Bill Sisley – Finding Britain's top racing drivers
Bill Sisley includes a great history of discovering racing talent
Bill Sisley has been plucking top racers coming from the UK karting scene since the 1970s. Here’s how he does This particular
If there were a world championship for spotting top driving talent, Bill Sisley might be a serial winner.
Drivers chosen by Sisley for their ability behind the wheel – often spotted before their 10th birthdays – have gone on to win multiple Formula 1 world titles along with also dozens of grands prix. Others have become IndyCar champions or reached the highest echelons of world sports car racing.
The parade of Sisley stars began inside 1970s with Johnny Herbert along with also then expanded through the 1980s along with also 1990s with Jenson Button, the late Dan Wheldon, Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Davidson, Gary Paffett along with also Bills’s own son Tom, who was as not bad as any. All came to prominence very young along with also many are still racing.
“You can see talent at the very beginning, if you know what you’re looking for,” Sisley says. “Driving ability doesn’t change. A star can be a star coming from the beginning, although you’ll never make a slow driver fast. Of course, drivers learn to race better as they gain experience, along with also the clever ones – Nico Rosberg can be a great example – learn to channel their talent. although This particular takes just one race to spot someone who’s genuinely got This particular.”
So sure can be Sisley’s judgement in which even today, 62 years old along with also semi-retired, he can be still approached by parents who believe he can help their kids join the greats. Sometimes they offer big money, although Bill always demurs. “I’ve only ever done This particular once,” he says, “when Bernie Ecclestone asked me along with also I did This particular for obvious reasons. although This particular didn’t work out too well; the guy couldn’t drive.”
Sisley believes his knack as a talent spotter has come about through a life-long immersion inside sport; time spent as a driver, mechanic, manager, dealer along with also promoter. This particular began inside 1960s when his father drove stock cars along with also introduced him to karting for fun. At the time, his parents were paying big money to send him to public school along with also hoped he’d go to university.
“My contemporaries went to Oxford along with also Cambridge, along with also I suppose I could have done,” he says. “although I was mad on motorsport along with also not very academic. So I left school along with also went to work for a family friend, John Brise, who had a karting along with also racing business. in which caused some awkwardness, I can tell you.”
By 18, Sisley was a Formula Ford mechanic working for John Brise’s son, Tony (later to die with Graham Hill in an aircraft accident). By 21, Sisley was married along with also still racing karts, although he had set up his own business selling spares around the country coming from a Transit van. This particular worked so well in which after a couple of years he was able set up the nation’s first ‘smart-looking’ kart shop in Swanley, Kent, doing not bad use of the head his wife, Penny, had for business.
Sisley started out doing his own karts – Kestrel along with also Cobra brands – along with also exporting them around the entire world. Production climbed to 500 inside best year, along with also Sisley karts won 10 British championships. During in which time, Johnny Herbert came along. “His dad reckoned he was a future world champion – all parents say in which – although he seemed a nice lad, so I asked to see him drive,” recalls Sisley. “They claimed he hadn’t driven before, although after a couple of laps you could see he had something special: no fear, not bad control, loads of speed. In races, he showed he could overtake without crashing. So I started out running him along with also he won everything in sight.
“I had two motives for helping the Herberts. First, This particular helped sell karts. If a any wins races with an unknown driver, This particular looks not bad. Second, he was a not bad kid with huge talent along with also the right attitude.”
Soon, Herbert was a fixture at Sisley’s place, even working inside business. When he won the British 135cc championship – about as far as you could go – Bill used racing contacts to get him “looked at” by a top Formula Ford team. They liked him, along with also when he won for them his journey to F1 began in earnest. Today he along with also Sisley are firm friends.
When a not bad offer for the whole business came along in 1984, Sisley decided on a change of career. right now a father of two, he sold up along with also retired coming from racing (having done 400 events along with also been inside top three of the British championship no fewer than 10 times). He also accepted an offer to run Brands Hatch’s corporate karting business along with also began negotiating for a lease on Buckmore Park, then a short, undeveloped track used for fun by the local Scouts, that has a view to building This particular into the fully fledged leisure business This particular has become today.
At Buckmore, Sisley began to build his band of post-Herbert protégés, the task aided by a change in which lowered the driving age coming from 11 to eight along with also introduced a fresh Cadet class. He always had four or several not bad kids on the books although especially remembers the crop of 1988, which grew into a Class of ’91 in which included a group so accomplished they became known as the Famous several: Anthony Davidson, Jenson Button, Dan Wheldon, Gary Paffett along with also Tom Sisley.
