Williams’ other Canadian billionaire: Sylvan Adams aims to 'conquer world' with team


Sylvan Adams is backing the Israeli test driver, Roy Nissany, to win a world championship with Williams. And with a track record like his, he might have a chance

Sylvan Adams with Roy Nissany

Sylvan Adams is backing Williams test driver Roy Nissany


Perhaps it’s the maple syrup that they serve in the Grove canteen, the prairie-like space around the Oxfordshire factory, or maybe it’s because the team delivered Canada’s only F1 champion.

Whatever the reason, Williams holds an attraction for Canadian billionaires. First there was Lawrence Stroll who is thought to have paid tens of millions of pounds to secure a race seat for his son Lance in 2017.

Next came Michael Latifi, whose son Nicholas will make his grand prix debut next week in a Williams car that’s draped in the Sofina branding of his company.

Then, earlier this year, it was announced that the Israeli driver Roy Nissany would join Williams in testing role, thanks to the backing of — yes — a Canadian billionaire.

“We’re planning to drop anchor at Williams and earn all of our success with Williams.”

Even by the standards of his peers, Sylvan Adams does not lack ambition.“The ultimate goal is to win a drivers’ championship,” he says, speaking to Motor Sport earlier this year. “Roy is a winner – why should we set our bar lower than that?”

“We’re planning to drop anchor at Williams and earn all of our success with Williams.

“I think that Claire [Williams] is determined to restore Williams to its former glory. When we combine forces together, we can conquer the world.”

For a team that’s actively looking for funding and contemplating a sale, the arrival of Adams might seem to be the answer that it has been praying for. However, he recently told Motor Sport that he was not looking to invest at the moment.

The 61-year-old Jewish property tycoon, isn’t here because of a long-held passion for motor racing. He’s flying the flag for Israel and aims to see it on a Formula 1 grid sooner rather than later.

Sylvan Adams cycling

Sylvan Adams in the Sylvan Adams National Velodrome in Tel Aviv

Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Four years ago, he moved from Canada to Tel Aviv and became an Israeli citizen. Since then he’s been such an advocate for the country that he’s printed business cards that  describe him as “self-ambassador at large for Israel”.

“The idea of seeing the Israeli flag on the car and Roy being beamed to 350m to 400m television viewers every couple of weeks is going to be quite something,” he says.

“My projects are reaching over the media to reach people, regular people and just show them the country and say, ‘look there we are this is what we are – in a rough neighbourhood – a very open, tolerant democratic society and we do interesting things.”

He’s invested heavily in educational and healthcare programmes in the country, booked Madonna to perform at last year’s Eurovision song contest and secured Lionel Messi, along with the Argentinian football team, to play a friendly in Tel Aviv.

A keen cyclist, he convinced organisers of the Giro d’Italia to hold stages in Israel and he is also behind the cycling outfit that will become the first Israeli team to enter the Tour de France later this year.

The latest rumour is that he is about to sign Chris Froome, the four-time Tour winner to lead the Israeli squad.

So while he’s currently a low-key figure in Formula 1, his ambitions are much greater – as are his expectations.

Sylvan Adams with Chris Froome

Adams with Chris Froome, who is rumoured to be signing for the Israel Start-Up Nation team

Tim de Waele/Getty Images

In 2018, Nissany scored a single point in Formula 2. Next year, Adams is hoping that he’ll earn the superlicence points needed for him to join the Formula 1 grid — which will require him to finish third or better in the F2 championship.

“The fast track plan is for Roy to be an actual F1 driver by 2021,” he says. “I think we’ve got a winner here, so for me the bar is very high,” he says.

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The unrelenting ambition is reminiscent of Helmut Marko and his unforgiving Red Bull Junior programme. Adams can foresee himself setting up a similar academy for promising Israelis.

“I look at this and I say it’s probably premature for me to talk academies and other things but certainly my track record speaks to wanting to develop the sports or activity I’m involved in and to provide opportunity for the youth of Israel,” he says.

“Why shouldn’t we have an academy that generates a pipeline of drivers leading to further success? We have this special case called Roy Nissany, I’m looking at him as possibly an aspirational figure for kids today who are looking at him.”

Nissany approached Adams last year to ask for help in his career, after a 2018 F2 campaign with Campos that the driver describes as “a bit messy in many aspects” and a break in 2019 following a training injury.

“It is quite a coincidence that [we are] three Canadians – we are not really known as a powerhouse in motorsport.”

He tested for Williams in Abu Dhabi last year and was announced as test driver in January. He will drive for Trident in Formula 2 this year.

“Roy is a special talent,” says Adams. “Williams tested him and they came away so impressed with two things: his actual driving skill and his communication skills. His feedback that he was giving to the engineers about the car – he did it in the simulator, he did it in the car in Abu Dhabi –  they were really really impressed. They basically told me they hadn’t seen a young driver with that kind of poise and cerebral understanding and communication skills to give them back this kind of feedback

“I’m super-excited. For me it was validation hearing the engineers of Williams talk about Roy and extolling his qualities and virtues. I had a notion that he was pretty good and now I really am extremely confident I think this kid is going places.”

Sylvan Adams Roy Nissany and Claire Williams as Nissany was announced as 2020 Williams test driver

Adams says Nissany can win a world championship with Williams


Adams said that he was drawn to Williams by the non-corporate, family atmosphere, rather than any nostalgia about becoming involved in the team that delivered Jacques Villeneuve the only world championship for a Canadian driver.

“My thing is Israel. If somebody had come to me with another driver from France or Japan or wherever, that would not have interested me at all,” he says, acknowledging that his fellow Canadians have a deeper interest in motor racing.

“Lawrence Stroll is a car racing fanatic and always has been all his life so his son is fulfilling his personal dream. For him to actually own a team and have his son race for that team, I would imagine is deeply, deeply satisfying.

“In the case of Nicholas Latifi, I know his father Michael Latifi. Again, there’s a long-standing support of his son that he had for many many years.

“It is quite a coincidence that [we are] three Canadians – we are not really known as a powerhouse in motorsport. I find it a very serendipitous one. We will be able to compare notes and have a friendly competition between us Canadians and see who will ultimately prevail — I like my pick.”