More about Parry Thomas with some appropriate asides
John Godfrey Parry Thomas, idol of the Brooklands crowds and talented Welsh racing-driver/designer, was my…
— Prost like-Button leaves Hamilton shaken
— Villeneuve’s fear of falling out a window…
The opening round of the 2012 World Championship, in Australia, rather put me in mind of the 1988 Mexican Grand Prix in one respect. At both races the McLarens had the front row to themselves, with the team’s acknowledged charger of the moment — then Ayrton Senna, now Lewis Hamilton — on pole position.
Come the start at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, though, it was Alain Prost who took the lead, and he calmly held it for the rest of the afternoon. Senna, beaten by a team-mate in an equal car for first time in his life, looked frankly bewildered afterwards, as if normality had been suspended.
In the same way, when the lights went out in Melbourne, Jenson Button it was who got away best, and, like his hero Prost, simply drove away. Although Hamilton had more than once been beaten by his team-mate, everything about his body language after the race suggested that this was a shock, that this time he really hadn’t anticipated it. Like his hero Senna, he seemed… bemused.
It was a straight fight, after all, with varying conditions — in which Button traditionally excels — playing no part. On a bone-dry road Jenson simply drove faster than anyone else, and that was the end of it. In his behaviour afterwards Lewis was not graceless exactly, but neither was he effusive in congratulating his team-mate. Uncannily reminiscent of Senna in Mexico a quarter of a century earlier, in fact. How could this have come to be?
I’ll admit that I, too, was at least surprised. Hamilton’s pole-position lap — set on his first run — had been scintillating, and all through practice the talk was of how he was at last ‘in a good place’ again, with his girlfriend back on board and a further support team, comprising his mother, musicians, advisers et al, also to hand. If he were indeed settled at last, many believed, Lewis could be untouchable this weekend.
As it was, the matter was resolved in the first few seconds, when Button got away better. No one is infallible at the start, but the greater surprise was that Hamilton was unable to stay in touch, and if his demeanour afterwards were any guide no one was more shaken than he. Had Red Bull found a magic potion for the race, such as was frequently apparent in the past, that would have been one thing; to be outpaced by another McLaren quite another.
It used to be said of Pedro Rodriguez that he got better and better and better with every passing year, and this is very obviously true also of Button, whose natural ability was remarkable from the start, but who seemed for a long time to lack some of the essentials required to capitalise on it. Even when he won the World Championship in 2009, with Brawn, doubts remained about his ultimate quality, but it seems to me that now, at 32, he has matured into a great Grand Prix driver. Jenson’s move to McLaren, the wisdom of which many — myself included — doubted at the time, has been the making of him, while the team, in turn, has a driver who ‘fits’ better than any since Mika Häkkinen.
All that said, if Hamilton truly is ‘in a good place’ (God, I hate that phrase), and remains there, there will be days — as Prost always acknowledged with Senna — when he will simply be unbeatable. This is being written a couple of hours after the Australian Grand Prix, and in a few days’ time, who knows, Lewis could well find himself on the top step of the podium at Sepang. Should that be the case — or whenever it happens — I would ask only that he looks at Jenson’s response to a team-mate’s success, and learns from it.
Melbourne provided a fine beginning to the F1 season, but a curious one, too, in the sense that it didn’t — to my mind — swing much of a lamp over the months to come. Yes, it was obvious that McLaren is mighty strong, and that Red Bull, if not bursting from the starting-gate as we have come to expect, is well in touch, but more remarkable was that so many teams — at this very early stage — appear to be in considerably better shape than before.
Consider, for example, that Romain Grosjean qualified third — ahead of the Red Bulls — in the Lotus, and that his returning team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, drove a strong race to seventh after qualifying nowhere. Look at the startling lap times in the race achieved by the Sauber of Sergio Perez, which had started from the very back after needing a gearbox change. Think of the fastest Williams for many a long year which Pastor Maldonado drove beautifully, I thought — until overdoing it on the very last lap. And what of the performances of Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso? Try telling Dietrich Mateschitz he was wrong to `let go’ Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari.
No one needs to be reminded, of course, that this was merely the first round in a 20-race campaign, that before the kaleidoscope of a season begins to take shape teams very often show a competitiveness which dissipates as time goes by, as those of greater financial and technical resource develop their cars, and almost inevitably restore a natural pecking order. Nor, for that matter, does anyone have to point out to me that Melbourne is far from a typical Grand Prix circuit, that not too much store should be set by a single Sunday.
