Eric Thompson: My only grand prix
1952 British at Silverstone by Eric Thompson
Driving works Aston Martin sportscars is what you are best known for, but what single-seater experience did you have before you entered the British GP?
I had raced Rob Walker’s ERA-Delage. Not many times — about half a dozen outings in British events. I found, though, that a single-seater then was really not very different to the sportscars I was driving.
Did you regard sportscars with Aston — for which you won the Goodwood Nine Hours — as a priority?
My time was limited; I was not a professional racing driver — although I was paid £25 a year by Aston! I was an insurance broker at Lloyds of London, and my employers didn’t particularly like me asking for days off to go motor racing. So for the time that I did have off, I found it rewarding to do sportscars because they were long-distance races with lots of seat time.
So how did you get the drive with the factory Connaught team for the British GP?
One day my phone rang at work, and it was Rodney Clarke from Connaught Engineering. He said that they were just finishing a car, which would be entered for the grand prix, and would I like to drive it? Practice was on Thursday, so I said: ‘Sorry, I can’t make that, I’ve got a meeting with a ship owner — I can make it for Friday.’ He said that was fine. I qualified on Friday on the third row of the grid.
What did you think of the Connaught A-type?
It was a wonderful car, beautifully balanced. It appeared to be heavier than the Cooper-Bristols, but it was actually about the same.
Ascari’s winning Ferrari was way out in front, but from the start you ran in the top six, ahead of many good cars…
It was extraordinary, really. I was ahead of Bira’s Maserati, Salvadori’s Ferrari, Collins’ HWM. My only problem was that on the eighth lap my rev-counter broke, so it was difficult to not exceed the 6300rpm limit. Then I got in behind Dennis Poore’s Connaught, and I used him as my rev-counter — when he changed, I changed. And by the time we were separated, I had it all committed to memory.
Early on you were with Taruffi’s Ferrari and Hawthorn’s Cooper-Bristol. Then later on, Farina’s Ferrari had a problem and you fought back into the top five…
I’d had to stop for fuel which dropped me out of the top six, but I caught Farina back up. He became rather aggressive with me. I think he was slightly miffed that I was passing him but I made it stick and finished fifth.
Which was a tremendous result for your debut GP. Did you get a good reception from the crowd?
I don’t think so — certainly not one that was noticeable. These days, in virtually any race, if you win, people leap about and have hugs and kisses. Fifty years ago we said, ‘Thank you, gentlemen’, and walked away — which is a rather nicer way of doing things. Nothing really was said at work on Monday either, although there was some interest because the Evening Standard ran an article on me, ‘City Gent’s Turn of Speed’. It was a good experience.