Williams entered a customer March 761 for the 1977 season. Lone driver Patrick Nève appeared at 11 races that year, starting with the Spanish Grand Prix. The new team failed to score a point, achieving a best finish of 7th at the Italian Grand Prix.
For the 1978 season, Patrick Head designed his first Williams car: the FW06. Williams signed Australian Alan Jones, who had won the Austrian Grand Prix the previous season for a devastated Shadow team following the death of their lead driver, Tom Pryce. Jones’s first race for the team was the Argentine Grand Prix where he qualified the lone Williams in 14th position, but retired after 36 laps with a fuel system failure. The team scored its first championship points two rounds later at the South African Grand Prix when Jones finished fourth. Williams managed their first podium position at the US Grand Prix, where the Australian came second, some 20 seconds behind the Ferrari of future Williams driver Carlos Reutemann. Williams ended the season in tenth place in the constructors’ championship, with a respectable 16 points, while Alan Jones finished 12th in the drivers' championship.
Head designed the FW07 for the 1979 season. This was the team’s first ground effect car, a technology first introduced by Colin Chapman and Team Lotus. Williams also obtained membership of the Formula One Constructors Association (FOCA) which expressed a preference for teams to run two cars, so Jones was partnered by Swiss driver Clay Regazzoni. They had to wait until the seventh round of the championship, the Monaco Grand Prix, for a points-scoring position. Regazzoni came close to taking the team’s first win but finished second, less than a second behind race winner Jody Scheckter. The next round at Dijon is remembered for the final lap battle between René Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve, but also saw both cars finish in the points for the first time; Jones was fourth with Regazzoni sixth. The team’s first win came at the 1979 British Grand Prix – their home Grand Prix – when Regazzoni finished almost 25 seconds ahead of anyone else.
Things got even better when Williams cars finished first and second at the next round in Hockenheim, Alan Jones two seconds ahead of Regazzoni. Jones then made it three wins in a row at the Österreichring, finishing half a minute ahead of Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari. Three wins in a row became four wins two weeks later at Zandvoort, Alan Jones winning again by a comfortable margin over Jody Scheckter’s Ferrari. Scheckter ended the Williams winning streak when he won Ferrari’s home Italian Grand Prix, Regazzoni finishing third behind both Ferraris. Alan Jones managed another win at the penultimate race at Montreal to cap off a great season.
Williams had greatly improved their constructors' championship position, finishing eight places higher than the previous year and scoring 59 more points. Alan Jones was the closest driver to the Ferrari duo of Villeneuve and 1979 champion Jody Scheckter, the Australian scored 43 points, 17 behind the South African, while Jones’s team mate, Regazzoni, was two places behind him with 32 points.
In 1980 Alan Jones partnered the Argentine Carlos Reutemann. The team started well in the championship, with Jones winning the first round of the season in Argentina. Jones won four more races: Paul Ricard, Brands Hatch, Montreal and the final round at Watkins Glen. Jones became the first of seven Williams drivers to win the drivers' championship, 17 points ahead of Nelson Piquet’s Brabham. Williams also won its first constructors’ championship, scoring 120 points, almost twice as many as second-placed Ligier.
The duo won four races for the Williams team in the 1981 season. Alan Jones won at the first round at Long Beach and the final round at Las Vegas, while Carlos Reutemann won at the second round at Jacarepagua and the fifth round at Zolder. Williams won the constructors’ title for the second year running, scoring 95 points, 34 points more than second-placed Brabham.
Alan Jones retired from Formula One, only to come back a year later for a single race with the Arrows team. The Australian was replaced by Finnish driver, Keke Rosberg, who had not scored a single championship point the previous year. He won the Drivers title that year; winning only one race, the Swiss Grand Prix at Dijon-Prenois. Rosberg’s teammate, Reutemann, finished in 15th place having quit Formula One after just two races of the new season. His seat was filled by Mario Andretti for the US Grand Prix West before Derek Daly took over for the rest of the year. The Williams team finished fourth in the constructors’ championship that year, 16 points behind champions Ferrari.
By the end of the season, Frank Williams realised that to compete at the top levels of Formula One he needed the support of a major manufacturer, such as Renault or BMW who could supply his team with a turbo engine.
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