The other life of Brian

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Brian Redman’s Formula One record is poor compared to his sparkling sportscar career, yet he preferred to race single-seaters — and had plenty of success in them, too. So exactly why did he turn down Ferrari, asks Tim Scott?

As a sportscar driver, on his day Brian Redman was a match for the very best: Ickx, Siffert or Rodriguez. But there is an incongruity in his CV. At a time when top drivers regularly dovetailed campaigns in Formula One and endurance racing, rarely in a 30-year career did Redman join his peers in the sport’s highest echelon. In the same seven-year period in which he won 15 world championship sportscar races, in JW Automotive Ford GT40s, factory Porsches and Ferraris, he started only 12 grands prix, usually as a fill-in driver, for six different teams. What adds further curiosity to these statistics is that the man himself is adamant that single-seaters were his favoured discipline.

There is certainly evidence that Redman had the necessary ability to carve out a long and successful career in F1. His glaring sportscar successes cause people to forget what a capable single-seater driver he was. During the mid-1970s, away from European eyes, he became the undisputed king of Formula 5000 in the USA. He won that championship, a series that was essentially the forerunner to modem-day ChampCar road racing, three years in a row, 1974 to 76. And in doing so he beat fair and square, time and again, no fewer than four F1 champions-to-be: Mario Andretti, Jody Scheckter, Alan Jones and James Hunt, along with other established American headliners such as Al and Bobby Unser.

Redman’s first two title-winning seasons were characterised by season-long battles with Andretti. The American legend has no doubts about his former rival’s credentials as a single-seater racer: “I regarded Brian as a formidable competitor. There were others out there you had to be concerned with, but his name was always the one that was at the top of my list.”

Redman’s former F5000 team boss Carl Haas also agrees that the Lancastrian was out of the top drawer as a single-seater driver: “Brian’s very underrated. He was very quick, but very intelligent, too. I’d put him very high up on the list of drivers I’ve worked with.”

Most would accept that Redman’s best GP performance was at a soaking Monaco in 1972, when he joined the McLaren team as a replacement for Peter Revson, away on Indianapolis qualifying duty. Having never driven in the Principality before, and in a dry qualifying, Redman put his M19A 10th on the grid, just four-tenths slower than team leader Denny Hulme — whose M19C featured a superior suspension set-up. Then, in a soaking wet race, he put in an excellent performance to finish fifth, staving off Chris Amon’s Matra in the closing stages.

“At the start I was following Denny, and because he was team leader and a former champion, I didn’t pass him,” recalls Redman. “And early on he went down the escape road at the Chicane… and I followed him, because I couldn’t see through his spray. As soon as we’d let everyone past, I was so maddened that I passed him. I carried on, picked off a few more and scored points.”

The team thought it was a great effort, as McLaren designer Gordon Coppuck attests: “Brian was a first-class driver, and his fifth place was an excellent drive. He did what he was there to do. And we all thought it a very fine achievement that he went as quickly as Denny in qualifying.”

However, Redman’s reading of his performance is hugely revealing about why he never forced his way into a regular F1 seat: “I drove well that day, it was a very competent race — but I didn’t drive with heart”

For what Redman had come to learn by then was always to drive only as fast as was absolutely needed. In an international career bookended by huge accidents, he had already had two lucky escapes. He had decided that it was unnecessary to give ten-tenths, if nine would suffice — only Redman was good enough for his nine-tenths to make him still better than respectable in an F1 field.

“When you’re racing you sometimes drive outside yourself, but when you do that you’re working purely on reaction and without thought — and that’s the time you make mistakes,” he explains. “So I never felt it necessary to take excessive risks. I always tried hard, of course, but often within a degree of control.”

This attitude can be partly explained by the fact that Redman was already 30 by the time he had his first single-seater race, an astonishing fact given his later successes. By then he had a wife, Marion, and a young family. And when fellow Lancastrian David Bridges offered him a chance in European Formula Two for 1967, it was the first time Brian had stepped out of national racing to become a professional driver. Not unnaturally, therefore, he had a different perspective on life than many of his peers.

