Jonathan Williams 1942-2014

Jonathan Williams chatting with Jim Clark

Jonathan Williams chatting with Jim Clark

Jonathan Williams, perhaps best known for driving a works Ferrari on his one and only GP start in Mexico in 1967, passed away in Spain on Sunday at the age of 71. A true gentleman, and a gentle man, he will be much missed by his friends.

Born in Cairo in 1942 – his parents ran a school there – Jonathan’s passion for racing was fired by a trip to Silverstone in 1951. He began racing in 1961 with a Mini, and on one famous afternoon crashed at Mallory Park. He was sitting on the bank watching when another driver, who happened to share his surname, crashed nearby. Thus Jonathan and Frank Williams met for the first time, and later through Jonathan Frank met two men who would play a big role in his life, Piers Courage and Sheridan Thynne.

In 1963 Jonathan travelled Europe with a Formula Junior Merlyn, with Frank serving as his mechanic. Alas a big crash in Monaco, where he injured his leg and received a bang on the head, proved to be a major setback.

In 1964 he teamed up with Courage to run in the new F3 category, and the pair both bought Lotus 22s. Using the Anglo-Swiss Racing name in an attempt to impress continental race organisers, they raced all over Europe before funding ran out. Help was at hand however, and for 1965 friend Charles Lucas – who had recently come into some money – set up his own team, employing Jonathan, Piers and Peter Gethin.

Jonathan always loved Italy, and for 1966 he accepted an offer to join the works de Sanctis team. He was the star of the cut-and-thrust world of Italian F3 that year, which caught the attention of Ferrari.

He was duly signed up for 1967 and spent the year racing for the Scuderia in sportscars, CanAm and F2. It was a turbulent season for the team that saw Lorenzo Bandini die at Monaco, and Jonathan’s close friend Mike Parkes injured at Spa. During a gap between CanAm races he was told to travel to Mexico City. After minimal practice he was given his first and only F1 start in the chassis rejected by number one driver Chris Amon, in which he finished eighth. A subsequent testing crash at Modena brought his Ferrari career to an end.

In 1968 Jonathan raced for various F2 teams, winning the Monza Lottery for Frank Williams, who by now had become an entrant in his own right.

Mexico aside, Jonathan’s other claim to fame came in 1970 when he became involved in the making of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, driving the Porsche 908 camera car in the race itself, as well as taking part in the months of filming that followed.

The death of his closest friend Courage at that year’s Dutch GP was a heart wrenching blow for Jonathan, and the following year his racing career fizzled out.

Having learned to fly he spent some time as a private pilot for wealthy businessmen before dropping out and spending many years travelling around the coast of France, Spain and Portugal in a small motorhome. In recent years he had settled at a base in Spain, keeping himself occupied by writing magazine articles about racing history, but his plan was always to buy another motorhome and set off again on his travels. Sadly it was not to be.

I first met Jonathan in 1998 when I started writing a book about Piers Courage, and we stayed in touch thereafter. I visited him regularly when I travelled to Jerez for winter F1 testing, and we spent a family holiday with him last summer. This time last year he stayed with me en route to the Zandvoort historic event, where a memorial to Piers was unveiled.

That was a rare trip as he was never fond of crowds, or the hassles associated with airports. However he had agreed to attend the upcoming Italian GP in company with a historic racer whose Ferrari sportscar he had demonstrated at a revival event. A couple of weeks ago Jonathan emailed me to say he wouldn’t be able to make Monza on health grounds – and with typical thoughtfulness asked if I could catch up with his friend and show him around.

Quietly spoken, and forever modest about his own achievements as a driver, he was a very special man, and much loved by his loyal friends.

At Jonathan’s own request donations can be made to the hospice where he spent his final days,

The writer with Charles Lucas (centre) and Jonathan at Zandvoort last year

The writer with Charles Lucas (centre) and Jonathan at Zandvoort last year

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Lewis Hamilton: “Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes…”

Lewis Hamilton has followed up statements from Mercedes and Nico Rosberg with his own take on today’s meeting at the team HQ.