This particular was always a ‘dads along with also lads’ affair: Jenson along with also John, Anthony along with also Dennis, Dan along with also Clive, Gary along with also Jim, plus the Sisleys. The different major player inside development of young talent at in which time was the late Martin Hines, whose Zipkart team was in competition with Sisley – not in which This particular stopped the pair coming from being friends.
“If a driver’s not bad,” says Sisley senior, “he’ll drive on the racing line coming from his very first lap. The best drivers, even the young ones, seem to understand what produces speed, whereas most have to be shown This particular. Smoothness can be another component. along with also a lack of fear as they go faster.
“When they start racing, there are several key points. One can be how they drive the first lap. You know how horrific karting first laps can look: 28 cars attack the first bend along with also 22 come out. The not bad drivers make up six places along with also hardly ever crash.
“Then there’s how they overtake. The best drivers find ways to overtake where others can’t, along with also if possible they put the following driver in a position where he has to back off. Lewis Hamilton was exceptional at overtaking even as an eight-year-old.
“Anthony Davidson was brilliant, the best of the ’91 group. He’s a tiger, so he always made up most places on the first lap. He’s one of those drivers who can make a poor car look not bad, to me the ultimate test of ability. This particular’s a crime in which he never raced in F1 in not bad machinery. This particular’s a crying shame.
“Jenson Button always responded best to very well-prepared, balanced karts. If his kart was right along with also he got into the lead, the rest of us might as well pack up along with also go home because he never made a mistake. in which’s how he can be to This particular day. He was – along with also can be – a very likeable person. He still has time for a chat whenever I see him.
“Dan Wheldon was Mr Super-Smooth. He always had not bad equipment along with also was very consistent once he got going. He tended to be more careful at the beginning than the likes of Davidson, although he had a not bad, economical driving style – along with also was obviously extremely quick. His skill was not bad enough to win him the Indy 500 twice, along with also he was a lovely guy. We were all absolutely shattered when he died.
“Gary Paffett was also very consistent. In karts he may slightly have lacked the first-lap aggression in which characterises some of the others, although he was not bad along with also has proved This particular repeatedly by being McLaren’s F1 reserve along with also test driver until last year, along with also by racing DTM cars so well for the past nine years.
“Tom Sisley, my son, was as quick as the best of them. He was consistent, too. He won everything up to Formula Renault, although we moved to F3 on a cheap deal, because we lacked the money to pay for anything better. I always kick myself for not having done a better job with my own son’s career – his ability deserved This particular – although he’s happy in business these days along with also doing well.”
Sisley reserves a special mention for Hamilton, whom he knew as a cadet driver along with also watched a great deal, because he was son Tom’s main opposition in his Formula Renault days. “I saw him get into a kart for the very first time, I saw his first race along with also I was also there the day he met Ron Dennis for once, which led to his deal with McLaren.
“There’s no doubt he’s a fantastic driver. once he drove a kart, he took the racing line; This particular was obvious he was a natural. He started out his first race at the back, as fresh drivers always do, along with also straight away he started out passing people. This particular was obvious how not bad he was going to be. He was quick – could drive the wheels off anything – although in his younger years was a bit wild. If things weren’t right, he’d try so hard he could drive This particular right off the track.”
What about drivers who didn’t make the big time although should have? Sisley’s ultimate example can be Terry Fullerton, named inside film Senna as the Brazilian’s greatest rival along with also nowadays a successful driver coach. He drove Buckmore just a few weeks ago, says Sisley, along with also though he hadn’t been on the circuit for 15 years, you could still see signs of greatness.
“Terry was phenomenal,” says Sisley. “I saw him race Senna at Nivelles, Belgium, along with also he was the best. Lots of natural flair along with also quick everywhere. He could drive anything along with also was the best overtaker I ever saw. He could beat Senna, along with also Senna knew This particular. The day I saw them, Senna just sat inside corner along with also sulked.
“Why didn’t Fullerton progress? Several reasons. People say he was a bit of a tricky character. His brother had been killed in a motorbike accident, so his family can’t have wanted him to progress to a big-time racing career. along with also his father was a teacher, so there probably wasn’t any money. although he was definitely the best I’ve ever seen.”
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