1980 Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama
Your success in the 1979 Aurora British F1 series led to a Shadow drive in 1980. What was it like to find yourself in F1?
Very exciting. You’re blinded by the light. When I was racing Formula Ford in Ireland if I’d told anybody that I wanted to go to F1 they would have sent me to the nearest mental asylum. It was like saying you wanted to land on the moon!
What was the Shadow DN11 Iike?
It was the most beautiful car I’d ever seen. Oh, how looks are deceptive. Being young and naive I thought it was going to be quicker than anything else out there just because it looked so good. But we never really fully understood the car.
How bad was it ?
We ran at Silverstone with two sidepod configurations. One of them was so effective that they pulled out of the chassis. But the team kept the ones that didn’t pull out. Insane! You wanted the ones that pulled out, you just had to beef them up.
You failed to qualify In the early GPs…
In the first two races I was running with Stefan Johansson, one of the coming hotshoes, and I was faster than him, so at least I was doing what any driver had to do. But the car wasn’t very good. Past the pits at Interlagos the chassis twisted and the steering used to lock. You had to arch your elbow into the monocoque to hold the steering wheel!
Did things get any better?
There were so many other subtexts going on: the team had big financial problems and didn’t know whether it was going to make it from one day to the next. We thought the new DN12 would be the team’s saviour. We tested at Nogaro… it was the first time I’d spun on a straight; the engine came apart from the chassis.
You finally started at Jarama after Ferrari, Alfa and Renault withdrew…
I knew the track from my F3 days and understood the technique that worked well around there. I made a really good start and was mixing it with a few of the guys. The problem was that if the car ever got into a sequence of porpoising or bouncing, you just wouldn’t get it back. And that’s what happened on the second lap, behind a couple of cars and in that disturbed air. The thing started bouncing — and bounced off the circuit. I was so pissed off that I didn’t return to the garage. Instead I watched the race to see if I could learn anything.
The team folded after the French GP and you never got another F1 chance…
Rather than go back to the cliff face of F1 I decided to step away and do something else. I went to the States to do Can-Am, and then to Japan. I didn’t make any effort to get back into F1. I didn’t chase any teams.
That Spanish race ultimately lost its championship status so, technically, you never started a GP. Does that frustrate you?
It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. F1 led to bigger and better things for me. To have it on my CV helped me make the next step into sportscar racing. I was thrilled to have had the experience, but more than anything else I was happy just to have survived. — AC