Williams pick Israeli as F1 test driver

2 min

Tel Aviv (AFP)

After unveiling a cycling team for the Tour de France, Israel is hoping to further boost its image through sport with the announcement Wednesday of a Formula One driver.

Executives from Williams were in the coastal city of Tel Aviv to present Roy Nissany, whom the British team said will be the first driver to display the Israeli flag.

The 25-year-old French-Israeli joins the team after two days of testing last month in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Born in Tel Aviv, he is the son of Chanoch Nissany who took part in the free practice session of the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix for Italian team Minardi.

While some dubbed him the first Israeli Formula One driver, he was 42 at the time and had spent the majority of his life in Hungary.

His son will enter the Williams ranks as a test driver for the 2020 season, as the team tries to recover from a disastrous 2019.

"Roy demonstrated his capabilities driving in the post-season Abu Dhabi test last year and we were extremely impressed," said deputy team chief Claire Williams.

"You want the fastest driver that you can have... but you need to have drivers that are absolutely team players," said Williams at a Tel Aviv press conference.

"Having an Israeli driver is a historic moment," she added.

Nissany will be the team's third driver, after Briton George Russell and Canadian Nicolas Latifi who is of Iranian origin.

- Israeli flag -

The new test driver said his key role will be "giving my feedback, understanding the new race car, knowing it to the tiniest bolts, getting ready to develop the 2021 car and hopefully to drive it as well."

Nissany last year competed in Formula Two, coming 10th in his best finish. He gained fourth place in the World Series Formula V8 3500cc in 2016 with three victories.

His car will display the Israeli flag and the Israel Start-Up Nation logo, the name of the country's first Tour de France cycling team.

The cyclists are funded by Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams, who presented himself as the president of the Roy Nissany Formula One management group.

"I have certain responsibilities in terms of bringing sponsorship," Adams told AFP.

He was also the financial backer who brought Lionel Messi and his Argentina team mates to Tel Aviv in November, for a friendly football match against Uruguay.

"He tested in Abu Dhabi, think of what that means, just a few years ago this would have been a non-thinkable thing," he added of an Israeli driver appearing in an Arab city.