Hamilton said: “Today we came together as a team and discussed our differences. Nico and I accept that we have both made mistakes and I feel it would be wrong to point fingers and say which one is worse than the other.

“What’s important is how we rise as a team from these situations. We win and we lose together and, as a team, we will emerge stronger.

“There is a deep foundation that still exists for me and Nico to work from, in spite of our difficult times and differences.

“We have the greatest team, the strongest group of individuals who have worked their hands to the bone to give us the best car you see us racing today. It’s important that we never forget that and give them the results they deserve.

“Today, Toto and Paddy told us clearly how we must race against each other from now on in a fair and respectful manner. The fans want to see a clean fight until the end of the season and that’s what we want to give them.

“It’s going to be a tough road from here but Championships have been won from much further back than I am now. And I promise you that I will be giving everything and more to win this for my team, for my family and for my fans.”

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Nico Rosberg: “I apologise to Lewis and the team…”

Nico Rosberg has apologised to fans for depriving them of the chance to watch him battle with Lewis Hamilton for the lead of the Belgian GP.

Rosberg used his Facebook page to put out a statement that complements the one issued earlier by Mercedes.

He wrote: “In the days since the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what happened during the race and discussing it with the team. I have already expressed my regret about the incident but, after meeting with Toto, Paddy and Lewis today, I wish to go a step further and describe it as an error of judgement on my part.

“The number one rule for us as team mates is that we must not collide but that is exactly what happened. For that error of judgement, I apologise to Lewis and the team. I also want to say sorry to the fans who were deprived of our battle for the lead in Belgium.

“Lewis and I have been given clear instructions about how we race each other. As drivers, we have a clear responsibility to the team, the fans of the sport, our partners and Mercedes-Benz to deliver clean racing. We take that responsibility very seriously.

“I look forward to concluding the season with hard, fair competition on and off track right up to the final lap of the season in Abu Dhabi.”

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Mercedes drivers still free to race as Rosberg apologises

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg met with Mercedes team bosses Paddy Lowe and Toto Wolff at Brackley this morning to discuss the Belgian GP incident – and the drivers were reminded that they are free to race, but must not make contact.

Rosberg meanwhile took responsibility for what happened at Spa, and apologised.

A team statement said: “During this meeting, Nico acknowledged his responsibility for the contact that occurred on lap two of the Belgian Grand Prix and apologised for this error of judgement.

“Suitable disciplinary measures have been taken for the incident.

“Mercedes-Benz remains committed to hard, fair racing because this is the right way to win world championships. It is good for the team, for the fans and for Formula One.

“Lewis and Nico understand and accept the team’s number one rule: there must be no contact between the team’s cars on track.

“It has been made clear that another such incident will not be tolerated. But Nico and Lewis are our drivers and we believe in them.

“They remain free to race for the 2014 FIA Formula One World Championship.”


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Red Bull not pursuing its own power unit, Horner insists

Red Bull has referred to "our Formula One power unit" in Autosport job ads

Red Bull has referred to “our Formula One power unit” in Autosport job ads

Christian Horner says that Red Bull only intends to help Renault to improve the current power unit, within the framework of the FIA engine freeze, rather than pursue a new unit for 2016 or beyond.

Red Bull’s human resources department created a stir recently by advertising for personnel to work on “our Formula One power unit.” That added fuel to suggestions that the intention is to homologate a new power unit for 2016, which would be built by Renault’s Viry factory, but with Red Bull design input and IP. In theory it would be not subject to current freeze restrictions, although the FIA’s take on such a scenario is not clear, as the rules have not been tested yet.

There remains the very obvious possibility of the Infiniti name being used, and it is known that the luxury marque’s management is keen to distance itself from the Renault brand.

However within the freeze there is still a reasonable amount of freedom for all three current manufacturers to make changes over the coming winter for 2015, while there is another but smaller window before the 2016 season, and so on. The big question is whether those upgrade opportunities will allow RBR and Renault to make sufficient progress relative to the possibility of starting with a clean sheet. Horner insists that the intention is to work with the current power unit.

