Meet Roy Nissany: On track to be Israel’s first Formula 1 racer

“We, together, want to see the Israeli flag on a Formula 1 podium,” Nissany said. 

By Joseph Wolkin, World Israel News

The blue and white colors of the Israeli flag have never been seen in a Formula 1 race. But thanks to Tel Aviv native Roy Nissany, who continues on an upward trajectory, that day will indeed come in 2020 once the season begins after a delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nissany, 25, became Williams Racing’s newest test driver in January, marking the start of a relationship that could see him compete in Formula 1 if he succeeds in the feeder Formula 2 division this year with Trident MotorSport.

However, Nissany’s journey is just beginning. He inked the deal with Williams thanks to a unique partnership with the founders of Israel Start-Up Nation.

Israel Start-Up Nation is the country’s official Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) team, which branched out to motor sports this year with Nissany and Williams. As part of the deal, Nissany will run a handful of FP1 practice sessions with Williams during Formula 1 weekends, and the Israel Start-Up Nation logo will appear on the British team’s racecar.

The second-generation racer is ready to make history, following in his father Chanoch Nissany’s footsteps. Racing from the time he was a toddler, Nissany is ready to prove he can make it in Formula 1, doing so while carrying an entire nation on his shoulders.

Growing up, Nissany began to travel across the globe. The experiences, specifically living in Budapest for quite some time, have added more skills to his résumé. He already knows how to speak Hebrew, English and Hungarian, on top of currently learning Italian.

Nissany spoke with World Israel News while training for the season in Italy, discussing his life in Israel, traveling from a young age since motor sports was not authorized in Israel, breaking into Formula 1, the opportunity with Williams, as well as what it means to be Israel’s representative on the international stage.

Q: How did you get your start in racing?

“When I was around 4-years-old, I already started driving a go-kart. But I believe it actually started before that. I was driving a little plastic electric car when I was 2 and 3, and you can see I had an affection for driving. From there, I continued to professional karting races.”

Q: What was it like growing up in Israel?

“Since motor sports was illegal in Israel, we had no base of culture for motor sports. It was a big challenge for me. We didn’t have rules for it. We had some races starting up in Ashkelon, and then it was banned.

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“The biggest challenge was living and growing up in an Israeli school in Ramat HaSharon, I subsequently traveled to races at 8 and 9-years-old on a monthly basis. For a kid to go abroad each month is cool. It requires a lot from a kid to be devoted, know how to behave and how to cope with loses. It gives me pride and makes it more special to be one of the only Israelis on the international motor sports scene.”

Q: How much of your drive to succeed comes from your dad, who also tested a Formula 1 car and participated in an open practice?

“A lot of the management was supported by him, which was crucial at the beginning of my career, especially before I got my owner manager and sponsors. Around 16 or 17, when I was driving Formula 3, things were getting bigger. My father was very supportive. From then on, my career was going with my own crew.”

Q: What did you learn from his journey that can help your career move forward?

“Well, my father’s career was a very strange one in motor sports terms. He started at 38 years old, which is way beyond the retirement age in motor sports. His achievement of getting into Formula 1 is remarkable. But it shouldn’t be interpreted as a goal for me in the same way because my career is more like a mainstream one, starting from a young age and aiming to get a seat in Formula 1.”

Q: Who did you look up to in the racing world?

“I have a funny photo as a young kid, looking over the fence at the Hungarian Grand Prix. I was watching Juan Pablo Montoya, who drove for Williams. I was wearing a Williams caps. I was watching all of the drivers, but Juan Pablo Montoya was the one who thrilled me the most, maybe because some people told me I look like him. He was the one to inspire me.”

Q: What would it mean to you to represent Israel in a Formula 1 race?

“It’s everything. My career has been almost 20 years old and throughout this time, one of the most important things for me is to carry the Israeli flag on my car, my suit and my helmet. It is the thing that distinguishes me the most from the other drivers. It’s a special feeling that I have a responsibility to carry our flag to the top pinnacle of motor sports in the world.”

