Finding Britain's top racing drivers
Bill Sisley carries a great history of discovering racing talent
Bill Sisley has been plucking top racers via the UK karting scene since the 1970s. Here’s how he does the idea
If there were a world championship for spotting top driving talent, Bill Sisley would likely 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 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 the 1970s with Johnny Herbert along with then expanded through the 1980s along with 1990s with Jenson Button, the late Dan Wheldon, Lewis Hamilton, Anthony Davidson, Gary Paffett along with Bills’s own son Tom, who was as Great as any. All came to prominence very young along with 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 is usually a star via the beginning, although you’ll never make a slow driver fast. Of course, drivers learn to race better as they gain experience, along with the clever ones – Nico Rosberg is usually a great example – learn to channel their talent. although the idea takes just one race to spot someone who’s genuinely got the idea.”
So sure is usually Sisley’s judgement which even today, 62 years old along with semi-retired, he is usually 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 the idea once,” he says, “when Bernie Ecclestone asked me along with I did the idea for obvious reasons. although the idea 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 the sport; time spent as a driver, mechanic, manager, dealer along with promoter. the idea began inside the 1960s when his father drove stock cars along with introduced him to karting for fun. At the time, his parents were paying big money to send him to public school along with hoped he’d go to university.
“My contemporaries went to Oxford along with Cambridge, along with I suppose I could have done,” he says. “although I was mad on motorsport along with not very academic. So I left school along with went to work for a family friend, John Brise, who had a karting along with racing business. 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 still racing karts, although he had set up his own business selling spares around the country via a Transit van. the idea worked so well which after a couple of years he was able set up the nation’s first ‘smart-looking’ kart shop in Swanley, Kent, generating Great use of the head his wife, Penny, had for business.
Sisley commenced generating his own karts – Kestrel along with Cobra brands – along with exporting them around the entire world. Production climbed to 500 inside the best year, along with Sisley karts won 10 British championships. During which time, Johnny Herbert came along. “His dad reckoned he was a future world champion – all parents say 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, Great control, loads of speed. In races, he showed he could overtake without crashing. So I commenced running him along with he won everything in sight.
“I had two motives for helping the Herberts. First, the idea helped sell karts. If a supplier received a wins races with an unknown driver, the idea looks Great. Second, he was a Great kid with huge talent along with the right attitude.”
Soon, Herbert was a fixture at Sisley’s place, even working inside the 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 when he won for them his journey to F1 began in earnest. Today he along with Sisley are firm friends.
When a Great offer for the whole business came along in 1984, Sisley decided on a change of career. today a father of two, he sold up along with retired via racing (having done 400 events along with been inside the 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 began negotiating for a lease on Buckmore Park, then a short, undeveloped track used for fun by the local Scouts, which has a view to building the idea into the fully fledged leisure business the idea has become today.
At Buckmore, Sisley began to build his band of post-Herbert protégés, the task aided by a change which lowered the driving age via 11 to eight along with introduced a completely new Cadet class. He always had four or several Great kids on the books although especially remembers the crop of 1988, which grew into a Class of ’91 which included a group so accomplished they became known as the Famous several: Anthony Davidson, Jenson Button, Dan Wheldon, Gary Paffett along with Tom Sisley.
the idea was always a ‘dads along with lads’ affair: Jenson along with John, Anthony along with Dennis, Dan along with Clive, Gary along with Jim, plus the Sisleys. The some other major player inside the development of young talent at which time was the late Martin Hines, whose Zipkart team was in competition with Sisley – not which the idea stopped the pair via being friends.
“If a driver’s Great,” says Sisley senior, “he’ll drive on the racing line via his very first lap. The best drivers, even the young ones, seem to understand what produces speed, whereas most have to be shown the idea. Smoothness is usually another component. along which has a lack of fear as they go faster.
“When they start racing, there are several key points. One is usually how they drive the first lap. You know how horrific karting first laps can look: 28 cars attack the first bend along with 22 come out. The Great drivers make up six places along with hardly ever crash.
“Then there’s how they overtake. The best drivers find ways to overtake where others can’t, along with 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 Great, to me the ultimate test of ability. the idea’s a crime which he never raced in F1 in Great machinery. the idea’s a crying shame.
“Jenson Button always responded best to very well-prepared, balanced karts. If his kart was right along with he got into the lead, the rest of us might as well pack up along with go home because he never made a mistake. which’s how he is usually to This kind of day. He was – along with is usually – a very likeable person. He still has time for a chat whenever I see him.
“Dan Wheldon was Mr Super-Smooth. He always had Great equipment along with 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 Great, economical driving style – along with was obviously extremely quick. His skill was Great enough to win him the Indy 500 twice, along with 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 which characterises some of the others, although he was Great along with has proved the idea repeatedly by being McLaren’s F1 reserve along with test driver until last year, along with 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 the idea – although he’s happy in business these days along with doing well.”
Sisley reserves a special mention for Hamilton, whom he knew as a cadet driver along with 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 I was also there the day he met Ron Dennis for the 1st time, which led to his deal with McLaren.
“There’s no doubt he’s a fantastic driver. the 1st time he drove a kart, he took the racing line; the idea was obvious he was a natural. He commenced his first race at the back, as completely new drivers always do, along with straight away he commenced passing people. the idea was obvious how Great 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 the idea right off the track.”
What about drivers who didn’t make the big time although should have? Sisley’s ultimate example is usually Terry Fullerton, named inside the film Senna as the Brazilian’s greatest rival along with nowadays a successful driver coach. He drove Buckmore just a few weeks ago, says Sisley, along with 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 he was the best. Lots of natural flair along with quick everywhere. He could drive anything along with was the best overtaker I ever saw. He could beat Senna, along with Senna knew the idea. The day I saw them, Senna just sat inside the corner along with 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 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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