Nigel Roebuck

– Button feel-good factor lost in diffuser row
– Why Lewis should share in McLaren’s shame
– A childhood trip to Aintree and glory for Behra

What a pity it is, in these early races of this World Championship season, that controversies elsewhere have rather shaded the achievements of Jenson Button.

In his rage over the diffuser dispute Flavio Briatore may have denigrated Button – and it’s a fact that Jenson fell short of expectations in 2001 and ’02, when he drove for Flav – but everyone in the paddock has always recognised a natural talent of very high order. Lest we forget, when he came into F1 with Williams-BMW in 2000, the 20-year-old qualified third at Spa, of all places, ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari.

To date, the best of Button’s nine F1 seasons has been 2004, when BAR-Honda, then run by David Richards, clicked in for once. Jenson didn’t win any races, but he finished a solid third in the championship, beaten only by the Ferrari drivers.

Thereafter the management changed, and Honda later bought out BAR, and the results were embarrassingly poor. Rubens Barrichello, who had voluntarily left Ferrari for this, somehow kept his motivation alive, but there were signs last year that Button was struggling.

It wasn’t surprising. Rubens, after all, had enjoyed plenty of days in the sun, and occasionally savoured beating Schumacher in equal cars (when Jean Todt permitted it); for Jenson, there had been only one win, at the Hungaroring in 2006, and if the day had been dry he wouldn’t have had a prayer.

As it was, his silky style came into its own. He had started only 14th, but on a treacherous surface was smoothness personified, making no mistakes when others did.

“Jenson,” said Jackie Stewart last winter, “still has the ability – and he’s always had it. He’s one of the best technical racing drivers in the business. When you see cockpit footage of him, he’s not a busy boy. There are very few hand movements. In that respect, he’s similar to Alain Prost – very seldom do you see the car being overdriven, and I like that.

“My only reservation about Jenson is that I’m not sure he’s got the killer instinct. I’ve always thought he got too much money too early in his career, before he’d really served his apprenticeship…”

A lot of people thought the same way, not least Bernie Ecclestone, who long ago advised Richards against signing Jenson at BAR. And last year, when Honda produced yet another dreadful car, Button’s head seemed sometimes to drop.

In the background, though, there was always the sustaining thought that now Ross Brawn was on board, and very much concentrating on the next car. But when Honda pulled the plug in December, having spent who knows how much money in 2008, Jenson was staring suddenly into a void.

Three months later he stood on the top step of the podium in Melbourne, and again, a week later, in Sepang. Three races into the season (as I write), he sits handily at the top of the World Championship table. Button has been driving beautifully, and you’d have to say it’s been a pretty good month for him.

All told, it’s been a pretty good month for Messrs Mosley and Ecclestone, too, for while they may be disappointed that the fundamental unity of the Formula One Teams’ Association appears to be holding up (in the face of a row about diffusers which should never have been allowed to arise), Ron Dennis announced that he was standing down as CEO of McLaren Racing – in effect, taking his leave of Formula 1.

Dennis doubted his decision would have displeased Max-and-Bernie, a comment which may be termed ‘wry’. For Mosley, in particular, the only news possibly more gratifying would be that Jackie Stewart had been consumed by the Loch Ness Monster. For years the FIA president has passed up no opportunity to belittle either Dennis or Stewart: each, after all, has a habit of expressing ‘unhelpful’ opinions, and what have they ever contributed to motor racing? Only 187 Grand Prix victories, a dozen World Championships, and that’s about it.

To begin at the beginning – and it’s difficult to know which punch-up to select – there is the vexed question of diffusers in this greatly changed F1 of 2009.

In introducing major rule changes, the FIA’s intention, entirely laudable in itself, had been to address motor racing’s abiding problem: the lack of motor racing. Under the new regulations, with bigger front and smaller rear wings, the removal of sundry bargeboards, flick-ups and other unsightly ‘aero’ accoutrements, and the move back to slick tyres, the aim had been to put emphasis on mechanical rather than aerodynamic grip, and thus to increase the possibilities of one car passing another.

To that end, too, the rules concerning diffusers, from which an enormous amount of downforce derives, were also changed – but not, apparently, in a manner capable of unequivocal interpretation. On behalf of Red Bull, Adrian Newey, for example, long ago submitted to the FIA a diffuser design which was rejected, and he thus considered this particular loophole closed. It was hardly surprising that during pre-season testing Newey was more than irked to note that Toyota, Williams and Brawn appeared to be running diffusers similar in concept to the one he had been obliged to discount.