Q: What was your reaction when you found out that you will test for Williams F1?

“It was a dream come true, but it was a target. Deep down, I knew that someday, we would make this happen. This day fortunately arrived, and we were all very happy. It’s important to mention the huge support of Sylvan Adams and the Israel Start-Up Nation Cycling Academy, who allowed this to happen. They’re also putting an Israeli flag in the Tour de France as well. Mr. Adams has an incredible vision of putting our flag at the pinnacle of sports around the world.”

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Q: What does it mean to know that Claire Williams truly believes in your ability?

“It means everything. When the boss likes you, you can imagine how it is. The test I did for Williams in Abu Dhabi was two days, and they were going to decide the rest of my career. I drove this test with a robot approach. Whatever I was told to do was programmed into my brain, no questions asked. It was 100 percent successful, and that was the most important thing.

“The test was done in the evening, under the lights in Abu Dhabi, and it was quite emotional. I do remember one moment during a cool-down lap that I had a few seconds when I didn’t get too many instructions over the radio, so I relieved myself of the robot and watched the scenes, my hands, the steering wheel and the beautiful lights of Abu Dhabi, with the beautiful hotel that you go under. I said to myself, ‘I am where I’m supposed to be.’”

Q: This year, you’ll be racing in Formula 2 for Trident, on top of testing for Williams, so what are your expectations for Formula 2?

“We’re going to get going on July 6 at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. It’s going to be a big challenge in F2 this year. I’m preparing like I never prepared before, and I know this season is crucial for me. I’m going to give it my all and go beyond that. I have meetings from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., working on the development of the car and my driving.”

Q: How much pressure do you put on yourself to succeed?

“I like to believe there’s none. I’m here to race. I’m a screw in the system that has to work perfectly. I have to do my job and know what I have to do.”

Q: Why does Israel need you to succeed in Formula 1?

“We, together, want to see the Israeli flag on a Formula 1 podium. If God wills, we will hear the Hatikvah [national anthem] on top of the podium. It’s happened in the past and I can tell you, it’s the best feeling. It’s an indescribable feeling for myself and those around me. It’s just incredible.”

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Q: How important is it for the Williams car to carry the Israel Startup logo on the team’s cars for the weekends when you’ll be part of the open practices?

“It means everything. I’ve been given the feeling of a pioneer with the guys going to the Tour de France. We represent a new stream that comes out of our country. We open the way to the Israeli flag in sports, and we carry the logo and our flag. To see the Israeli flag in a free practice and in an event will mean everything.”

Q: Do you know what tracks you’ll be running the FP1 sessions?

“We were supposed to do them during the U.S. Grand Prix time of the year. Since the plans changed with the pandemic, we don’t know the plan for sure yet.”

Q: How much support have you had from the Israeli and the Jewish community as you become more successful?

“In 2018, during the Formula 2 season, in each race that I went around the crowd, I always met Israelis and some Jewish kids who specifically came to watch me. It’s a great feeling. There is some kind of belonging to the community. We’re one entity.”

Q: Have you ever experienced any anti-Semitism at the racetrack over the years?

“The beautiful thing about sports is it doesn’t have a place for these things. People are coming to watch car racing and be entertained by the high level of engineering and the beautiful racing we have. Some people might like me because they are part of our community, and others might like the way I drive, no matter their religion. That’s the beautiful thing. I’ve never faced it, thankfully.”

Q: What is your message for fans as they see the Israeli flag pop up at more tracks with yourself, Alon Day and others?

“I wish we will see more of the flags around the tracks. The support means so much to me. When I see an Israeli flag being brought up in the stands or on the podium, my heart fills with joy. My next target, in parallel to being a Formula 1 driver, is standing on the podium in F1 or F2 while the Israeli flag is above me, seeing a spectator, two or three raising the Israeli flag.”