One race in particular reinforced this. In April 1968, Redman was offered an outing with Ferrari’s F2 squad in the Eifelrennen on the Nürburgring’s south circuit. Early in the race his goggles were smashed by a stone. He was hugely lucky to receive only a heavily bruised eye socket, and after a pause to check the damage to his face, he pitted for a new set of goggles. With only one eye functioning, and team-mate Ickx’s dark-tinted goggles further reducing his vision, Redman “drove like a maniac”, repeatedly smashing the lap record as he rose to fourth. Afterwards team manager Mauro Forghieri phoned Enzo, who told him to sign Redman for F2 — with F1 runs to come by mid-season. But Redman’s dislike of being required to take huge chances, something he felt the pressure at Ferrari forced upon its drivers, made him refuse the deal.

“After the race I got back to the hotel, sat on the bed and was almost in tears, thinking ‘I’m going to get killed’. So when Forghieri made his offer I said, ‘No thanks. If I drive for Ferrari I’ll be dead before the end of the year’.”

Redman’s bravery is unquestioned — just look at his quick return to the cockpit after being badly burned in the 1971 Targa Florio, or his speed at the daunting Nordschleife and Spa — but he felt extremely uncomfortable about being placed in situations that pressured him to drive beyond his ample abilities.

He has no regrets about turning down a Ferrari F1 drive as, at that time, offers were coming thick and fast as he rapidly proved his worth in the international arena. By the end of 1967 he’d done enough in F2 to attract the attention of the JW Automotive sportscar squad, which placed him with star driver Ickx for the end-of-season Kyalami Nine Hours. They won and Redman was signed for 1968, his path to becoming one of the all-time great sportscar drivers now set.

But his experience of the South African track also led John Cooper to invite him to join his F1 team for the 1968 season-opener in the Southern Hemisphere. In his second GP race, at Jarama, Redman and team-mate Ludovico Scarfiotti trailed round at the back in the uncompetitive BRM-engined T86s, but once past his team-mate, a high attrition rate meant Redman finished third.

Then, in early June, a superb F2 drive at Crystal Palace in Bridges’ Lola T100 — Redman finished behind only Jochen Rindt amid a stellar field — prompted inquiries from Lotus and Honda. However, this gathering momentum in a nascent single-seater career was lost a week later when he crashed in the Belgian Grand Prix.

At Spa, a track at which he always excelled, Redman did well to qualify 10th. But in the race a front-right wishbone snapped and he veered off the road at Les Combes. The car ploughed into a concrete wall and slid along it before piercing the safety barrier, hitting a marshal’s parked car and bursting into flames. With a badly broken right arm, Redman was unable to get out of the wreck.

“It was horrendous,” says Redman. “At the time of the crash you don’t actually feel any pain because of the shock — but I felt my arm break, and the next thing I knew I was breathing in fire extinguisher powder. This marshal appeared through the cloud of smoke to undo my belts, with a cigarette in his mouth!”

Eventually he was dragged clear, but he was out for the rest of the season and steered away from single-seaters for 1969 to join the factory Porsche sportscar team full-time. The dangers still sat heavily on his mind, though, and he retired at the end of 1970. “I enjoyed the life,” he relates, “But I said to my wife: ‘So many of my friends are being killed. Most of them don’t believe that it will ever be them, but I think it more than likely that I will be killed’. So I decided to stop.”

The Redmans emigrated to South Africa to run a BMW dealership, but it did not suit, and Brian accepted an offer to join Surtees for the 1971 South African GP. “I didn’t know how to do anything else,” he says.

Redman’s F1 career subsequently comprised three outings with McLaren in 1972, which included another fifth place at the Nürburgring, but also two practice accidents — “I just made a complete balls of the whole McLaren thing” — and then a one-off with BRM at the end of the year. Late in 1973, he joined Shadow for the US GP at Watkins Glen and promptly outqualified regulars Jackie Oliver and George Follmer. This led to team boss Don Nichols making him an offer for a full-time ride in 1974…

Redman was happy to let this on-off approach to F1 take its course, mainly because he had no particular desire to reach the top of the sport; he was content doing what he enjoyed and making a good living.

