(Reuters) -Frank Williams, founder and former boss of a team that bore his name and that still ranks as one of the most dominant and successful in the history of Formula One, died on Sunday at the age of 79.
The sport’s chief executive Stefano Domenicali, a former boss of rivals Ferrari, paid tribute to the Englishman and said the F1 family had lost a “much loved and respected member”.
“He was a true giant of our sport that overcame the most difficult of challenges in life and battled every day to win on and off the track,” the Italian said in a statement.
“His incredible achievements and personality will be etched on our sport forever”.
Williams had been paralysed since 1986 when, at the age of 43, his rental car crashed as he was speeding away from the Le Castellet circuit in the south of France where his team was testing.
One of the longest-lived quadriplegics, he responded to the physical obstacles by steering his team to ever greater success as he watched from his wheelchair in the team garage.
“As I see it, I have had 40 fantastic years of one sort of life,” he told his late wife Ginny after the accident. “Now I shall have another 40 years of a different kind of life.”
In 2012 he handed over day-to-day running of the team to daughter Claire, even if she was always officially deputy-principal.
He was admitted to hospital on Friday and the British-based team said he “passed away peacefully this morning surrounded by his family”.
Williams were sold to U.S.-based Dorilton Capital last year and the family are no longer involved.
Under his leadership, the team won nine constructors’ championships and seven drivers’ titles, most recently with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in 1997, and 114 grands prix — the last in 2012.
Only Ferrari have won more constructors’ titles.
Australian Alan Jones, in 1980, was the first to win a drivers’ title in a Williams and he was followed by Finland’s Keke Rosberg in 1982.
Brazilian Nelson Piquet took his third title with the team in 1987, Britain’s Nigel Mansell celebrated his one and only in 1992 before Frenchman Alain Prost chalked up the fourth of his career in 1993.
Damon Hill, who led the team on track after the death of triple champion Ayrton Senna in a Williams at Imola in 1994, won the title in 1996 before Villeneuve completed the list.
“Sir Frank gave me such a chance in my lifetime that I am indebted to him forever,” said Hill. “He was a very important person to my career and also a huge contributor to our sport.
“His record will stand for a very long time. As an individual team owner, as a team founder, there won’t be another one again,” Hill told Sky Sports. “The only person I could compare him to is probably Enzo Ferrari.”
Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton said he felt honoured to have called Williams a friend.
“What he achieved in this sport is something truly special. Until his last days I know he remained a racer and a fighter at heart. I have utmost respect and love for this man, and his legacy will live on forever,” said the Mercedes driver.
Williams entered the sport in 1969, providing a Brabham for compatriot Piers Courage to race, and set up Williams Grand Prix Engineering in 1977 with co-founder Patrick Head.
In 1992, with a highly-innovative car designed by Adrian Newey, Williams won 10 of 16 races. In 1996, they won 12 of 16.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru/Alan Baldwin in London; Editing by Louise Heavens, Ken Ferris and Clare Fallon)