That said, it was a start to the season which most of the teams will have found encouraging. I perhaps expected more from Force India, and the race pace of Mercedes (compromised by high tyre wear) was disappointing after a strong showing in qualifying, notably by an apparently rejuvenated Michael Schumacher, but about the only serious team falling way short of its ambitions was Ferrari.
It was no more than confirmation of what testing had suggested, but for all that it was a shock to see Fernando Alonso back on the sixth row of the grid, with Felipe Massa a whole second slower than that. In the race Fernando did his usual number, making a tremendous start, and then driving out of his skin for 200 miles, greatly flattering his car, but — while I’m sure he would deny it — there must be times when he wonders at the wisdom of signing such a long-term contract with Ferrari. There is no doubt of his love for the team, nor of his wish to finish his career there, but even he must eventually tire of working with loaves and fishes.
Damned if you don’t, damned if you do. After losing the World Championship to a bad strategy call at Abu Dhabi in 2010, Ferrari built a conservative car for ’11, which couldn’t hack it with Red Bull and McLaren, scored only one victory, and led to Aldo Costa’s being shown the door. For 2012 the team has gone to the other extreme, but so far its new car is baffling one and all with its wayward behaviour.
The ban on ‘blown diffusers’, which has taken away a significant amount of downforce into a corner, has caused this year’s cars to be not only considerably more pleasing to the car, but also — no bad thing — significantly harder to drive. In Melbourne, particularly before the track `rubbered in’, opposite lock was more in evidence than for a long time, but even in this context the Ferraris looked a handful and a half. You don’t often see Alonso drop it, but he did in qualifying, and as for poor Massa… he just seemed lost.
Who would be Stefano Domenicali at a time like this? There is no more decent and engaging a man in the paddock, nor one who works harder in a daunting job, but the Ferrari team principal will know better than anyone that the Italian press is merciless — and Luca di Montezemolo is not renowned for his patience. If, like me, you think that something is fundamentally awry with F1 if Ferrari is not at the sharp end, you will hope that the F2012 can swiftly be brought to heel, not least because Alonso is as good as there is, and should be fighting with McLaren and Red Bull.
Before the latest Ferrari was launched — and we had yet to have sight of any car with a ‘stepped nose’ — Domenicali warned that it was ‘quite ugly’, as indeed it proved to be, along with virtually all the others. Alonso said not to worry: any car was beautiful that was quick. When the wraps were pulled from the McLaren MP4-27, though, there was audible delight at the revelation of this smooth, svelte, nose — like a boxer who had never been in a fight. On the strength of Melbourne, maybe there is indeed some truth to the old homily that `if it looks right, it is right…’
The end of May in 1981 was a busy time for me. On Sunday the 24th I was in Indianapolis for my first 500, and the following evening flew home, arriving on Tuesday morning. Twenty-four hours later I was back at Heathrow for a flight to Nice for the following weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix — but if it seemed a little hectic to me, imagine how it felt to Mario Andretti, who was competing in both events.
People nowadays struggle to believe that, for countless years, that was how Andretti ran his professional life. In the late 1960s and early ’70s he drove in as many Grands Prix and sports car races as his Indycar schedule allowed, and by the late ’70s, when his priorities had changed, he competed in the entire F1 season and also in those Indycar races that did not clash. Indeed, after clinching the World Championship at Monza in September 1978, Andretti’s next race was for Penske at Trenton — and he won it.
Around the time of the Indianapolis 500 — or, more particularly, its qualifying weekends — there were always potential problems for Mario, in that he was at the mercy of the weather. In 1981 he was at the Speedway for the first of these weekends, but rain wiped out most of it, and he had no opportunity to make a run. For any other driver that wouldn’t have greatly mattered, for there remained the second weekend, which was cloudy but dry.
Problem was, Andretti was then at Zolder, driving for Alfa Romeo. In his absence, Wally Dallenbach qualified his Patrick Racing Wildcat-Cosworth for him, albeit in 32nd place, on the very back row of the grid.
Mario drove a fantastic race at Indy, coming through to finish a close second to Bobby Unser’s Penske Eagle. Furthermore, as I left the track rumours abounded of a protest against Unser who, it was alleged, had illegally overtaken several cars ‘under yellow’ while rejoining the track after a pit stop. In truth, there was nothing ‘alleged’ about it: the whole thing happened right in front of me.