More to the point, it was evident that diffusers of this kind gave a significant performance advantage. No surprise to Adrian, this: why else would he have conceived something similar himself?

The mumblings of discontent began long before the first Grand Prix, and one must wonder why demands for clarification of the rule were not swiftly acknowledged by the governing body. As it was, a couple of weeks before Melbourne Mosley said this: “If there had been more time before the detailed objections to the system were sent in, I would probably have sent it to the FIA Court of Appeal before Australia. But there isn’t time. It wouldn’t be fair. I think the thing will probably come to some sort of head in Australia.”

And what did Max think of the diffuser system employed by Brawn, Toyota and Williams? “It’s a very clever device,” he said, “and you can make a very good case for saying it’s legal and a very good case for saying it’s illegal.

“Probably what will happen is that it will end up going to the stewards, who will make a decision. That will almost certainly be appealed by whichever side is disadvantaged. And then that will go to our Court of Appeal, and be hammered out.

“It’s not straightforward – I can see it going either way. But somebody has to make their mind up, and fortunately it’s not my job.”

Some wondered if perhaps obfuscation had been the object of the exercise: there was, after all, far more scope for intra-team dissension if the matter were left to the scrutineers, and ultimately the stewards in Melbourne, when the real business of the season was under way.

Once the ‘trick’ diffusers were given the green light in Australia, several teams – Ferrari, Renault, Red Bull – indeed lodged an appeal, just as Mosley had predicted. It was heard in Paris, and after two highly acrimonious days, the FIA International Court of Appeal delivered the expected verdict: the diffusers were indeed kosher.

Much has been said about how they cut across the spirit of the regulation, but there’s nothing new in that. Spotting loopholes, seeking ‘the unfair advantage’, is the air F1 designers breathe. It’s a little like MPs’ allowances – not actually against the rules, but…

Actually, that’s grossly unfair to the designers, for they – unlike our adorable politicians – do not set the rules by which they must abide. In F1 the aim, when writing regulations, is to avoid loopholes, and in this the FIA is sometimes perhaps inevitably unsuccessful.

It was always the likelihood that the FIA Court of Appeal would come out on the side of its own scrutineers and stewards in Melbourne – indeed some of the teams pre-empted word from Paris, and got on with hasty redesigns in time for the Chinese Grand Prix. Nothing definitive could be prepared at short notice, but it was a start.

Apart from anything else, what the diffuser row has done, of course, is set team against team, inevitably putting the togetherness of FOTA under strain, for some a most satisfactory state of affairs.

I’m equivocal about the outcome of the diffuser debate, I must admit. On the one hand, I can’t pretend to be other than delighted that its effects have caused the F1 formbook for once to be turned upside down.

If it pleases me that, at least temporarily, we have a new order in F1, the downside has to be that the success of the ‘diffuser cars’ means that every other team will have to come up with a similar device of its own. In at least some cases, this will mean a more or less complete redesign of the rear end of the car, hardly the work of a moment. Nor, in this time of cost cutting, exactly cheap.

Kimi Räikkönen, a man not given to hyperbole, dismisses the 2009 World Championship as ‘already gone’ for a Ferrari driver. Conversely, look at what Fernando Alonso achieved in Shanghai qualifying: with a revised diffuser on his Renault, which the team admitted was a bit of a lash-up, Fernando set the second-fastest time.

Of course we want to see as many ultra-competitive cars as possible, and for that to happen all must presumably follow the ‘double deck diffuser’ route. Inevitably, though, that will come at some cost to the actual racing, for the original ‘flat top’ diffuser was conceived as part of a package designed to ease the perennial problem of passing in F1. After the Paris verdict, BMW’s Mario Theissen suggested the quality of ‘The Show’ would suffer as a consequence.

And then again, perhaps we should wait and see. In Shanghai Brawn said of his disgruntled colleagues, “If they think it’s just the diffuser that’s making the difference, they might be disappointed…” And the fact that the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber – which did not have the ‘trick’ diffuser – waltzed the Chinese Grand Prix suggested he might be right.
In the fullness of time, as I say, all the teams will have their own version of the double-deck diffuser. Throughout the sport’s history designers have periodically ‘found something’, obliging their rivals to play catch up – in the days of Colin Chapman it was a full-time occupation for the rest.

