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Pastor Maldonado broke Williams' drought of titles with a win at Catalunya in May last year but wins have eluded the team again since. Lars Baron / Getty Images
Pastor Maldonado broke Williams' drought of titles with a win at Catalunya in May last year but wins have eluded the team again since. Lars Baron / Getty Images

Formula One: Williams to turn a new page in their long history

The team of yore mark their 600th race at Silverstone today, and Gary Meenaghan looks at what lies in store of them.

On a circuit that stirs up memories of past successes, Sir Frank Williams and his eponymous, family-run racing marque will celebrate their momentous 600th race start looking simply to score a point on Sunday.

The Grove-based racing team were once synonymous with British dominance, winning nine constructors' championships between 1980 and 1997 yet now find themselves eight races into a barren run that marks their worst start to a season since being founded 46 years ago.

A positive result at the British Grand Prix this afternoon would prove a timely fillip for a struggling team, but expectations are considerably lower these days.

Pastor Maldonado, the Venezuelan driver, secured Williams' 114th race victory in Spain last May, but it was a rare moment of joy in what has been an unremarkable past decade.

The win at Circuit de Catalunya was the team's first in almost eight years and any hint of emulation has not been forthcoming.

Valtteri Bottas, the team's rookie, qualified in third two weeks ago, but almost as soon as the lights went out in Montreal at the Canadian Grand Prix the following afternoon, so did the Finn's hopes of landing a podium. He eventually placed 14th.

On Sunday, Bottas will start from 17th while Maldonado sits one grid place ahead in what will actually be Williams' 599th race start.

With so little to celebrate in recent months, it is hardly surprising they would choose to recognise their historic landmark one week early at Silverstone, rather than next week in Germany, at a circuit where they can reminisce so easily of yesteryear.

Williams won their first race in 1979 on home asphalt and secured their 100th race win 18 years later at the same venue.

In total, they have triumphed here 10 times, including a memorable trio of wins for Nigel Mansell that sparked track invasions in 1987 and 1992.

"Seventy-eight teams have come and gone or changed ownership since our foundation and our longevity is a testament to the thousands of people who have sacrificed so much to keep us here," Sir Frank Williams noted ahead of the weekend.

"It seems only right to mark this milestone at the home of British motorsport alongside our loyal British fans."

Williams the founder is the cornerstone of a Williams team that remains popular despite its problems.

Legend has it when the 71-year-old Englishman was first starting out alongside engineering director Patrick Head, he conducted business from a public telephone box.

Jenson Button, the 2009 world champion who started his career at Williams, calls both men "legends".

"I raced for them in 2000 and they gave me the opportunity to race in Formula One," Button told The National. "I've got great memories with them and with the whole team.

"It's an amazing achievement. It's not a manufacturer, it's a true racing team and that's what I love about it; how difficult it was for them to find the money in the first place to go racing, but with belief and determination, they achieved so much."

Belief is a characteristic that has come to personify Sir Frank, who in 1986 was involved in a road car accident and has ever since been confined to a wheelchair.

"Frank has been an amazing asset to F1," said Sir Jackie Stewart, the three-time world champion. "He has such dignity and style and has achieved so much against incredible odds, all the time maintaining a racing team of the highest standard."

As well as 114 wins, the marque have secured seven drivers' championships with Alan Jones, Keke Rosberg, Nelson Piquet, Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve all taking titles in the famous blue and white.

Bottas, 23, said his first memory of the Williams team was from playing as them in a motor racing game on the Super Nintendo.

"I remember the yellow, blue and white cars, so it must have been early 1990s," he said.

"My first proper memory on TV though was watching when Villeneuve won the championship in 1997. Mika Hakkinen won the race and it was his first win - I remember the whole race quite well."

Maldonado added that as a young go-karter he dreamt of emulating fellow South American Juan Pablo Montoya by racing for Williams.

"I was always a great fan of the team and to be here I feel very lucky," he said.

"Every time I speak to Frank, it feels very special.

"He is a very funny guy and every time I visit the factory, I spend some time with him and find it very relaxing. He is always telling stories and talking about racing history."

Sir Frank is slowly handing over the reins to his daughter, Claire Williams, who was recently promoted to deputy team principal.

Whether she can, in time, turn around the team's fortunes remains to be seen, but Mark Webber, the Red Bull Racing driver who raced for Williams in 2005 and 2006, believes the baton is in safe hands.

"Claire is a super operator," Webber said.

"Really down to earth and a bit of a tough cookie as well, so she's got some of the traits of dad."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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