The motoring world continues to mourn the loss of the legendary Sir Frank Williams, founder of the Formula 1 team, who died on Sunday at the age of 79.
Tributes to this motorsport icon, whose team won nine constructors’ championships, seven drivers’ titles and 114 victories, have not stopped happening, making it one of the most successful in history.
Williams was a fundamental part in the lives of many people in motorsports. For three-time 500cc world champion Wayne Rainey, Williams was instrumental in helping him rebuild his life after his 1993 accident left him paralyzed from mid-waist down.
Rainey was one of the stars of MotoGP in the 500cc era from the late 1980s to early 1990s, scoring 24 wins and 65 podium finishes with Yamaha on his way to three consecutive World Championships from 1990 to 1992. During that period, he had a fierce rivalry with his compatriot Kevin Schwantz.
Both were fighting for the title in 1993 when the championship reached the penultimate round of the campaign in Misano .
While leading that race, Rainey crashed coming out of the first corner and sustained life-changing spinal injuries that left him confined to a wheelchair. MotoGP did not race again at Misano until 2007, when it returned to a circuit that runs in the opposite direction to that of 1993.
In 1986, Sir Frank Williams became quadriplegic after a car accident and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Williams, of course, continued to run his team, which would go on to win the drivers’ titles in 1986 and 1987 with Nelson Piquet , in 1991 and 1992 with Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell , and in 1996 and 1997 with Damon Hill and Jacque Villeneuve .
After Rainey’s accident, Williams went to see the Californian while he began his recovery in a rehabilitation center.
“After my injury I had to have surgery on my back to get some plates,” Rainey told Motorsport.com.
“So basically, I was in a cast for about six weeks in the hospital. And then when they took it off, I was able to go to what they call a rehab center and that’s where the real work begins. That’s where you learn what what it’s like to live in a wheelchair and all the challenges, from feeding to getting dressed and everything else.
“I think I was in the first hospital for six weeks, but at the rehab center they wanted me to be there for two months. I was in for three weeks and then I got a message that Frank wanted to come visit me. So I was kind of scrambled at the time, trying to figure out what my life was going to be like.
“And then when Frank came in I saw how he behaved. He walked into the room that I was staying in and I saw how confident he was and it was a life-changing moment because he basically said to me, ‘Wayne, you’re basically screwed, but The best thing you can do is get back out there and do what you love, and that’s running.
Williams’ words pierced Rainey, who would leave the rehabilitation clinic a week after that meeting “and has not looked back.”
Wayne Rainey, Yamaha, Kevin Schwantz, Suzuki
The pair kept in touch over the years, with Rainey attending F1 races as a guest of Williams. The MotoGP legend tells Motorsport.com that Williams’ concern for his condition never abated.
“I actually visited Frank several times at his factory, went to some F1 races as his guest and spent time with him,” Rainey added. “Frank and I, for most of our relationship, the first thing he’d say when we talked was ‘how’s your health?’ life. That’s why he put a lot of emphasis on taking care of himself. There’s a lot that can happen living in a wheelchair like us, so he put a lot of emphasis on taking care of your health first.”
Just as Williams himself recovered from his accident, Rainey did too. From 1994 to 1998 he led a 250cc and 500cc team in the World Championship with the help of three-time MotoGP world champion Kenny Roberts Sr. Deciding to return to the United States to spend more time with his family, Rainey helped bring MotoGP back to his home turf at Laguna Seca in 2005.
Since 2015, Rainey has been president of MotoAmerica , taking over the management of AMA Superbike in the United States. Helping to rebuild that championship, Rainey’s efforts have also enabled the country’s top talent to find competitive bikes on the world stage, with the likes of Garrett Gerloff in WorldSBK with Yamaha, and Joe Roberts, Cameron Beaubier and Sean Dylan Kelly in Moto2. .
Without that encounter with Williams, Rainey is certain that nothing he has achieved since his horrific accident in 1993 would have been possible.
“I was a three-time world champion, I was 33 at the time, and going through this dramatic change in my life there weren’t many options,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of people to talk to, or people to respect, who understood my mentality in the racing world. Frank, he was a world-class driver when he got injured, and watching the racing thing was a way of get your mind going and the physical part would follow.
“Going back in there and focusing your mind on the business side of racing, and doing it in my situation, I didn’t know where it was going to take me. I ended up owning a team, and then when I decided to stop traveling the world I ended up going back to the States and helped organize the United States GP at Laguna Seca.”
“I’m now the president of MotoAmerica and we’re in our eighth year. So without that conversation with Frank that day, I’m pretty sure all of that wouldn’t have happened in my career.”
Frank Williams y Patrick Head