“I never had the burning ambition to be world champion,” he says. ‘That was one of my greatest failings; if you talk to any champion, that was always their sole aim in life.”

Certainly, it was not an attitude that was entirely acceptable in the increasingly commercial F1 paddock, as Redman discovered during two abortive appearances in Frank Williams’s de Tomaso during 1970. At the German GP, Redman was bumped off the grid because Graham Hill was given a bye. His nonchalance caught Williams’s attention.

Redman: “Frank said to me, ‘Brian, you are going to be world champion, aren’t you?’ I replied, ‘I don’t think so. I’ve never really thought about it’. The look on Frank’s face told the whole story.”

After his return from retirement, what had begun to suit Redman nicely was Formula 5000. By the start of 1971 he no longer had his place in Porsche’s sportscar team, and so drove in European F5000 for Sid Taylor. The next year, attracted by the prize money, this duo began shipping their Chevron B24 over to race in the US F5000 series. Brian’s performances there attracted the attention of Haas, Lola’s US distributor, and his partner, Chaparral boss Jim Hall. They offered Brian a full-time contract for 1973, beginning a four-year spell that netted 15 wins from 29 races. Redman was superb from the off, winning five races in his Lola-Chevrolet T330. But clashing Ferrari sportscar races meant he missed out on two rounds and lost the title to Scheckter.

For 1974, Andretti returned to road racing with the Vel’s Pamelli team, which bought a Chevrolet-powered Lola T332 similar to Redman’s Haas-Hall car. Their titanic season-long struggles for the next two years were the selling point of the series. Andretti can point to various mechanical failures or problems in both years, especially 1974, which hindered his progress, and there’s little doubt the Haas-Hall preparation was slightly superior. But Redman also had his problems, and in both years they won the same number of races. No-one else got a look in.

Andretti often took pole — his Firestones tended to be better in qualifying than the Goodyears used by Redman — but there were days, such as Ontario in 1974, when Redman was untouchable.

“Brian deserves all the credit in the world, because he always brought it home, and he was always quick,” says Andretti. “He was very correct as a racer, but hard. I always looked at him as a very aggressive single-seater racer.” Praise indeed.

Haas: “If you look at those Brian raced against, and beat — Andretti, Scheckter, the Unsers, Brise — it makes its own case. Brian was not the flashiest driver, but he could really keep a car together and bring it in at the end. I’d sum him up as a smart driver who could go quickly when he needed to.”

Being allowed to race that way, the way he wanted, in a more relaxed US scene, was good for Redman. “It suited me very well,” he says. And that’s why he turned down Shadow’s F1 offer — in order to continue with Haas-Hall. Nichols hired Revson, who was killed in testing at Kyalami. A further twist was that, days later, the F5000 series was cancelled, and Redman joined Shadow for three grands prix. But by Monaco, F5000 was back on and a call from Haas persuaded Redman to go back to the US.

Shadow designer Tony Southgate recalls when Redman informed the team of his decision, just after qualifying: “He was a very popular bloke, easy to work with — and he always had good stories to tell because he had that chirpy sense of humour. But after practice he wasn’t happy. He was pondering, and decided he wanted to go back to the States. He said that the effort he had to put in to be on the F1 grid, let alone in a decent position, was so high, that with a similar amount he could be winning races in America. At 37 years old, you couldn’t argue.”

That Monaco race was Redman’s last GP, and he now majored on F5000, scoring that title hat-trick before the series was reborn as Can-Am for 1977. But in practice for the first race of that new format at St Jovite, he suffered a huge accident. His Haas-Hall Lola, sporting enveloping bodywork, flipped at 150mph, landed upside down and, with its roll-hoop broken, dragged Redman’s head along the ground for 100 yards.

He made a full recovery from the severe shaking his brain took, as well as the broken neck, and his comeback drive the following March at the Sebring 12 Hours netted a glorious win. This started a new chapter of his career in IMSA sportscars, which included the drivers’ title in 1981.

His career in front-line single-seaters, though, was over. But Redman has no regrets. “I had so much fun, and I feel very fortunate. I survived three big accidents where many of my friends didn’t even walk away from one. I never wanted to be world champion; I always enjoyed myself.”

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