In the hot seat -- Brian Redman


Enzo Ferrari thought he was a nice boy but Brian Redman turned down his advances; failing to win at Le Mans still rankles but don’t dare call him ‘reliable’ or ‘consistent’

You competed in your first race in a Morris1000 Traveller. Do you think that It had an aero advantage?  — Martin Shaw, via e-mail

Certainly not!  Well, not for my first race at Rufforth, in 1959. But for my second race at Ouston I decided that by removing the windscreen and the back doors I could gain a significant aerodynamic advantage. So I took them off and drove it to the circuit, where a Scottish steward told me, “Take it away, laddie, and put the doors back on.” I said, “I can’t, they’re in Burnley.” They had a stewards’ meeting and decided to let me run, which in many ways was unfortunate as I blew a head gasket! A friend, Harry Brierly, towed me back in the rain at 60mph…

Which driver was your toughest opponent in Formula 5000?  — Wolfgang Klopfer, Altenburg, Germany.

It varied from year to year. In 1973 it was Jody Scheckter, who at that time was a determined World Champion of the future. He was highly spectacular and crashed a lot. We raced against each other seven times and I won five of those races. But I missed a couple due to Ferrari commitments, so he won the title. In ’74 Vel’s Parnelli took my chief mechanic Jim Chapman and for two years Mario Andretti was my main rival. In ’76 there was Alan Jones. With James Hunt’s handful of starts, four World Champions passed through F5000 in those years. I won three titles, but with ’73 it should have been four.

Le Mans1970: was it the biggest disappointment of your career, and what did Jo Siffert say to you after blowing up the engine?  — Jay Gillotti, Washington, USA

Nothing at all. What could you say? We never spoke about it. In our time as team-mates we never had recriminations. Jo wasn’t a good endurance driver because he only had one speed — fast. In this race we had a lead of over four laps early on the Sunday morning .’Seppe came past the pits and there were three slower cars. Instead of waiting for a gap, he kept charging and missed a gear right in front of the pits. There was no hiding that one!

You came close at Le Mans more than once. Would you swap any of your big race wins for a victory there?  — Martin Shaw, via e-mail

I missed out on five potential wins. It is the most important race and I would gladly swap most of my other victories, except for my five at Spa of which I’m very proud.

You were a member of the cast in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans film. Was he really a lunatic? — Franky Hungenaert, Maaseik, Belgium

No, I wouldn’t have called him a lunatic. Like Paul Newman, he was an enthusiast who loved racing. Both of them would have probably swapped film careers for a life in racing. I only spent two months on Le Mans  because it was so extremely boring. We spent most of the time flying radio-controlled planes.

When you first met Enzo Ferrari he pinched your cheek and called you a “nice boy”. When you met him the next time he gave you a ‘finger wagging’. How come? —  Ross Ainscow, Anglesey

It was actually Mauro Forghieri who gave me the finger wagging. I’d turned down a Ferrari F2 drive in 1968. So when I joined Ferrari in sportscars at Kyalami in November 1972 Forghieri said to me, “Brian, you’re the only driver Ferrari has asked twice!” The incident with Enzo was after an F2 test at Modena. He was an imposing man and came striding down a dining hall towards me. I put out my hand to shake his, but his hand went to my cheek and he said, “Niiice boooy!” Those were the only words he ever said to me! 

Considering how quick you were in a Formula One car, do you ever reflect on what might have been? — David Malsher, Northamptonshire

F1 was a disaster for me. I never did one race where I felt afterwards that I had driven well. Monte Carlo (in 1972, fifth for McLaren) was competent, but the one that really hurt was the Nürburgring that year (again he finished fifth). It was a circuit I knew well but as I started my qualifying lap I booted it out of the North Curve — and spun into the barrier. The next day I just drove round, totally dispirited.

Your role in the Redman Bright F3000 team was very low-key. Did you enjoy being a team boss? — Sally Roberts. London

John Bright was a good friend of mine who was my mechanic in 1980 when I was doing Can-Am. When he asked me to get involved I said, “Yes, as long as it doesn’t cost me money.” I reluctantly found the money to put a deposit down on a car, which was repaid. But it was difficult because we had to find paying drivers. Then what really hurt us was when David Cook’s father Derek sued us for £100,000. We struggled on for another year after that, but no one in their right mind would want to be a team boss.

Why did you retire at the end of 1970 and, more importantly, why did you reverse that decision? — Steve Lynch, Crawley, Sussex

I retired because everyone was being killed. I thought I’d be next. We shipped everything out to South Africa and I ran a VW dealership, but the racial situation was so ugly that it convinced me that we should return to England. I started racing again because I didn’t know what else to do. I eventually came to terms with the danger.

Is it frustrating that your exploits always seem to be described as ‘reliable’ and ‘consistent’? — Butch Dolenzo, Anaheim, California

It’s very aggravating! Spectacular drivers always made the headlines, but I was always more interested in winning races. I’ve got plenty of photos of me going sideways, but I was never considered spectacular. When I teamed up with Siffert as his number two at Gulf Wyer I knew it would be bad for my career, but I did it because I knew we’d win races. At Spa I was on average four seconds a lap quicker than ‘Seppi’ and (Pedro) Rodríguez, but was never told. I later asked John Horsman, “Why didn’t you tell me?” The answer: “If we had we knew you’d have asked for more money!”

Do you remember what you thought as the Can-Am Lola got airborne at St Jovite in 1977? — Robert Kirkham, Chelford, Cheshire

Nothing, but what I do remember is waking up tied to a bed stark-naked, holes drilled in my head with weights hanging on either side for my neck injury. Jim Hall was standing over me. He said, “How do you feel?” I replied, “I think I might miss the next race…”

How big an achievement was it when you and David Leslie took the Aston Martin AMR1 to fourth in the Brands WSPC round In ’89?  — Scott Price, London

It was a great team effort led by Ray Mallock and Richard Williams. Our secret weapon was the underbody tunnels, and the car worked well in tests at Donington and Silverstone. But the first time I drove the car was at Dijon, which was much bumpier: it was absolutely diabolical. By the Brands round it had been reworked, but the problem was that it was so slow on the straights. On the Mulsanne at Le Mans we would be doing 215mph whereas the Jaguars and Sauber-Mercedes were doing 240. They reckoned that had we continued into 1990 they could have halved the drag with the same amount of downforce. It was such a shame it ended when it did.