Next morning I was on a flight from Indianapolis back to Washington, and the pilot came on the blower to give us the news, just announced, that Unser had been docked a lap for his transgression — and that Mario Andretti had been declared the winner of the 65th Indianapolis 500. Everyone on the aeroplane, it seemed, whooped with delight.
Roger Penske, though, appealed against the decision, and eventually — 138 days later, no less — USAC (United States Auto Club) upheld the appeal, rescinding Unser’s one-lap penalty, and replacing it with a $40,000 fine. Seemed like a reasonable tariff for an Indy 500 win; Andretti remains sore about it to this day.
When he got to Monaco in ’81, though, Mario was all smiles, still high on having — apparently — won his second 500. On the Thursday morning of practice I walked with him from the paddock, and as we passed the Ferrari pit, I remember, this little figure came running after us. It was Gilles Villeneuve, positively bouncing with delight at Andretti’s success.
Recently, when I asked Mario for his memories of Gilles, he remembered that moment: “When I think of him now, the first thing that comes into my mind is that smile…”
I’d go along with that. As Jody Scheckter has said, “More than anyone else I’ve known, Gilles was in love with motor racing”, and that was invariably reflected in his face. Put him in a paddock, and no matter how badly his Ferrari was behaving on a given weekend, he was in the place he was born to be.
Villeneuve was the racer pure, a category into which one would also put Andretti and — emphatically — Stirling Moss. Britain’s greatest driver somehow never won the World Championship, and he once told me when that ceased to matter very much. In 1955, ’56 and ’57 Stirling was runner-up to Fangio, and that he could live with — Juan Manuel he will always hold as the best there has ever been — but in 1958 he was second once more, and this time it was to Mike Hawthorn, whom he did not consider his equal, far less his superior. More to the point, he won four Grands Prix, to Hawthorn’s one: if that didn’t win him the World Championship, then maybe it didn’t count for as much as he had believed. For Moss, after all, the thing had always been primarily about winning races.
As time went by, that view became ever more unfashionable — indeed the World Championship became of surpassing importance, and quite often the driver who finished up with the title was far from the best in a given year. No matter: it was he who got into the record books, and they are many who go by nothing else. It is not a view to which I subscribe — indeed I still quake at the thought that if anything had happened to Mika Häkkinen’s McLaren at Suzuka in 1999 Eddie Irvine would have been World Champion.
When I think of my years of working in Formula 1, it is individual races, not championships, that come first to mind, and it is races — days — on which legend surely feeds. Take the romance out of motor racing, and I’ll collect stamps.
When Vanwall withdrew at the end of 1958, following the death of Stuart Lewis-Evans at Casablanca, Moss could obviously have had his pick of the teams, but he chose to commit his F1 future to Rob Walker.
Those who thought him nuts had no understanding of the man: if the World Championship came along, fine, but of greater consequence to Stirling was pleasure and satisfaction from his job. Rob was his long-standing friend — as with Jackie Stewart and Ken Tyrrell a contract was a handshake — and there was also within him a wish, as the best driver on earth, to ‘take on the factories’, to beat them with a privately-run car bound to be slightly obsolete. It was Moss and the Walker team, let’s remember, who scored the first Grand Prix victory for both Cooper and Lotus.
If there were those who didn’t comprehend Moss’s motivation, so later there would be many who simply didn’t ‘get’ Villeneuve. No surprise that Stirling loved the ‘racer’ in Gilles’s character, but look elsewhere in the magazine, where sundry racing folk offer their memories of him, and you will read suggestions that he can’t be compared with those who ‘won World Championships’. Ditto, presumably, for S Moss.
Villeneuve, it’s true, left little for the statistician. Sixty-seven Grands Prix, six wins. It adds a little perspective, though, to point out that in only one of his four seasons of F1 — 1979 — did he have what would now be considered ‘a competitive car’, this borne out by the fact that, indisputably the fastest of his time, he took pole position only twice. Ferrari may have been strong on horsepower, but in those years fell lamentably short on chassis and aerodynamics. Thus we had the Villeneuve style, and it was a style to make you catch your breath.
“People say I’m crazy because I get sideways sometimes,” Gilles said. “Jesus Christ, a Ferrari driver who didn’t get sideways these last few years would not have been a racing driver! I can honestly say I’ve never ever stroked in my racing career, and I’m proud of that. Even running 10th in a bad car, you can have fun — but not if you’re stroking. Some of the guys I see out there… I don’t know how they can accept their pay cheques!”