Of greater concern, I think, is that this current situation has arisen at a time when the teams, in forming FOTA, have finally found strength in unity, and the diffuser row has inevitably undermined that unity. I have a picture in my mind of a man sitting back contentedly, stroking a white cat…


Last November, a few days after the Brazilian Grand Prix, I went to the McLaren Technology Centre for the homecoming of Lewis Hamilton, and a bigger love-in I have never seen in motor racing.

The new champion arrived with a flourish, driving a McLaren-Mercedes along the perimeter road. Every company employee was on hand to salute him, and, to rapturous applause, Lewis said it was his wish to spend his entire F1 career with McLaren.

A few weeks later I was back at the MTC, this time for the unveiling of the MP4-24. It was much like any other launch, and the only surprise was Ron Dennis’s almost casual revelation that he was standing down as team principal, in favour of Martin Whitmarsh.

Even that, though, was hardly a shock, for Dennis had often suggested that, sooner rather than later, he would take more of a back seat. This did not mean, he stressed, that he had lost his love of F1 – he would not come to all the races in future, but he would often be there.

Hamilton, Dennis said, had known of his intentions for a while. “He and I flew to Washington in December, and on the flight we spoke openly, as we always do. I went through everything with him in minute detail, so he was fully aware of Martin’s and my plans.”

All these things being so, what on earth has happened at McLaren in the last few months? Dennis attended the Australian Grand Prix, then skipped Malaysia – and 10 days later announced that he was leaving his beloved F1, that Whitmarsh was to be CEO of McLaren Racing.

The landscape at McLaren, so familiar for so long, has lately changed apace. For a variety of reasons, gone since the last race of ’08 are Tyler Alexander, Steve Hallam, Davey Ryan – and now RD himself.

Invited, in Shanghai, to comment on Dennis’s departure, Hamilton said he was ‘not disappointed’, and the whole tone of the interview was borderline glacial. It seemed a curious attitude to take to the man who had transported him from Buckmore Park to the World Championship.

Although Dennis denied it, his decision – and the timing of it – to withdraw from Formula 1 was seen as a palliative to the powers-that-be, a hope that falling on his sword might cause the FIA World Motor Sport Council to look a little more kindly on McLaren on April 29, when the team will have faced charges that it deceived the stewards after the Australian Grand Prix.

The intense mutual dislike between Dennis and Mosley has long been a given in motor racing circles, and there have been suggestions, too, of acrimony between Ron and Anthony Hamilton, together with rumours that Lewis might not stay with McLaren, after all. So is Dennis’s departure perhaps a ‘two birds with one stone’ move? Or is it that he has overnight lost interest in something he has loved all his life?

Whatever, Bernie Ecclestone said in China that, “Ron’s departure won’t matter to the World Council. This is not about the personalities of Ron and Max. McLaren still face the same range of punishments if the WMSC finds them guilty.”

Well, yes, but much depends upon whether or not they are applied. Let us not forget, after all, the ‘range of punishments’ meted out to Michael Schumacher after the incident with Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997. Cruelly stripped of his title of ‘Vice-Champion’ (a phrase never heard before or since), and pitilessly required to do some road safety PR… it was savage stuff. And all the poor boy had done was try to clinch the championship by shoving his rival off the road.

McLaren faces the World Council, of course, because of the events in the late laps at Melbourne – or, rather, the events immediately after the race.

The facts were these: with the cars tooling behind the safety car (following the Vettel/Kubica incident), Trulli’s Toyota went off temporarily, at which point it was overtaken by Hamilton’s McLaren. Had they held station to the chequered flag, Lewis would have finished third, and Jarno fourth. Simple. In normal circumstances you may not overtake during a safety car period – but Trulli’s car had been completely off the road, and Hamilton was quite within his rights to proceed.

The problem was that neither he, nor apparently anyone in his team, was confident of that, and thus he was instructed to let the Toyota repass while clarification of the rules was sought from Charlie Whiting. This – quite understandably, for the FIA race director had much else on his plate at that moment – was not immediately forthcoming, and so the race finished, with Jarno third, Lewis fourth.

In one way, you couldn’t be surprised by McLaren’s dithering, for no team has suffered more at the hands of officialdom, and they were ultra-cautious in wanting to ‘get it right’. “Let’s do it by the book,” said Hamilton’s race engineer when instructing his driver to let Trulli repass. Had anyone in the team been fully conversant with the book, they would have known it was not necessary.

