If you had only one opportunity to race a Formula 1 car in a Grand Prix, which marque would you choose? A Ferrari might be the most frequent answer. In 1967, during the Saturday practice session at the Mexican Grand Prix, Jonathan Williams found himself in just such a position.
The first day of practice on Friday passed uneventfully enough, with Chris alternating between the two cars that had been sent, trying to make up his mind which one he preferred. On Saturday, he did a few laps to confirm his choice, after which Franco Lini told me to get changed while the mechanics produced bits of foam rubber and sticky tape to attach to the seat so that I could reach the pedals. So here it was. The big moment.
I have to confess to feeling rather nervous at this point. I was about to mingle with some very excited people, on a track I didn’t know, in a car I had never driven, the very car that the highly knowledgeable Mr. Amon didn’t want. I’d driven one of the previous year’s 312 F1 cars once at the Modena Autodromo, but this was different.
Jonathan Williams was born in Cairo in 1942 where his father James, a non-career officer in the RAF, was stationed. He grew up at Endsleigh School in Colchester which his father owned and ran as headmaster, before being “sentenced” to four years at Cheltenham College, followed by a brief tenure at the Chelsea College of Engineering, an establishment attended briefly by the likes of Mike Hawthorn and Stirling Moss.
Having had his fill of education, Jonathan struck out on his own to become a racing driver, climbing the ranks of the cut-and-thrust world of Formula 3 in the early 60s to employment by the Italian De Sanctis team from Rome, then Ferrari for the 1967 season.
From Ferrari, Jonathan moved to Abarth, Serenissima then de Tomaso, rounding out his racing career driving the Solar Productions Porsche 908 camera car at Le Mans in 1970, then doing a stint as a stunt driver on Steve McQueen’s classic film.
Retiring from racing in 1971, he flew corporate jets for twenty years before trading that life in for one in a VW camper, then a small motorhome, drifting through Europe for two decades, visiting friends and enjoying life. In his own words, Shooting Star On A Prancing Horse tells Jonathan’s story, on and off the track, until his untimely death in 2014.
Produced and distributed exclusively by: Autosports Marketing Associates, Ltd.
He started only one Grand Prix – and in a works Ferrari, too – but Jonathan Williams was a far more accomplished racer than such a simple statistic implies. The Englishman, who died last year aged 71, was part of the band of travelling brothers who roamed Europe during the 1960s, living as best they could on start and prize money paid by Formula Junior and, later F3 race organizers, and recollections of such adventures forge much of this book’s charm. From Enna, for instance: “Several cars had spun and ended up in the reed beds on the end of the lake. When the crews went to retrieve them they found snakes entwined in the suspension, which made the clean-up rather unusual.” These days, paddocks tend to be infested by snakes of a different kind….
For the most part this is a delightful chronological journey. Formula 1 received scant media coverage at the time and in the U.K. Williams world was known only to readers of Motor Sport or the specialist weeklies – and that tended to be limited to short reports and race results, which scarcely told the full tale.
As well as being a distinguished competitor, Williams was also blessed with a relaxed writing style – so this is infused not just with engaging content, but elegance, too.
If you are wondering why Ferrari dropped him, incidentally, he puts it down to two things: wrecking an F1 car during a test at Modena…and declining an invitation to join Enzo Ferrari for a pizza, following a chance meeting at a fuel station.
It’s a fascinating voyage through a long-extinct world. – MotorSport
It is thanks to Jonathan Williams’ long-time partner, Linda Shelley, and Michael Keyser that this book has been published. After the author’s death last year, they gathered together notes, a draft manuscript and various photographs to complete the job, and their stellar efforts were definitely worthwhile.
In the 1960s, Williams was part of the Pinner Road gang that included the likes of Piers Courage, Frank Williams (no relation) and Charlie Crichton-Stuart. Those early adventures with the F3 circus are related in a typically modest and self-deprecating style, as are the successes that led to a Ferrari works contract.
Williams’ part in Le Mans – he drove Solar Productions’ Porsche camera car – is covered in detail, too. After his racing career came to an end, he worked as a pilot and found contentment travelling around in a series of campervans. It all adds up to a superb read, with a fine selection of photographs, and a reminder of a long-lost era of motorsport. – Classic & Sports Car
During many months, Jonathan Williams worked hard on his autobiography. Knowing his skill as a good story teller, it was due to be a good read… In May of 2014, the book was all but finished, and just needed some polishing. Sadly, his illness began and his passing, already one year ago in August 2014, prevented him to finally finish it.
Michael Keyser, former racing driver, and now writer and publisher, was a long time friend of Williams. They had co-written for instance “A French Kiss With Death”, and Keyser had already offered his assistance. He had planned to design and publish the book. Within a month of Williams passing, Keyser and Linda Shelley – Williams’ companion – decided to try and complete the book, based on the manuscript, notes and photographs Williams left behind.
The result is a magnificent piece, superbly written and nicely produced. In the man’s own words, :Shooting Star on a Prancing Horse” tells Jonathan Williams’ story, in a fascinating chronological journey on and off the track, from his early days to his beginning in motor racing with a Mini, his year at Ferrari, his contribution to Steve McQueen’s “Le Mans” movie, to his retired years, travelling South Europe in his faithful motorhome.
The book ends finally with a surprising but interesting diary. Keyser tells:
“Shortly after Jonathan passed away, Linda discovered a printed document in the bedside table in his room at her apartment in Sabinillas. He had told nobody about it… In it he tells us what he is doing and thinking during a very difficult time in his life in 2007 when he felt he may not be long for this world. When he thought he’d dodged the bullet, which he did for another seven years, he stopped writing”.
This English hardback book (224 x286 mm) is remarkably illustrated throughout its 172 pages with 214 b&w and 117 color photographs, and some nice memorabilia, such as his Royal Air Force Cadet or Army Certificates of Proficiency, his “O” Level Certificate, his membership card in the Aero Club di Modena, a funny letter from Peter Coltrin, a page from his flight log when he was at the school to obtain his pilot’s license or a letter from Solar Productions, confirming the drive of the Porsche 908 camera car at Le Mans…
Jonathan Williams deserved such a nice autobiography, and we also needed one of that great man. The Publisher, Autosports Marketing Associates. Ltd., did it right.
– Review by Arnaud Blanfuney at Cavallino