It was a matter of pride, and it defined the man. One wet day at Silverstone, with testing temporarily on hold, we sat in Ferrari’s small motorhome and talked about why Villeneuve was a racing driver. “Well, first of all, I don’t need the World Championship — not in the way that someone like [Didier] Pironi does. For guys like him, the championship is the only reason to race — it’s like a mountain he has to climb, and he has to stick in that flag with his name on it…
“If I win it one day, OK, I’m not going to turn it away! But plenty of drivers have won it who were not so good — and yet a guy like Ronnie Peterson never did, so… how much does it mean?
“What I really care about is being the best, and you don’t have to get a trophy in Paris at the end of the season — you have to know you can drive a racing car faster than anyone else. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the feeling I have, and that’s why I’m a happy man…”
People who thought Villeneuve too brave, maybe even a little mad, took no account of why he went racing, perhaps because they were incapable of understanding it. If there were many accidents, it was surely inevitable for one who ran constantly at the edge, invariably forcing mediocre cars along faster than they were meant to go.
There were those who would murmur that Villeneuve had a death wish, but while I can think of a driver of whom I believed that perhaps to be true, I never thought it of Gilles — if ever there was a man who loved life, it was he. “Everything he did,” Patrick Tambay said, “he did at 200mph — and he enjoyed every second of it…”
As Harvey Postlethwaite pointed out, though, undeniably Gilles had an absolute faith in his ability to get out of any perilous situation. What was that he said to me on the afternoon of our first proper interview, at Zolder in 1978? “I don’t have any fear of a crash — absolutely no fear of that. OK, at a top-gear corner, with a fence outside, I don’t want to crash — I’m not crazy — and if I feel I’m going to put a wheel off, I’m going to lift a bit, like anyone else. But if it’s, say, the end of qualifying, and you’re going for pole, I guess you can squeeze the fear — I guess anyone can do that…”
A fortnight earlier, at Monaco, Villeneuve had had a big accident in the tunnel when his left front tyre punctured, and I had been amazed by his demeanour half an hour later. Had he not been frightened at all? “Me, no — the car, yes. When I knew I’d lost steering, I thought, ‘Bloody hell, I’m going to have a nice one here!’ You screw up your face, you know, before the impact, but honestly in that split-second what was going through my mind was that another race was going away — that I wasn’t going to finish. I never think I can hurt myself — that seems impossible to me — but I know I can hurt the car, and that’s what I don’t want to do…”
Even in that era, 30-odd years ago, I was aware that this was an interview outside my experience. By 1978 I had talked to many racing drivers, and some of them — notably David Purley— had a swashbuckling attitude to safety literally unfathomable today. Villeneuve, though, was something else again, and the impression he made on me was the more powerful because there was nothing gung-ho in the way he spoke. His voice was light, his tone matter-of-fact, and he firmly rejected suggestions that he was ‘too brave’.
“If I have a different attitude from some of the others,” Gilles said, “I think maybe it’s because they have never done snowmobiling, which I did — I was quite good, in fact…” Indeed he was, one year taking the title of World Champion. “They were quick, those things, and every winter you would have three or four big spills, and get thrown down the ice at 100mph or so. Maybe the bike racers develop the same attitude, I don’t know…”
On the one occasion when Villeneuve admitted to fear, a very specific fear it was. In the 1980 Italian Grand Prix (run, unusually, at Imola) a tyre failure sent his Ferrari T5 into the bank at the end of the straight before Tosa. When I saw him after the race he admitted to a severe headache, and said he had been told not to fly his helicopter for a couple of days, but was otherwise fine.
