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Lewis Hamilton reveals he dreamed of driving a Williams in tribute to Sir Frank and daughter Claire ahead of F1 exit

THE CHEQUERED flag will fall on one of the greatest family-run businesses in sport this Sunday in Monza.

And sad goodbyes  said to “the most respected and honest” man in Formula One.

Lewis Hamilton has paid a powerful tribute to Frank Williams and his daughter Claire as their team prepares to hand over power

Londoner Damon Hill was F1 world champion with Williams in 1996

Nigel Mansell won his only F1 crown in 1992 after the Brit returned to the Williams team

The Italian Grand Prix marks the final time  the Williams family will oversee their F1 team since its  formation in 1977.

Both Sir Frank Williams — who has been in motorsport for an incredible 54 years — and daughter Claire, who has run the team since 2013, are stepping aside after selling up to US investment firm Dorilton Capital.

The pair leave behind an incredible legacy, one not lost on Britain’s six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

The Mercedes superstar declared: “I’m a big fan of Sir Frank and his incredible contribution to the sport.

“He was always so positive to me as one of the people I respected most, and was one of the most, if not the most, honest people in Formula One. So, definitely, it is sad to see the end of a chapter.

“But the legacy will continue as the team will keep the Williams name.

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“I was hopeful at some stage they were going to return to the front of the grid.

“I remember dreaming of driving the car Nigel Mansell had but it never turned into an option  and that’s when I moved to Mercedes.”

 Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas started his F1 career with Williams.

He said: “I’m really sad. Without Williams,  especially Frank, I wouldn’t be here.”

Williams was THE name in F1 in the 1980s and 90s, with their drivers  winning seven world championships and the team nine constructors’ titles.

Sir Frank, 78, started Frank Williams Racing Cars in 1969, running a custom Brabham chassis.

But the team’s F1 roots started in 1977 with the formation of Williams Grand Prix Engineering with Sir Patrick Head, operating out of an old warehouse in Oxfordshire that had previously been used for making carpets.

Jacques Villeneuve was Williams’ last world champion in 1997, while Brit Damon Hill also lifted the F1 crown whilst with the team

Ayrton Senna was arguably the greatest and most famous driver to race for Williams

The team won their first race in 1979 and fittingly it was the British GP won by Clay Regazzoni, while Alan Jones took the drivers’ title the following year.

Despite being left as a  tetraplegic as a result of a car crash in 1985,  Williams continued to run the team, amassing a total of 114 wins, 128 pole positions, nine constructors’ titles and seven  drivers’ championships.

Jacques Villeneuve’s crown in 1997 was their last, while Pastor Maldonado’s shock-win in the 2012 Spanish GP was their last GP victory — a subsequent fire in the garage put pay to Sir Frank’s speech to the team.

Stars such as Ayrton Senna, Damon Hill, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet have all driven for the famous team.

And in a technical capacity, legendary designers, Head, Adrian Newey and Paddy Lowe have also held posts at Williams.

But there have also been considerable lows and one that overshadowed the team’s on-track success.

That was the death of Senna at Imola in 1994, which saw Williams charged with manslaughter in Italy.

Sir Frank was later acquitted but the pain of losing the Brazilian at the  relatively young age of 34  had a huge and lasting impact.

In an interview last year to mark the 25th anniversary of Senna’s death, Claire Williams revealed: “Frank never spoke to anyone about it.

“That isn’t his personality. He isn’t one for therapy or having long conversations. He  keeps it all in.

“That is how he has been brought up but you can see the pain in his  eyes every time he thinks about the accident.”

 Under his daughter’s leadership, the team started off with strong finishes in 2014 and 2015 but they have since slumped to the back of the grid.

Unable to match their rivals for spending, the team posted a £13million loss in 2019, forcing them to seek an strategic review and ultimately the sale to Dorilton and safeguarding the team’s future — plus around 600 jobs.

Matthew Savage, the chairman of  Dorilton Capital and Williams Grand Prix Engineering, said: “We are proud to carry the Williams name into the next exciting phase for the sport.”