Formula One motor racing is full of ruthless, driven people, few of them over concerned about being liked, let alone loved. Frank Williams, founder of Williams Grand Prix Engineering, is one of that case-hardened elite and his superficial public persona would seem to confirm that opening generalisation.

Hunched in his wheelchair, staring at TV monitors and timing screens in the team's pit garage, there is rarely an external flicker of positive emotion despite a level of long-term team success which places Williams in the same rarefied strata as Ferrari and McLaren.

The fact that he is not demonstrative is largely down to his quadriplegic condition, the legacy of a 1986 road crash in the south of France, where he overturned a hired Ford Sierra, and came perilously close to death.

A journeyman racer in the 1960s, Williams drove too fast on public roads and, en route to Marseilles airport after a Paul Ricard test session, paid a massive price, if not the ultimate penalty.

Williams simply cannot laugh due to his physical limitations, but has a mischievous, droll sense of humour, and a straightforward, unambiguous use of the English language.

I remember in 1994 when David Coulthard made his Grand Prix debut for the team in Barcelona his response to questions about personal Scottish connections, including being educated at St Joseph's College, Dumfries.

''Couldn't get out of the place fast enough. The token English were always the target of re-runs of Bannockburn with the kind of hammering you can imagine. I don't know how Coulthard got the job,'' he responded.

Under his stewardship Williams has won 103 Grand Prix since 1979, provided the cars for seven drivers to win world championships in, and more importantly has secured nine constructors' titles.

Most of this success has been achieved following the crash. The speed with which he returned to manage the team, which he built from a shoestring operation to the high-technology force it is today, is legendary within the sport.

His disability is a fact of life, pure and simple, reasons Williams, although he requires constant medical support.

Once the physical limitations were accepted, Williams told his wife Virginia: ''I have had 40 fantastic years of one sort of life'', adding ''now I shall have 40 years of a different kind of life.''

But Virginia Williams' stark and illuminating book ''A Different Kind of Life'' does not shy away from the private adjustment they both made.

It is poignantly encapsulated in her revelation that Williams, a fanatical runner of half marathons before the accident, dreams of a ''magical recovery, and everyone turns to watch as he races past them'', again running races.

Williams maintained his fitness by running round F1 tracks prior to races. When legendary US 200-metre and 400-metre champion sprinter Michael Johnson visited a rival F1 team last year Williams gatecrashed the reception to meet ''a hero''.

Throughout the years Williams, and technical director, the blunt bulldog-like Patrick Head, have remained very much their own men.

Drivers, sponsors and engine suppliers have come and gone, none of them individually, commercially or in a corporate context dominating Frank's team.

His attitude to drivers is intriguing, and even if the Fleet Street F1 pack vociferously questioned the disposal of Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Damon Hill after title wins, Williams goes his own way.

While he enjoys nothing more than a wheel-to-wheel race and the exploits of ''real head-down racers'' his early experiences of piecing together finances to keep a team going forward appears to colour his attitude to hired driving hands.

Mansell, whom Head once described as ''being capable of being a pain in the ass'', won nine world championship races en route to his title in 1992, yet could not agree terms for the following year.

Legend has it that Williams' patience finally snapped over how many hotel rooms for Mansell's entourage would be catered for at races.

At the same time Williams and Head revered the gung-ho, throw-and-catch Mansell driving style and brought him back for four races following Ayrton Senna's death in 1994. Mansell duly won at Adelaide, the flawed hero's last F1 victory.

Arguably, Williams might have retained national hero Hill at the end of 1996 after he won the championship at the third time of asking in a Williams.

Some suggest the retrospectively less-than-brilliant decision to hire German Heinz-Harald Frentzen was sealed one year earlier. Williams does not like drivers' go-betweens or acolytes, or inflated senses of a driver's financial value.

At the core of this logic is maintaining team success. Money indulged in mega-retainers can be better invested in the constant battle to maintain a technological edge, runs his logic.

Even with a reputed #40m annual budget Williams this year has been struggling to put together the elements for success.

The only exception to Williams' rule was Ayrton Senna, an alliance which could and should have been forged earlier. Senna, then a mercurial F3 driver, had his first F1 testing experience in a Williams in 1983, but did not drive for Frank in a race until the fateful 1994 season.

Allegedly the Brazilian, in constant touch with Williams for years before joining him, was paid $24m. In his unique case money was academic. He was simply the best.

Williams, fearful that history might repeat itself in terms of squandering nascent talent, kept Coulthard to his contract option in 1995, when he threatened to defect to McLaren. He then dispensed with the Scot's services in preference to Villeneuve for 1996.

Another Brazilian triple champion, Nelson Piquet, gained a rare initiative over Williams by informing him at the end of the title-winning 1997 season, that he was off to Lotus. The message was delivered via a note stuffed under Williams' hotel bedroom door. Piquet never won another Grand Prix.

More recently, Williams' stubbornness rebounded and probably handed this year's world title to McLaren. Designer and aerodynamicist Adrian Newey, pivotal to Williams success, was held to his contract, which prevented him joining McLaren until August last year.

This eight-month ''gardening leave'' arguably let the brilliant technician think long and hard about the designs which created the stunningly fast MP4/13. If he had joined McLaren in January, last year, he could well have been distracted by updating the previous model.

For the Williams team the current trough, where gaining championship points is a major task, must hurt. But further down the road BMW will become the engine supply partners and just as the relationship with Renault, started in 1989, generated intense success, the link with Bavaria's finest should restore those fortunes.

As Williams puts it, having to pay for Mecachrome (nee Renault) engines is ''an unusually unpleasant experience'' and probably takes $13m out of the team coffers.

Williams had to pay for his engines once before, in 1988, when dropped by Honda in preference to Lotus. He soldiered on with Judd units but resented Honda's request for more control and the placement of a less than competitive Japanese driver.

He also announced Rothmans backing at the beginning of 1994, without apparently pre-warning outgoing major backers Canon. Not always the diplomat.

Emotion is something Williams considers a weakness and the self-assured, blunt young Villeneuve, who appears not to crave the ''comfort zone'' demanded by the more fragile egos of former champions, is a kindred, if sometimes wayward spirit.

Williams described his current French Canadian champion recently as having the hardest head he had come across. Williams added: ''He's a tough bastard - excuse the language - brilliant, skilful, a very tough competitor.''

His own wife uses the therapy of her painfully candid book to describe Frank Williams as ''selfish, funny, unsympathetic, unreliable and charismatic''. He is said not to have read the book and, in any case there are always races to win. Their marriage endures.

A Different Kind of Life by Virginia Williams with Pamela Cockerill, Doubleday, 1991 (out of print).