“I knew what had happened even before the car started to spin, because I heard the thumping of the flat tyre. I knew where I was, how close was the bank, and I thought, ‘This one is going to hurt…’ Everything went black when I hit the bank, then came back into the middle of the track — I could hear the other cars going by me, but for maybe 30 seconds I couldn’t see, and that made me very frightened…
“I’m reassured by how well the car stood up. It’s like I was always a bit nervous of hitting a guardrail — until I did. It was in an Atlantic car at home, a very big shunt, and I broke my leg. But afterwards I knew what it was to hit a guardrail, and it’s never bothered me since. On the other hand, I’m afraid to fall out of a window because I’ve never done that. Today I was scared that I’d lost my sight — I guess we’re all afraid of the unknown…”
When you work in F1, you come quite swiftly to learn that to admire the driver is not necessarily to like the man, but Gilles was one of those I would have wanted as a friend even had he been unconnected with motor racing. As Harvey Postlethwaite said, “He was the most unpolitical and disarmingly honest person I ever met — absolutely no hang-ups…”
I remember asking him what he thought of Ferrari’s then new 208GTB turbo, which reputedly had the same performance as a 308, but qualified, by virtue of its smaller engine, for a lower tax bracket. Rather to my surprise, Gilles said he didn’t want to talk about it. I asked why.
“Well… because I don’t like it!” came the reply. Then, “I mean, what’s the point of downsizing to a 2-litre engine — and then turbocharging it? If they’d turbocharged the 3-litre, that I could understand…”
Quite often I have pictured contemporary PR people striving to cope with Gilles, and smiled. Saying the right thing… he just wouldn’t get it. If he developed a healthy cynicism about the whys and wherefores of F1 — and some of the people within it — he was utterly without guile: for Gilles, saying the right thing was saying what he thought, and Niki Lauda — another who always struggled with the concept of PR — was one of many who loved him for it.
Time was when F1 was an infinitely more informal business than now. There were no press conferences, nor press releases, and thus there was necessarily much more direct contact between drivers and journalists, from which friendships sometimes grew. At Zolder that day I asked Villeneuve if we could record an interview, and we did it right away. When it was finished, he wrote his address in my notebook, and also gave me all his numbers.
He was different in other ways, too. Over the years you come to realise that, while there are certainly exceptions, as a rule Grand Prix drivers volunteer to pay for things like bankers offer to turn down bonuses. One day I called Gilles, and after a few minutes he asked where I was. At home, I said. “Well, put the ‘phone down, and I’ll call you back. You’re a writer, and I’m a driver — you’re paid too little, and I’m paid too much!”
During Villeneuve’s brief time in F1 the sport was going through one of its politically catatonic periods, and there was dissension in the ranks such as I never knew before or since. This was the time of what became known as ‘the FISA-FOCA War’, with teams locked in combat both with each other and the governing body.
Gilles had his own strong opinions on these matters, and would express them saltily and without fear of the consequences: “F****** Ecclestone does this, and then f****** Balestre does that — and between them they are killing our sport…”
He always referred to F1 as ‘a sport’, for that was truly how he saw it, and it offended him that others regarded it as nothing more than a business, a power game to be won at whatever cost. More than anything, though, Gilles hated the way the Grand Prix car was evolving. It was the time of ‘ground effect’, when the cars had shaped underbodies, and ‘skirts’ effectively achieved a seal with the ground. The word ‘grip’ was taking on a whole new meaning.
“You know,” he said, “you have to drive these cars on rails, and I don’t like that — I like it when you slide a car, and make that work for you. The days of driving with your fingertips are gone — nearly all the art has gone out of it. The ratio between horsepower and grip is all wrong — we have far too much grip for the power we have. I’d like the balance always to be in favour of the power because that allows a driver’s ability to influence speed through the corners.
“People don’t come to a race to see how good aerodynamicists are, do they? No, they come to see a battle, a spectacle, to be stirred — and they’re being cheated. I mean, is there anyone who doesn’t love to see a car being steered on the throttle?”
Only once did Villeneuve ever use the words ‘off record’ to me, and it was in the best of causes. It also goes without saying that, Gilles being Gilles, he mentioned it after he had said what he had said…
This was at Rio in 1982, and Villeneuve had qualified second to Prost, while the other Ferrari, driven by Pironi, was back in eighth place, a second and a half slower. After the session Gilles asked me if he could have a quiet word.
In testing at Paul Ricard, shortly before the Brazilian Grand Prix, Pironi had had an enormous accident when his throttle jammed open, the Ferrari vaulting a guardrail and coming to rest upside down in a spectator area mercifully unoccupied at the time.
“Listen,” said Gilles, “that was a huge shunt Didier had, and he’s still shaken up. He’s a bit off this weekend, but he’ll be fine. Please go easy on him when you write your report, and maybe you could ask your colleagues to do the same…”
To this day I have never known another Grand Prix driver seek sympathy for his team-mate, and of course it became the more poignant a month on when Pironi cheated Villeneuve out of victory on the last lap at Imola, and set in motion the events which would lead to Gilles’s death at Zolder 13 days later.