Once out of his car, Hamilton told journalists that he had been instructed to let Trulli through. Soon afterwards, though, the stewards were considering a penalty for Jarno, who had – in whatever circumstances – undeniably passed another driver (Lewis) ‘under yellow’. Hamilton’s testimony was required by the stewards, and he went to see them with McLaren sporting director Davey Ryan. It seems not unreasonable to suspect that someone at McLaren had realised the mistake that had been made in letting Trulli through, and that Ryan ill-advisedly went too far in trying to get back the third place Lewis should rightfully have had.

Later it was announced that Trulli had been given a 25-second penalty (the equivalent, in racing conditions, of a drive-through). Result: Jarno out of the points – and Lewis promoted to third.

In fact, both Hamilton and Ryan had been less than honest with the stewards, denying that there had been any instruction to ‘allow’ Trulli past again – and thus leading the stewards to the belief that Jarno had illegally reclaimed the position lost by his off-track moment. Trulli, knowing that Hamilton had almost stopped, that he had had little alternative but to repass, felt mighty aggrieved.

At this point one is bound to ask why had not the stewards requested a tape of the radio conversation between Hamilton and his team before making their decision? Or, for that matter, not noted on the video recording that Lewis’s slowing had plainly invited Jarno to go by?

Later that week, when it became apparent that there was more to this matter than had been previously thought, it was claimed by McLaren that they assumed that the stewards had all the evidence at their disposal, but this is patently disingenuous: had they truly believed that the stewards had heard the tape – ‘Let the Toyota through again, Lewis’ – it’s surely unthinkable that Ryan and Hamilton would have claimed otherwise.

A bizarre twist, in the circumstances, was that the McLaren-Mercedes post-race press release contained the following quote from Norbert Haug: “During the second safety car period Trulli had an off, and Lewis overtook him for third place, but he let Trulli past again”.

Even more bizarrely, when the matter was reopened four days later in Malaysia, Ryan and Hamilton – despite knowing that by now the stewards had heard the radio conversation – unfathomably stuck to their original story that no, there had been no order to let Trulli through.

The stewards declared that Trulli was to be reinstated in third place, that Hamilton was disqualified – and that an attempt had been made deliberately to deceive them. An opportunity had been presented to ‘rectify’ evidence previously given, and it had not been taken.

Bang to rights, then – and one person who lost no time in going to work on ‘damage limitation’ was Anthony Hamilton, who contacted none other than Max Mosley. Who knows what was said, but on the Friday in Sepang Anthony’s son held a press conference – and was allowed to do it, what’s more, in the FIA press room.

I thought this not insignificant, for in normal circumstances its use for ‘private purposes’ is absolutely verboten. When Nigel Mansell did the same at Monza in 1992, announcing that he was parting from Williams, there was hell to pay.

Hamilton was extremely contrite now, apologising to the stewards for “wasting their time”, and to “all my fans who have supported me for years”. Perhaps his words might have carried more weight had they been made earlier in the week, before the second hearing.

The worst of it was that Hamilton sought to put all the blame on Ryan, the most loyal of McLaren servants for 34 years, and now a man suddenly out of work. “I was instructed and misled by my team manager to withhold information, and that is what I did.”

Lewis has been part of the McLaren system for more than a decade now, and is thoroughly inculcated into the company’s prescribed way of doing things. As well as that, he has a manager – his father – determined to maintain an altar boy perception of him. Thus that ludicrous press release, issued soon after the 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix, denying that he had used the ‘F’ word in a heated radio conversation with Ron Dennis.

It was the same when Lewis announced he was moving to Geneva, the explanation being that in England his life wasn’t his own any more. Few would have blamed him if he had followed the line of Jackie Stewart when, 40 years earlier, he too went off to Switzerland: “It dawned on me that nine weekends out of 10 I was risking my life for the Chancellor of the Exchequer…”

I am by no means alone in feeling that those who seek to over-protect Hamilton do him a great disservice, not least because the image presented to the world is bland in a way that the real bloke is not. And his current predicament is the worse for it, for when a saint misses his footing, the fall from grace is all the greater.

As the World Council meeting looms, my hope is that Ron Dennis’s sacrifice has not been in vain, but I’ll confess to finding the wording of some of the charges disquieting.

