Lunch With... John Miles

Engineer, record label proprietor, sports car champion, journalist, works Lotus F1 driver... By any standard, his has been a diverse life
Writer Simon Taylor | Photographer James Mitchell

Career in brief
Born: 14/06/1943, London, England
Early 1960s First competitive events, with Austin 7s
1964-65 Willment Diva-Ford. Third place in 1965 Grovewood Awards
1966 Autosport GT champion in Willment Lotus Elan
1967 Team Lotus, F3/GT
1968 F3 1969 European F2, GP debut with Lotus 63 in France
1970 F1 1971 DART Chevron B19
1972 Paul Ricard Six Hours winner, with Brian Muir (Ford Capri)
1973 Retired from racing to develop varied business interests

Once a retired racing driver has decided to hang up his helmet, he has to find a way of dealing with the rest of his life. For most, it very hard to shake off the passion that has brought probably the greatest excitement they will ever experience. Some carry on working in the sport, in team management of one sort or another. Others use the competitive energies that made them great racers to find success in the commercial world. Some continue to appear in the cockpit at the Goodwood Revival and other historic events. And others are forever looking back at their great days on-track, and are happy to describe every race, every lap, to anyone who will listen.

John Miles is not like that. He made it to Formula 1, and was caught up in a dreadful drama that afflicted Team Lotus and, even while they were winning the world championships for drivers and constructors, involved the death of their team leader Jochen Rindt. Before that John dominated his categories in British racing, and after it he won the British Sports Car Championship. Then he turned his back on the sport completely, going on to a successful career first as a technical journalist, and then as a design engineer in the motor industry. From bread-and-butter hatchbacks to supercars, several major models have benefited, usually anonymously, from his sensitive understanding of roadholding, handling and ride. Now he works for the Canadian automotive components company Multimatic, from their UK base in Norfolk.

Meanwhile he has created and run a specialist record label that features several fine British modern jazz exponents, and recently he has returned to his roots by developing a pair of sophisticated Austin 7s, just for fun.

But he spends no time at all thinking about the past, or about his motor racing career. His daily driver is a base-model Ford Focus: his lip curls when I ask if it is the harsher-riding boy-racer ST model. Not for him the social gatherings with fellow former racers in the BRDC clubhouse at Silverstone; in fact he isn’t even a BRDC member. He has never been to the Goodwood Revival. Instead, he enjoys a full and busy life utilising his considerable energies in a variety of directions, looking forward, not back.

Nevertheless, I managed to persuade him to sit down for lunch in his local pub in the Norfolk village where he has lived for the past 22 years and, for once, to cast his mind back to his racing days. A very fit 71, he lunches off monkfish, salad and tonic water. The uncompromising honesty and sardonic wit that I remember well from when he was winning British races in the 1960s, and I was covering them, have survived intact.

John comes from an interesting family. His father was the character actor Bernard Miles, later Sir Bernard and then Lord Miles, who created the Mermaid Theatre, at first at the bottom of his garden in St John’s Wood, and ultimately in the City of London. His mother was an actress: one sister was an actress, the other a painter and sculptor. “My father couldn’t drive, so he bought an ancient Austin Heavy 12 taxi and got my mother to take him around in this terrible old thing. But her brothers were both engineers and loved cars, and I caught the bug from them. I read every car magazine I could find, and I had a holiday job in a scruffy back-street garage in Maida Vale, little more than a shed. I used to go there and get my hands dirty.

“I bought my first Austin 7 when I was 16, a red Nippy with a leather strap over the bonnet. Then I got a Supersports, which was like an early Ulster: there were very few of those. I used it for everything: daily driving, circuit racing, the Welsh Rally. I’d drive it from London 200 miles to Oulton Park, practise, race, and drive 200 miles home again, and I don’t think it ever let me down. Engines were my thing, and I built the engine very carefully, but the rest of the car was pretty ratty. Driving an Austin 7 on the limit teaches you more, at a lower speed, than anything else on wheels – this was before the days of karts, of course.

“After the Austin 7s I went in a totally different direction by buying a Special called the Omega-Jaguar: 3.4 Jag engine, tube frame, ali body, cycle wings. It cost me £200. I raced it once at Debden, in a Formule Libre race. I won, and then I thought, ‘This isn’t the right way to go. I’d better get rid of it before it goes wrong or I kill myself’. [It’s now for sale in the USA, where a dealer is asking $150,000 for it.] I realised that to go places in motor racing you had to win in a class where people would notice you. Just down the road from the Mermaid, in Camberwell, was Don Sim, who ran Diva Cars, so for the 1964 season I built up a Diva with a 1000cc pushrod Ford engine. As well as a successful club racing season I got an entry for the Nürburgring 1000Kms, a round of the World Sports Car Championship. In with the 275P Ferraris of Scarfiotti/Vaccarella and Hill/Ireland, with Peter Jackson as my co-driver, my little car won the 1000cc prototype class.