Personally I never had any doubts about that. Immediately after the race at Imola many people seemed to believe that the Ferraris had been involved in a genuine battle, that Pironi had simply got the better of Villeneuve, but they were swiftly disabused of that when Gilles drove into the paddock, giving the Ferrari a great burst of power as it slewed sideways to a stop. I looked on as he took off his helmet, and when I caught his eye he uttered one word — of four letters — and marched off to the Ferrari pit. Later he briefly appeared on the sham of a podium, declining to look at Pironi, and then left the citcuit in his helicopter.
Jackie Stewart, who flew back with him, was disturbed by his state of mind. “I’d never seen Gilles angry like that,” he said. “He was stunned. You know, for him the World Championship was incidental. He told me that evening his one goal was to beat my record, win more Grands Prix than I had — and this one had been stolen from him. There had always been this innocence about Gilles — he didn’t have a trace of maliciousness in him — and he couldn’t quite believe what had happened. It was awful that the last days of his life were so tormented and disillusioned…”
That was beyond doubt. After leaving it a couple of days, I called the number in Monaco, and our conversation — an hour and more — formed the basis of my next column in Autosport, which I called ‘Bad Blood In Maranello’. What Gilles couldn’t stomach was that he had been the Ferrari driver to take the battle to the Renaults, the one in front when they became first and second, the one mindful of Ferrari’s marginal fuel consumption — and the one who never thought to defend against Pironi at the last passing place on the last lap.
“I think I’ve proved, in the 60-odd Grands Prix I’ve done so far, that in equal cars — or sometimes even in a lesser car — when I want someone to stay behind… I think he stays behind. No way would he have passed me, and nor would anyone else! Not on the last lap…
“Because of the fuel situation I was cruising, but him, he was just racing, and I was too stupid to realise it — I thought he was an honest guy.” Had he spoken to Pironi? “No, and I’m not going to — ever. I have declared war on him. When we get to Belgium next week, I’ll race with him as if he was in a Williams or a Brabham…”
Another who spoke to Villeneuve that week was Alain Prost. “I could understand why he was so upset,” Alain said, “but I never forgot it. When things got really bad between Senna and me, I would always remember that conversation with Gilles — and what happened to him…”
A month after Zolder we were in Montreal, where the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was way quieter than usual, for the hero was gone. Irony of ironies, Pironi was on pole position in the revamped Ferrari C2, and afterwards declared that, “If Gilles had been here, we all know he would have been on pole…” I was with Keke Rosberg as that came over the PA, and he voiced what many were thinking. “If it wasn’t for him,” he retorted, “Gilles would be here…”
There will always, I suppose, be those who question Villeneuve’s ultimate greatness as a Grand Prix driver. They will admit to his blinding pace and otherworldly car control, but they will suggest that he was a one-dimensional driver, capable only of driving flat-out, regardless of conditions or circumstance.
To them I would say only this: do you not remember Watkins Glen in 1979? In the monsoon conditions of Friday practice, Gilles was eleven seconds faster than the next man, Ferrari team-mate Scheckter, and that was one side of the man — his genius. Another side was the driver who fought long with Alan Jones’s Williams in the race, then babied the car to the chequered flag, its oil pressure virtually gone.
Or what of Jarama in 1981? In the turbocharged Ferrari 126CK — a bullet in a straight line, a lumbering sofa in the corners — Villeneuve had already won in the most unlikely place, Monaco, and now, at the tight little track in Madrid, he did it again, holding off four rivals for 65 laps. Gordon Murray, who walked the circuit during the race, told me afterwards that Gilles’s drive was the greatest he had ever seen: “That car was so terrible, but he controlled the race, and never made a mistake…”
Over the years I had many a lengthy debate about racing drivers with Denis Jenkinson, and if he reckoned I overrated Jochen Rindt, and I thought the same of him with Nelson Piquet, generally our opinions were similar.
In a paddock somewhere in 1979 Jenks showed me random thoughts from his notebook, concerning the drivers of the moment. Against some names he had put, ‘Wasting his time’, against others, ‘Tries hard’, against others again ‘Good lad’, and so on. Towards the top of the list he had written of Alan Jones, ‘On the hill’, then of Gilles Villeneuve, ‘He is the hill’. As I said, we didn’t disagree about much.
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