Formula 1 is no stranger to controversial sponsorship (beyond Uralkali and Haas). From cigarette companies to fake energy drinks owned by a Nigerian Prince, the sport has seen it all. But the Bin Laden family’s sponsorship of the Williams F1 team during the mid-70s undoubtedly takes the cake – and has somewhat flown under the radar (*rimshot*).
Sir Frank Williams had been struggling to source funding in the 70s with his beloved Williams Grand Prix Engineering team on the line. Performances were hitting rock bottom and money was tight. Years later, stories of the Williams crew members being forced to eat at the free buffet made available to members of the worldwide press would emerge. Suffice it to say, there were serious doubts regarding the team’s survival.
In a last-ditch attempt to keep his dream alive, Sir Frank Williams travelled to the Middle East with technical director Patrick Head in tow and lined up meetings with prominent Saudi Arabian businessmen. The trip proved to be a success and the pair secured crucial sponsorship from technology group TAG, Saudia airlines, as well as the Albilad hotel chain… owned by none other than Mohamed Bin Laden, father of Osama Bin Laden (no introduction necessary).
Thanks to Albilad, Williams was able to continue its operations in motorsport and with its shiny new major sponsor, rebranded the British outfit to become the Albilad-Williams F1 Team. The funding allowed the entire operation to redefine itself within the sport and began climbing up the ladders of both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.
Its newfound Saudi Arabian wealth was also instrumental to Williams’ success and lead to the signing of Australian driver Alan Jones in 1979. After an incredible debut season, Jones went on to win the 1980 F1 Drivers World Championship with the Alibilad-Williams team, making the Bin Laden family partially responsible for Williams’ first-ever F1 title.