as marking a pinnacle of achievement.

Towards the end of the 1979 season, in a race in Austria, Frank watched Alan Jones, another young driver, come out of nowhere to win the Grand Prix in wet conditions.

Frank invited Jones to visit Didcot and invited to drive for Williams. By this time Frank had a reputation for having a sixth sense when it came to spotting up-and-coming young drivers.

The next season saw Jones became the team’s first Formula One World Championship winning driver.

By 1986 Frank had moved to his present home, a small mansion near Newbury. It was not so much a question of “room for a Mercedes, a sauna and a pony” as “room for any number of the current sponsor’s cars, a swimming pool and a private jet!”

By now Frank and Ginny had three children, the eldest Jonathan at boarding school, the daughter Claire at home and a later addition, Jaime who was just three. Frank had achieved his youthful ambitions of making money and buying land.

The world was his oyster as Frank set off on March 8 to pay a flying visit to the Paul Ricard circuit in France where the latest Williams’ F1 car was being tested. He was determined to be home by late evening as he was taking part in the Portsmouth marathon the next day — Frank was a fitness fanatic and ran in marathons at every opportunity.

All had gone well at the test and Frank was in a good mood when he took the wheel of his hire car for the drive back to Nice, with PR coordinator, Peter Windsor as his passenger.

On the road out of Paul Ricard he took a curve too fast. The car went into a series of skids, hit a concrete retaining wall and crashed upside down in a ploughed field. Part of the roof collapsed trapping Frank underneath. Amazingly Peter Windsor was relatively unhurt — and having switched off the ignition went to summon help. Luckily a local seeing the accident had stopped his car (these being the days long before mobile phones) and drove back into Paul Ricard to put the rescue operation into motion.

Severe spinal injuries were complicated by pneumonia setting in and on more that one occasion Frank was not expected to make it. The whole world of Formula One waited with baited breath. Frank’s wife Ginny enlisted all the help she could get, including Bernie Ecclestone’s private plane, to fly Frank back to England.

Once his life was out of immediate danger there was talk of recuperation at Stoke Mandeville. Frank was very resistant to this and Ginny set about converting their house so that Frank could be nursed at home.

Frank has never let the accident which left him confined to a wheelchair make any difference to his business life. He said: “It was only a matter of time before I was going to have an accident.”

Some of the best names in the F1 business have driven for Frank Williams. Nelson Piquet; Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Alain Prost, and another driver, who was to die tragically young — Ayrton Senna.

Just as things had been going so well just before Frank’s accident, 1994 also saw things going extraordinarily well for Williams F1.

The combination of a Renault F1 engine and the Williams chassis heralded a golden time for the team.

However, there was to be one horrible exception to this triumphant phase and that was the race at Imola in May.

This race should, all being well, have seen another championship in the bag but, somehow it was ill-fated from the start. On the first day of practice Rubens Barrichello lost control of his car and came through a chicane at over 140 mph. injuring himself badly.

Senna visited him (apparently jumping a wall at the back of the hospital after being barred by the doctors); he was deeply shaken by what he saw. Then, in practice, on the day immediately before the race, Roland Ratzenberger, a 31 year-old Austrian in his first season, slammed into a concrete wall and was killed.

These incidents were very much on Senna’s mind and indeed he had been in discussions about new safety measures shortly before the race started. On lap ?? of the Grand Prix Senna’s Williams’ left the track at the notorious Tamburello corner and hit the concrete perimeter wall, ending Every year since, a wreath of flowers is sent from the family in Brazil and is laid in the central garden at the Williams premises.

Frank thought a great deal of Ayrton and was deeply shaken by his death. Every Williams’ car since has carried Ayrton’s personal motif ‘SS’ on its bodywork in his memory. If horse racing is still the sport of kings, then Formula One must be the sport of princes.

October 29, 1996 saw the Princess Royal opening Williams’ new premises at Grove, on the edge of Wantage.

The 32-acre site cost £6.7m. Frank has purchased more land round the site which now includes two wind tunnels (for testing) and a purpose-built conference centre, incorporating a museum of Williams cars.

The site is the size of a small university campus and is impressive, to say the least. Formerly the premises of Jansen Pharmaceuticals, the offices, workshop and newly-built conference centre are set in grounds that have become a haven for birds and insects.

Wagtails especially love the place including one or two pairs of the relatively rare, yellow wagtails who breed there every year. The reception area is decorated with trophies and the centre piece is always last year’s car. To the right are sliding glass doors which open on to an inner courtyard garden designed by Ginny and maintained by professional gardeners. Indoor plants are all over the building. Ginny, who is an excellent interior designer in her own right, directed the makeover of the premises. She took a particular interest in the design and comfort of the motor homes, so important for the crew when travelling to the ever-increasing number of races.

Also Frank’s own suite where he can sleep overnight if an early flight to a race is required the next morning, benefited from Ginny’s special touch.

Success has made Frank Williams a wealthy man but he has also been recognised for his achievements. He was awarded a CBE for his services to motor racing in 1987 and was knighted in January 1999. He is also the holder a rare foreign award of France's Legion d'Honneur for his efforts in cooperation with Renault. The team has won nine F1 Contructors Championships and seven drivers’ World Championships.

Frank is in at work most days. He arrives, wheeled in by whichever nurse is on duty. If he sees the slightest thing out of place — a skid mark on the floor; a delivery not yet put away for example, then a quiet instruction is given to his nurse.

A few minutes later, after Frank has gone up in the lift to his office, there will be a call to reception which will contact the appropriate department and the matter will be remedied within minutes.

Frank’s word is law and that isn’t just because he is the boss who can hire and fire. It is because of how Sir Frank Williams is thought of throughout the industry and by his staff, both on and off the track. One word sums it all up. Respect.