All are against ‘McLaren’, rather than individuals within the team, and the first charge is that ‘McLaren, on March 29 2009, told the stewards of the Australian Grand Prix that no instructions were given to Hamilton to allow Trulli to pass when both their cars were behind the safety car, knowing this statement to be untrue’.

The second charge, though, reads thus: ‘McLaren procured its driver Hamilton to support and confirm this untrue statement to the stewards’.

Later charges refer to the second stewards’ hearing, held in Malaysia four days later: ‘McLaren made no attempt to correct the untrue statement of March 29, but, on the contrary, continued to maintain that the statement was true, despite being allowed to listen to a recording of the team instructing Hamilton to let Trulli past, and despite being given more than one opportunity to correct its false statement’.

And then, ‘McLaren, on April 2 2009, procured its driver Hamilton to continue to assert the truth of the false statement given to the stewards on March 29, while knowing that what he was saying to the stewards was not true’.

Hamilton was ‘procured’, then, and the implication – ahead of the World Council meeting – appeared to be that no blame attaches to him, that lying is excusable if done at the suggestion of another.

“I’m not a dishonest person,” Hamilton said at his Sepang conference, and I, for one, do not fundamentally doubt that. But whatever spin is put upon it, there’s no side-stepping the fact that in this instance what he and Ryan sought to do was cheat a rival team and driver out of what was rightfully theirs.

Part of the problem may be that Lewis has become accustomed to being told what to say, and simply did so again on this occasion. Thank God he’s free to express himself when he’s in the race car.


In closing, allow me, please, a moment of self-indulgence, an opportunity to remember simpler times. As I write, exactly 50 years have passed since one of the great days of my life.

On April 18 1959 I went with my parents to the Aintree 200, and there saw my great childhood hero, Jean Behra, win for Ferrari. As it turned out, sadly, this would also be the last time he would salute the chequered flag.

That was how they did it in those days – triumphantly blasting over the line with an arm raised. None of this creeping by the pitwall nonsense.

A couple of years ago I bought at auction a number of scrapbooks previously the property of the Aintree Automobile Racing Company, and the professionally gathered and collated newspaper cuttings therein add up to a pretty comprehensive history of the circuit. I was pleased to acquire them, for – as a Mancunian – Aintree and Oulton Park were my local circuits, and therefore the places in which I was first ensnared by the narcotic of motor racing.

As a track, pure and simple, Aintree could never bear any comparison with Oulton, in its heyday indisputably the finest race circuit in England, but still it will always have a place in my affections. In 1955 my father took me there to see the Mercedes-Benz 1-2-3-4 in the British Grand Prix, and as an avowed Moss fan then as now I was elated to see Stirling win. That said, the afternoon was hot, the race long – over three hours – and such was the superiority of the W196s that it was only a matter of which one would cross the line first.

Only one driver offered any token challenge, and then but briefly. Behra qualified his Maserati third, and thus joined Moss and Fangio on the front row, ahead of the other Mercedes of Kling and Taruffi. I was entranced by the sight of that red car, surrounded by silver on the grid, and more so by the way Behra held third place until – almost inevitably – the 250F failed him. Broken oil pipe.

I had seen Behra race before, for Gordini at Silverstone and Oulton, but it was this gallant, if fruitless, show of combativeness that July day at Aintree that made a believer of me for ever. Denis Jenkinson, always a fervent Behra fan, loved this never-say-die characteristic in a racing driver, invariably referring to it as ‘tiger’.

For nine years thereafter I was away at school, which meant that the British Grand Prix, be it at Aintree or Silverstone, was off-limits, but all was not lost, for non-championship F1 races proliferated, and the Aintree 200 was always run shortly before the start of the summer term.

Reliving the 1959 race through the scrapbooks one is struck first by just how many newspapers – national and local, morning and evening – there were in those days. When Moss tested Rob Walker’s new BRM-powered Cooper, and said he would probably drive it at Aintree, the story was reported in such as The Cornish Evening Herald, The Nuneaton Evening Tribune, The Dundee Courier & Advertiser and so on. Even The Daily Worker.

In that era it was Enzo Ferrari’s routine practice to hold non-championship race organisers to ransom – to let it be known that he’d like to enter cars for this or that race, but, well, it was a long way from Italy, and the expenses were high… Sometimes a financial accommodation was reached, and sometimes not, but in the spring of ’59 the BARC (which ran the Aintree 200) agreed terms with him.

