Frank Williams founded Williams Grand Prix Engineering after the failure of two previous ventures, Frank Williams Racing Cars and Walter Wolf Racing, and the team made its first Grand Prix entry with a customer March chassis in 1977 with Patrick Neve at the wheel. The following year Williams’ first in-house design took to the road for Alan Jones, signed after a win with the unfancied Shadow team the previous year. In 1979, the team expanded to two cars in order to meet the requirements for joining FOCA, signing ex-Ferrari man Clay Regazzoni who gave them their first win at the British Grand Prix while Jones placed third in the drivers’ championship. For 1980, despite Regazzoni’s success, he was politely shown the door in favour of another ex-Ferrari driver, Carlos Reutemann. The Argentine’s contract required him to cede place to Jones if he were leading by less than a second with less than ten laps to go, but he accepted this as the price to get out of the dreadful Lotus car he had been stuck with. Jones and Reutemann were chalk and cheese but complemented each other sufficiently to guide the team to their first Constructors’ title in 1980, with Jones taking the drivers’ title and Reutemann third.
Australian Alan Jones was the son of amateur racer Stan Jones who encouraged his son to follow in his footsteps. After six years in Europe, he finally graduated to Formula Atlantic, where his Harry Stiller Racing team purchased a Hesketh chassis to enter Jones into the 1975 Spanish GP at Montjuic, during which Rolf Stommelen’s horrific accident caused Stiller to decide to abandon F1, but Jones was signed as Stommelen’s replacement at Hill and earned himself a full-time seat for Surtees the following season, after which he was signed by Shadow to replace Tom Pryce, killed in another horrific accident in South Africa. Jones scored his maiden win for the shattered Shadow team at the 1977 Austrian Grand Prix. For 1978 he was signed as a full-time driver for Williams who had debuted the previous season but were already showing signs of promise, and he managed a respectable 11 points for them including a 2nd place finish in the USA. For 1979, he partnered Clay Regazzoni and scored four wins in the latter half of the season to finish third overall, behind the two Ferraris of Scheckter and Villeneuve, and in 1980 he dominated the season, winning five, coming second three times and third twice to take the final World Championship of Drivers title.
Of mixed Swiss-German, Italian and Argentine descent, Carlos Reutemann found his break racing Formula 2 in Europe for the Automobile Club of Argentina team, when he took second place in the 1971 season behind Ronnie Peterson. Offered an F1 drive for 1972 with Brabham, he instantly responded by taking pole position in his very first F1 race – at his home circuit in Buenos Aires – and scoring his first points for a fourth place later that season in Canada. His first podiums came the following year, followed by a first race win at South Africa in 1974, with two more wins that year. A more reliable 1975 saw third in the championship but 1976 was a disaster for Brabham and he moved to Ferrari as a replacement for the injured Niki Lauda but only had one race before the Austrian returned unexpectedly early. Lauda and Reutemann paired up for 1977 at Ferrari but Reutemann only took one win while Lauda went on to win the title. A further season with Ferrari in 1978 saw the Argentine win four races to take third in the title race before a big move to the all-conquering Lotus team. However, the 1979 Lotus was a disaster and Reutemann could only manage 2 second places on his way to sixth in the title race and eagerly switched to Williams for 1980, where a win in Monaco and a run of podium visits helped him support Alan Jones’ title challenge and Williams’ Constructors title win.