The super-fast-paced world of Formula 1 is often accused of only looking forward. It’s the next race that counts, the next deal, tomorrow trumping yesterday. There’s no time to wallow in the past, the highly motivated and success-driven F1 folk will try to tell you.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the legendary Williams team, winner of 114 grands prix, seven drivers’ and nine constructors’ world titles since 1979, would be guilty of such purist-rattling forward-thinking.
Certainly, this iconic racing team is focused on keeping its pair of Martini-liveried, Mercedes-powered FW37s at the front of the field in 2015, building on its third-place finish in the makes’ race last season, but rest assured the team has kept more than one eye on the past.
And that manifests itself in the Williams Grand Prix Collection, housed in the Conference Centre on the site of this Oxfordshire-based racing institution. It’s a staggering collection of Williams’ finest – from its very early forays as a constructor in 1978, with the FW06, to the latest, hybrid turbo racer.
All the most memorable machines are here and it gives visitors what feels like a money-can’t-buy history lesson like no other.
But there’s more to the Collection than simply an Aladdin’s cave of old racers to ogle. There’s a dedicated department to help ensure the cars are maintained, used, enjoyed and, where appropriate, sold on. And that’s where the recently created Williams Heritage department comes in, headed up by Jonathan Williams, son of team founder Sir Frank.
‘There was always a facility attached to the museum, which we’ve had since 1988,’ Williams Jr says, ‘but it closed in 2009 to make way for other projects. One of our most senior and experienced race-team guys, Dickie Stanford, helped me bring it back to life in 2014 and Dickie now runs it.’
Williams explains that careful consideration is given to which chassis get the Heritage treatment.
‘We select cars from the Collection to join the programme once we’ve identified any commercial opportunities for them,’ he says.
Williams is well aware of the emotional attachment the team has to some of its cars and he appreciates it’s not a conveyor-belt operation.
‘We have some crown-jewel cars, so the buck stops with my father!’ he admits.
An immaculate workshop sits adjacent to the Collection, in which Stanford, a Williams regular since the mid-1980s, and his team fettle the cars in as meticulous and dedicated as fashion as the race team would on a grand prix weekend.
‘We’ve got two 1996 world-title-winning FW18s in here at the moment,’ Stanford reveals. ‘One of them has been active in the past few years at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed, while the other is being prepared for sale.’
For the lucky buyer of an ex-Damon Hill world-beater, there’s surely no greater provenance or ‘service history’ than that from the people who designed and built it in period.