8 January 2019

Fascinating F1 Facts: 41

If you're looking for a good quiz question about Formula 1, you might try the following: Name the first F1 driver to be born in Egypt? Now you might think that there hasn't yet been a Egyptian driver in Formula 1 - and you would be right - but that doesn't mean that a driver of a different nationality could not have been born in Egypt. And this particular individual was even a Ferrari factory driver…

Those who have studied some history will know that in 1875 the Khedive of Egypt, Isma'il Pasha, ran out of money and decided that the best way to solve the problem was to sell shares in the Compagnie de Suez, the firm that had built the Suez Canal and was operating it. Most of the traffic through the canal was British and it was deemed strategically important to control the canal to ensure that the British Empire ran efficiently. So the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli purchased a significant shareholding in the company. Seven years later there was an uprising against the government and the British invaded, to protect their investment, and occupied the country until 1956. There was army and naval bases and when aviation arrived on the scene there were Royal Air Force bases as well. It was all organized under what was known as Egypt Command and it played a key role in protecting the Suez Canal during World War II, when the Italians and then the Germans tried to invade and take control of the canal. There were a series of engagements culminating in the three-week long Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 when General Bernard Montgomery defeated Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. Three days after the battle began, Squadron Leader James Williams of the Royal Air Force had plenty to worry about as his wife was giving birth to a baby boy, who would be called Jonathan.

James Williams was not a career RAF officer, but had joined up to fight for his country and when the war ended he was demoblised and became the owner and headmaster of an English prep school called Endsleigh House, near Colchester. Jonathan would become a pupil before being sent off to boarding school in Cheltenham  and from there to the Chelsea College of Engineering, where he first met racers Piers Courage, Charles Lucas and Sheridan Thynne and he was soon a member of a gang of racers which included  Frank Williams and Charlie Crichton-Stuart. Williams began to race a Mini in 1961 before switching to an Austin A35. This was followed by a Formula Junior Merlyn but that was soon destroyed and he bought a Lotus 3 car and with Courage founded Anglo-Swiss Racing, based in Lausanne, Switzerland. He would go on to join Charles Lucas Engineering Ltd and was then offered a paid drive with the De Sanctis company in Italy, which led to his first victories in the Mediterranean GP F3 race at Enna and in the famous Monza Lotteria race. This success dream him to the intention of Enzo Ferrari and he was signed by Scuderia Ferrari to race in Formula 2 in 1967. That year he won the Monza Lotteria for second time and made his F1 debut with Ferrari at the Mexican GP, standing in for the injured Mike Parkes. He finished eighth, but it was not enough for Enzo Ferrari, who had begun to get excited about two other rising stars Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell. Williams focused on Formula 2 and sports cars and won the Monza Lotteria for a third time in 1968.

He soon decided that he would quit the sport and learned to fly planes instead. He would become an executive jet pilot for many years before retiring and touring around Europe in a motorhome, until his death in 2014.

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