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Frank Williams, founder and former boss of the team that bears 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 paralyzed 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."

Williams came from an era where title-winning teams were run by their founders, men such as Enzo Ferrari, Ken Tyrrell and Lotus boss Colin Chapman who are all long gone.

"Without those type of people I doubt whether Formula One would have still been going now. Probably Ferrari would have stopped and that would have been it," said former Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, who paid tribute to Williams as a pioneer who helped to build the modern incarnation of the sport and without whom it might have ceased to exist.

Ecclestone, who took over and ran the Brabham team in the early 1970s, recalled Williams as an old friend who got over life's financial and physical obstacles with charm and determination.

Formula One BMW Williams team owner Frank Williams (center) poses with his team's two drivers Ralf Schumacher (left) and Juan Pablo Montoya (right) and his team, prior to the free practice session at the Malaysian Grand Prix, in Sepang in March 2001. | AFP-JIJI
Formula One BMW Williams team owner Frank Williams (center) poses with his team’s two drivers Ralf Schumacher (left) and Juan Pablo Montoya (right) and his team, prior to the free practice session at the Malaysian Grand Prix, in Sepang in March 2001. | AFP-JIJI

"Frank was a little bit special as a person. And that sort of showed in the way he kept going," he said.

In 2012 Williams handed over the day-to-day operations of the team to his daughter Claire, although she was already named deputy-principal at the time.

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.

Forever Indebted

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 honored 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.

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