Engineer who relished a debate

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The late, much-missed Keith Duckworth of Cosworth engines fame was renowned for holding forth not merely upon engineering matters, but also upon any topic one might care to choose. Many of us came in for a memorable ear-bashing from time to time. He’d make a lengthy point and then (but only briefly) stare at you, his glittering eyes challenging your impending response. In my case I recall his recoiling in plain disappointment one time when I meekly surrendered with “OK Keith, if you say so”.

What he wanted – and what I’m sure he enjoyed most whenever he had the time – was an animated and worthy argument. But like so many vivid, highly successful and electrically intelligent star players he wanted good shots to be fired back at him – stuttering small-arms fire merely bored him, and for an intellectual workout he’d soon seek more worthy exercise elsewhere.

The other day I unearthed a photo which captured Keith in full flow against a doughty opponent whose instinctively contrarian opinions he not only enjoyed, but often shared. There’s Duckworth holding forth and DSJ, wearing his old yellow-dotted navy-blue pully, hands behind his back, dubiously staring into the middle distance. It’s a characteristic stance, and

I’m sure he was about to chew his bottom lip before offering some ingenious alternative viewpoint, bowling the great engineer an unexpected swerve.

Beside them is a flat-12 Alfa Romeo engine on its wheeled cradle. Keith never seemed particularly impressed by Italy’s racing engines, unless they wore ‘Ferrari’ lettering. When the latest Cooper-Maserati V12 appeared in the Silverstone paddock with three spark plugs per cylinder he dismissed it at a glance: “If you can’t set the charge on fire with one spark then three aren’t going to solve your problem”. But the gospel according to Duckworth which most impressed Jenks was his philosophy of gas flow: “Just by sticking my finger in the hole I can tell immediately whether air would like to go through it”.