There is an accepted ladder of progression for drivers aspiring to Formula 1. In the 1970s it ran thus: formulae Ford, 3 and 2. Unfortunately, there are rather more snakes.
Even though Geoff Lees ascended all three rungs – enjoying the view from each – his eventual emulation of childhood hero Jim Clark occurred in a manner unfulfilling and in a place unexpected. For just as his misfiring grand prix career went west, the man who might have been Mansell turned east and broke new ground for his ilk: quick but lacking money and opportunity.
From the thrill of a few illicit laps – he was just 15 and wearing a “pom-pom hat” – of Silverstone in a friend’s ex-Maurice Philippe Lotus 7, it was clear to him and to others that this apprentice motor mechanic from Warwickshire possessed the knack. Clark used to carry more speed into corners than did his rivals; Lees did the same. His was a natural talent that took him to Team Lotus – albeit only once – and to within an hour of victory at Le Mans. Yet it nearly didn’t happen at all. A workplace eye injury delayed his competition debut until he was 19 and would affect him throughout.