Simon Taylor's Notebook

The Grovewood Awards and their successors have always recognised young talent, but they can’t foretell the future

When circuit boss John Webb dreamed up the Grovewood Awards in 1963, his idea was to help one or two young British and Commonwealth hopefuls on their way. It was a low-key effort back then: Webby asked three journalists to meet him in a pub and thrash out which young driver should receive a £500 cheque, with £300 and £200 for the runners-up. It would barely buy a set of brake pads today.

In the late 1960s and early ’70s I was one of those arguing judges. In ’66 I was sharing a scruffy flat in Kilburn with another judge, Andrew Marriott, and with the driver who won the top award, Chris Lambert. Andrew and I managed to keep mum over the cornflakes until the award was presented, and such had been the raw talent shown by Lambert in F3 that year that no-one accused us of favouritism.

Cruel hindsight allows us to look back over those early Awards and see how prescient, or not, the judges’ choices turned out to be. That first year, 1963, the top award went to rising F3 star Richard Attwood. Second place in the ’68 Monaco GP was to be his F1 peak, but he was very successful in sportscars, winning Le Mans in ’70 for Porsche. The £300 runner-up was former motorcycle racer and talented Lotus 23 man Tony Hegbourne. In May ’65 his Alfa TZ cartwheeled on the Masta Straight at Spa after something broke. He died in hospital two months later. The other runner-up was the versatile Brian Hart, who had a strong F2 career for Lotus and Protos before retiring to run his engine-building business.

In the second year, 1964, the three chosen were Roger Mac, Boley Pittard and Chris Irwin. Motor racing was still desperately dangerous then. Mac retired after a serious accident, Pittard was fatally burned in an Italian F3 race, and Irwin’s career ended in a near-deadly shunt in the Ford F3L sports-racer at the Nürburgring. The next two years’ top winners, Piers Courage and Chris Lambert, both died at Zandvoort, Piers in F1, Chris in F2, although the runners-up to Lambert, Jackie Oliver and Brian Redman, enjoyed long and successful careers.

In 1969 the personable Mike Walker got the top award over James Hunt. Mike went very little further; James became World Champion. In fact, future titleholders always seemed to miss the top spot: Alan Jones came third in ’74 (behind Bob Evans and Richard Morgan), Nigel Mansell was second in ’79 (to Kiwi Mike Thackwell) and Damon Hill was third in ’85 (behind Russell Spence and Canadian Bertrand Fabi). Many Award winners would surely have gone far higher up the ladder had not cruel fate intervened. Roger Williamson won the top award in 1971, but like Courage and Lambert he died at Zandvoort, just when F1 was opening up for him. In ’73 Tom Pryce was the top winner, Tony Brise the runner-up, and both clearly had the talent to become major Fl stars. Two years on — exactly 30 years ago last November 29 — Tony died with Graham Hill and other Embassy team members in the wreckage of Hill’s plane. And in ’77 Tom, now well-established in F1, was the innocent victim of a foolish accident at Kyalami.

In 1987 Cellnet took over the awards, with Martin Donnelly top from Johnny Herbert and Gary Brabham. The Autosport Awards had begun in ’82 as seasonal awards voted for by the magazine’s readers, but when Cellnet pulled out after only two years Autosport was quick to pick up the Young Drivers baton, supported from the first by Ron Dennis of McLaren. Their first winner, appropriately enough, was a young Scot called David Coulthard.

Today’s incarnation of what started as the Grovewood Awards is the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award. It’s really worth winning now: not only a £50,000 cheque, but also a McLaren F1 test drive. But the selection process is infinitely more rigorous. Judges include circuit mogul and ex-F1 driver Jonathan Palmer, experienced team boss Dick Bennetts, former award winner Andrew Kirkaldy, our own Marcus Pye and veteran commentator Ian Titchmarsh. A shortlist of six is chosen, and in a hectic two days at Snetterton they must demonstrate their talent in widely differing racing cars: a World Series by Renault single-seater, a Mercedes-Benz DTM car, a BTCC Honda Integra and a Caterham. Other abilities are measured too: race set-up and feedback, presentation and interview skills. Out of this year’s batch the judges unanimously chose 21-year-old Oliver Jarvis.

In 17 McLaren Autosport years, award winners have included Coulthard (1989) and Jenson Button (’98), whose respective achievements go without saying. Another very worthy winner was Dario Franchitti, in ’92. But others have progressed less far, including the likes of Gareth Rees, Oliver Gavin and Jamie Davies — talented men all, but for various reasons it hasn’t quite happened for them.

Quite where young Jarvis’s career will take him no-one can tell. All the Award can do is affirm that he has most of the ingredients to make the big time. From here on it’s up to opportunity and luck — but there’s no known award scheme which can look into the future and measure those.