The remarkable story of F1’s most unlikely test driver

But for Israeli Chanoch Nissany, his now infamous outing in a Friday free practice session for Minardi at the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix is something he remains immensely proud of.

Some may scoff at his pace that day and suggest Nissany was never good enough to deserve a seat in F1. But to do so would be to not understand the remarkable story of determination that got him there in the first place.

For that, you have to rewind to four years beforehand, when Nissany, then a successful real estate businessman working in Budapest, attended the 2001 Hungarian Grand Prix as a spectator.

“I started when I was 38,” he tells “I was a businessman, working in an office, and I remember sitting in the grandstand at Budapest.

“I saw the race and I said to my friend: ‘I want to be an F1 driver’. I had never before sat in a go-kart or a racing car, anything. And I said to them: ‘I want to be a driver’.

“My friends replied: ‘No problem. When we get back home you take your medicine and everything will be fine’. But I went back and I started [my career] from zero.”

Nissany’s business success meant he had the financial means to get the ball rolling in motorsport – with him eventually picking up a personal sponsor in Israeli cosmetics company UPEX that would take him all the way to F1.

He entered the 2002 Formula 2000 Hungarian National Championship, finishing runner-up that season, and then won the title the following year.

By 2003 he began competing in international series, including the World Series Lights, and 2004 saw him compete in Formula 3000. He wasn’t setting the world on fire with his results, but he was still on target to achieve his dream, which moved closer when he secured a test driver role at Jordan.

Chanoch Nissany, Jordan Ford EJ14

Photo by: James Moy

He made his F1 test debut in a run at Silverstone in July – nine seconds slower than teammate Nick Heidfeld after an engine failure cut short his running.

“I worked day by day, for 24 hours on it,” he said about his push. “I was eating, sleeping, dreaming about car racing.”

In July 2005, Nissany’s ambition of taking part in an official F1 weekend was all but achieved, though, when at the Hilton Hotel in Tel-Aviv, Minardi boss Paul Stoddart announced that the Israeli would become an official tester for his team – with the plan for him to run in some FP1 sessions.

With F1’s superlicence rules very different to now, all Nissany needed to do to get the paperwork to drive in a free practice session was to complete enough mileage in private testing.

And with F1’s testing equally a world away from the restrictions now, getting those miles was not a problem.

Nissany, who had done two tests for Minardi the previous winter, completed five full days for the team at Misano, Mugello and Vallelunga before it was decided he would get the Friday outing he had dreamed of in Hungary – which coincidentally came on his 42nd birthday.

The news of Nissany’s F1 outing was massive in Israel, and local journalists and television crews descended on the Hungaroring to witness the event.

One especially eager reporter asked Michael Schumacher what he thought of Nissany’s test. The slightly baffled-looking German responded: “I have to apologise, I don’t know.”

Chanoch Nissany, Minardi

Chanoch Nissany, Minardi

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch

Nissany’s outing did not go amiss though, as the official F1 feed followed him like a hawk. His slightly cautious approach, amid the increased pressure of being at a proper weekend, meant no big push for sensational laptimes as he built his confidence up.

But with 17 minutes to go, Nissany got it wrong at Turn 4 – spinning off in to the gravel and his session was over. As the mobile crane arrived to tow his car, he was still there in the cockpit. His day was done.

In the end, the record book shows that Nissany ended the free practice session with alap time of 1m34.319 seconds. This was nearly 13 seconds slower than pace setting Alex Wurz in the McLaren who did a 1m21.411s. As a comparison, Minardi’s Christijan Albers put in a 1m27.540s.

As he looks back now on what happened that day, there is no embarrassment that he was not in the league of Schumacher, Fernando Alonso or Kimi Raikkonen that day. Just being out there on track was the realisation of an unlikely dream, and he knows in private testing he had been much more on the pace than he showed that day.

“Look, don’t forget it’s now 15 years since then,” he says. “I was proud to be at the Hungaroring, no question. It was a great experience.

“My target was very clear: to be an official Formula 1 driver and to drive the Formula 1 car. And this I did and I achieved.

“I’m just a special story for regular people, everybody who is is a businessman, worker and has some aim or a dream. So don’t say it is not possible.

“I wanted to show to everybody that even at 38, if you decide to do something, you can do it. This is just by the mental side.”

Chanoch Nissany, Minardi

Chanoch Nissany, Minardi

Photo by: Mark Capilitan

Nissany would never appear in an F1 session again, but he did take part in four further test days for Minardi. He continued his racing career too, winning more championships in Hungary before properly hanging up his helmet a few years ago.

More recently, his focus has been on helping his son Roy make progress up the motor racing ladder. He has played a big role in helping put together the recently announced test driver deal with Williams.

While there is plenty of banter between father and son over their racing exploits, both are aware that their Formula 1 opportunities are at completely different ends of the spectrum.

Roy said: “I find myself very different from my father. If you look back at his career record, it was very unique, odd, and special, starting at the age of 38.

“So his objectives were very different to mine. Starting from such a late age and making into F1, to get the Israeli flag there, I think it’s an amazing achievement and stands on its own.

“But it’s not what I’m trying to do, starting from six years old, and going further up the motor racing categories. So it’s nice to have this heritage. But again, I have my individual way.”

It’s fair to say though that Nissany Sr. is probably prouder of what his son is doing in pushing up the motor racing ladder, than of what he managed in his own career.

“I am happy to achieve what I achieved,” admitted Nissany Sr. “But I think Roy can do much more, because I never had the talent. I am not in his category. I just had, let’s say, the mental power to do it.

“But this generation, the young generation, they are in another world.”

Chanoch Nissany

Chanoch Nissany

Photo by: Williams F1

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