Mike Thackwell is often held up as the classic example of the driver who got too much too soon. At 16 (illegally young, but he’d lied about his age) he was winning Formula Ford races in Britain. In 1979, the following year, he was a shining talent in Formula Three, although he had to rely on a loan from Alan Jones to see him through the season. For 1980 he graduated to F2, then to F1. His Grand Prix career never took off, and he quit the sport in the late ’80s after success in F3000 and sportscars, while still only in his late 20s.
He was the ultimate racing romantic, for whom greatness is measured not in results but in style.”There I was lining up for my Grand Prix debut in Montreal just behind Gilles Villeneuve. We haven’t had anyone great in the sport since he died. He was unbelievable — such a racer. I thought. ‘That’s what racing’s about’ when I watched him.
“When I went to the drivers’ briefing in Montreal we sat down, and the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association were talking about safety and this and that. They said, ‘We should put catch-fencing here and a chicane on this bend.’ He looked up, put up his hand and said, ‘What for? You’ll ruin the track.You’re taking away the best corner’: He was so annoyed that they were actually talking about making this corner safer.
“It was a great corner. He was brilliant through there — absolutely phenomenal. It was just flat in a ground-effect car and he knew it could be done , but no else could.
“You see so much crap in Formula One. A thousand guys can get up to three-quarter level, but only a few can go further. You’ve got to have that passion. I never stopped having that, but for the rest it’s a different story.”