It was announced in The Times thus: ‘Mr E Ferrari has notified the British Automobile Racing Club by telegram that he will be entering two of his cars for the International 200-mile race at Aintree on April 18. The cars will be flown from Modena. The drivers have not yet been nominated, but it seems likely that this will mark the first appearance of C A S Brooks in the Ferrari team’.

Not a Christian name in sight – as was the way of The Times in those days. And nothing so vulgar as a byline, either: simply, ‘From Our Motor Racing Correspondent’.

Fifty years ago Rupert Murdoch had not yet embarked on his takeover of the world, and thus The Sunday Times proudly proclaimed itself as ‘An Independent Journal. Not Connected With Any National Daily Newspaper’. Christian names were acceptable here, however, and there was a column by Stirling Moss. “I tested the new Cooper-BRM at Modena today,” he said, “and was very satisfied with it. We did not get down to the lap record because the track is in bad shape, but I did get down to a time one second faster than Jean Behra, who was also out testing in a 1959 Ferrari.”

Even when Enzo had committed to sending his cars, no race organiser in those days slept easy until the things actually turned up at the circuit. On the Wednesday before the (Saturday) race at Aintree, though, there they were in the paddock. Jenks, for reasons lost in the haze of time, was not on hand, but the Motor Sport report declared that the Ferraris ‘arrived on
the backs of hired lorries, with four mechanics, two team managers, some spare wheels, a couple of toolboxes and an electric starter’.

Just like now, really. I can still remember the drive over to Liverpool that morning, the grey skies and threat of rain, the intense excitement at the thought of seeing Grand Prix cars again, particularly the Ferraris, which both Behra and Tony Brooks were racing for the first time.

In those relaxed times the way it worked was that you parked your car near the fence, and the space in front of it was then yours for the day, be it for putting down a rug for the lunchtime picnic – everyone took their own food and drink – or for watching the races. We arrived at about 9.30, and parked between Cottage Corner and Country Corner.

Some – a very few – moments in your life are crystallised for ever, and one came my way now. Literally as we got out of the car there was the sound of an engine – a racing engine – in the distance, and my dad and I had the same thought: Ferrari! It was getting nearer now, and we rushed to the fence.

Out of Cottage came this beautiful red apparition, number 2, and as it screamed by I was thrilled to see that, yes, it was Behra himself at the wheel. Turned out that a valve spring had failed during final practice, and the team wanted to be certain that all was now well with the engine.

A lap or two to try it on race morning? Certainly, signori. And so Jean climbed aboard, not bothering with helmet or goggles. Well, he wasn’t racing, was he?

We had been at the trackside for not more than a couple of minutes, and already I was in heaven.

Peter Ashdown’s Lola-Climax won the 1100cc sports car race, and then Ivor Bueb beat Roy Salvadori in the Jaguar 3.4 battle for the saloon car event, after which Salvadori’s Coombs-entered Cooper-Maserati got the better of Graham Hill’s Lotus and Masten Gregory’s Ecurie Ecosse Lister-Jaguar in the big sports car race.

Supporting races maybe, but of some quality. Salvadori – another favourite of mine – had already driven in two races, with the big one still to come. Drivers were like jockeys back then.

So on to three o’clock, and the start of the ‘200’. Gregory, who had taken pole in his works Cooper-Climax, led until he retired, whereupon Moss, giving the Walker Cooper-BRM what would be its only race, took over until he, too, went out. Behra, who had qualified second, moved into the lead, and I then faced more than an hour of mingled joy and anxiety, savouring the V6 howl of the Ferrari, but worrying about the oil streak increasingly apparent on its flanks. Bonnier’s BRM retired, and Schell’s, and then the Coopers of Brabham and Salvadori and Trintignant…

Not the Ferraris, though. In the late laps Behra backed off, allowing Brooks to close to within 10 seconds, with the Cooper of F1 rookie Bruce McLaren in third place.

Try as you might, you couldn’t be stirred by the sight and sound of a four-cylinder Cooper-Climax in ’59, but inescapably Ferrari had triumphed on reliability more than anything else, and it was evident even to this kid that the era of the front-engined Grand Prix car was all but done.

At the time, though, none of that mattered, for my day at Aintree ended as it had begun, with ‘Jeannot’ – helmet off, of course – going by us in the Dino 256, now cruising, waving in victory to the crowds. I don’t believe I was ever happier at a race track.