“We’re working with Renault, and Renault are committed to F1,” Horner told this writer. “We now have a clear structure and philosophy of how Renault want to go racing in F1, which is with a focus around a team, which is the way it needs to be. And obviously Caterham and Toro Rosso will benefit from any advances we make.

“It’s not setting up our own department, it’s in complete collaboration with Renault. It’s part of us starting to work together as a proper works team, and in areas that we have strength, we are looking to build upon, and compliment areas within Renault Sport.

“It’s still evolving, but certainly areas where we have real strength are simulation and modelling and so on. That’s what we’ll be focussing on it. And in the energy recovery side, we’ve got good specialist know-how there. It’s all work in progress at the moment.”

Regarding the winter upgrade window for 2015 he said: “Obviously it’s tight, but we’re pushing on.”

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McLaren will hire “the best drivers available,” says Ron Dennis

Ron Dennis says he’s satisfied with the performance of Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen in 2014, but confirms that McLaren is keeping its options open on future driver choice as it enters the Honda era.

The names of Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton have all been connected with the team, although in theory none are free until 2016 or even later.

Dennis was reminded that a few weeks ago he said that Jenson had to “try harder,” a remark that created something of a stir at the time.

“Anyone who has actually seen the TV interview in question will know that there was an element of humour in what I said,” he told the official F1 website. “Having said that, did I also intend to give Jenson a bit of a wake-up call? Yes, I did. But I did it softly, not maliciously. Indeed, perhaps the efficacy of my strategy was confirmed by the fact that Jenson immediately reacted by achieving his best race result of the year.

“Anyway, to tackle the specificity of your question, yes, I’m satisfied with both Jenson and Kevin. They’re both capable of winning Grands Prix in a competitive car – Jenson has proved that 15 times in his long Formula One career, and Kevin has already demonstrated abundant pace in his so-far-short Formula One career – but clearly we’re not giving them a competitive car at the moment.

“Nonetheless, despite that, I want them to give their best – and, at the same time, be responsible enough to appreciate that McLaren will always make efforts to hire the best drivers available. If such opportunities arise, we’ll appraise them; we always have and we always will. All great Formula One teams are the same in that regard. But we’re not in a position to do that at the moment.”

Asked about the possibility of attracting a marquee name such as Vettel or Alonso he added: “As I say, we’ll always look to employ the best drivers available – but they have to be available, don’t they? Having said that, for the avoidance of doubt, Jenson and Kevin represent an excellent blend of capable experience and youthful promise, and we’re very happy with both of them. The fact that we’re keeping an eye on what a few other drivers are up to in no way contradicts that, because, as I say, if opportunities arise, we’ll appraise them – we always have and we always will.”

Asked if any driver could be available in the right circumstances he said: “Well, that depends on whether you respect drivers’ contracts or not, and I do.”


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The real Ecclestone is back, say F1 team bosses

F1 team bosses agree that Bernie Ecclestone has bounced back after the conclusion of his inevitably distracting German court case – and they say that his return to form is good for the sport.

Ecclestone hosted a meeting of team principals at Spa on Saturday, where ‘improving the show’ formed the main part of the agenda.

“It’s great that Bernie is full time again,” said Christian Horner when asked by this writer. “F1 needs Bernie at the moment. There’s a few issues that we need to get on top of, and there’s no better person to do it than the little man himself.”

“I think what is important is stability in F1,” Toto Wolff. “I have seen a very strong Bernie coming back from the shutdown, coming back after the court case has been settled. And this is good news. Whatever the governance, whatever the management of F1 is going to be going forward, I think the shareholders and Bernie are looking very much into how it can be done best for the future of F1. For us it’s important to have a strong guy, a strong leader, and good discussions.

“I’m sure there is lots of talking behind the scenes, what’s going on in the future, but for us it is very good that Bernie is fully concentrated, back in shape, strong, and leading the organisation at this stage.”

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