“I was still only 20 then. I’d gone more or less directly from Austin 7s to the Nürburgring, but I was so starry-eyed about motor racing that none of the risks occurred to me. I entertained no ambitions of being a Formula 1 driver. I wanted to drive sports cars, GT40s and Cobras and stuff like that. I was keeping the Diva in an old wharf next to the Mermaid, trying to prepare it at night under one light bulb, and I had no facilities and no back-up. I realised that to go on being successful I needed some professional help. So I went to see Jeff Uren at Willment, and that was a turning point. I proposed that they prepared a 1650cc engine for me and I worked for them, so effectively it wouldn’t cost them anything. That worked pretty well: during the 1965 season, with the Diva now in the Willment colours of red with white stripes, I won just about everything. They paid me a salary of £1000 a year, and I was a progress chaser: if they needed, say, an ali rocker cover for their road conversion kits I’d get the drawings done and get it made.”

With its 1650 engine the Diva usually ran in over-1600cc GT races against much bigger cars, and frequently beat them, but for 1966 John decided to move to an Elan. This cost £1319, covered by the proceeds from the sale of the Diva and what he’d managed to save of his Willment salary. “The Elan won just about everything, too, until the mid-engined cars began to come through. I did mainly British events, although we had a trip to Portugal and did those hairy road circuits at Vila Real, Cascais and Montes Claros, around the parks. When you look at those places today you think, ‘Bloody hell!’ Willment also gave me a race at Brands Hatch in its Cobra coupé, and I won that.” At the end of the year he took one of three Grovewood Awards, along with Piers Courage and Tony Dean.

John’s achievements in 1966 included nine consecutive wins with the Elan, and outright victory in the Autosport Championship, which started with a highly dramatic opening round at Brands Hatch. In a 15-lap race, the Elan’s bonnet flew open on lap 1. He rushed into the pits where fellow Willment driver Brian Muir wrenched it off at the roots, and John rejoined 15th. By lap 10 he’d made it up to third, and with two laps to go he passed Tony Lanfranchi’s V8 TVR Griffith for second. The crowd were now on their feet, and as he started the final lap he was on the tail of the leader, Bernard Unett in the big Le Mans Tiger. Into the very last corner, Clearways, the Elan somehow got its nose inside the Tiger’s flank, and in the dash to the line Miles won by a matter of feet. On South Bank the spectators in their cars greeted his victory with a cacophony of horn-blowing.

“That was another turning point. Watching the race was Graham Arnold, the larger-than-life sales director of Lotus, and apparently he went back and said to Colin Chapman, ‘You’ve got to look out for this guy’. Nothing happened for six months, until the Gold Cup, the big September international at Oulton Park. I was lying under the Elan during practice fiddling with something, and somebody kicked my legs. I crawled out and it was Chapman. I’d never met him before, and he didn’t introduce himself, he just said, ‘Do you want to drive a Cortina? Jim Clark hasn’t turned up. We need to get the car out’. So I did four laps in this works Lotus-Cortina, and then Clark did turn up, so that was the end of that.

“But then I was asked to drive the Lotus 47 coupé on its debut at Boxing Day Brands Hatch. They entered two, for me and Jackie Oliver: I won and set fastest lap, while Jackie needed a push-start on the grid and came through to second. After I’d taken the flag Chapman jumped in the car and said, ‘Great stuff, John! I want you to drive for me next year’.

“In 1967 I raced the works Lotus 47 and the 41 Formula 3 car, and I was so busy my feet didn’t touch the ground. At most meetings I’d race two different cars, two practice sessions and two races. I did lots of testing too, so my technique was developing. In those days the 1000cc F3 was incredibly close-fought. In my first F3 race, at Silverstone, I’d never done slipstreaming before, and I lost four places on the last lap. I finished 10th – and I was 0.8sec behind the winner. That was what it was like.

“And they were a great crowd: Charles Lucas, Roy Pike, Chris Williams, Derek Bell and the rest, I got on really well with them all. But the Lotus 41 was not an easy car to drive: because it was very short it was unforgiving, and needed great precision. Once I got dispensation from Chapman to race a Brabham BT21 in Portugal: what a difference! So easy compared to the 41, and the racing in F3 was so close that tiny advantages meant a lot. For 1968 Dave Baldwin lengthened the 41 by four inches and Alan Barratt did a new wedge-shaped body, and this was the 41X. The car was transformed, and I won four internationals with it. But Chapman expressed no interest in that car. He didn’t care whether it ran or not.”

In 1969 John was moved up to Formula 2 alongside Team Lotus F1 stars Jochen Rindt and Graham Hill in the quasi-works Lotus 59Bs, entered by Roy Winkelmann but actually owned by Bernie Ecclestone, who was now Rindt’s manager. But now Chapman decided that John was better employed developing his latest project, the four-wheel-drive Lotus 63 F1 car, so he only did three F2 races, finishing a fine third at Vallelunga and fifth at Hockenheim. He also campaigned the 47’s successor, the Lotus 62. “Oliver and I had won our class in the 1967 BOAC 500 with the 47, and in 1968. Then Brian Muir and I did it again in 1969 with the 62. But the new car was far too heavy, and its straight-line speed was atrocious: testing it in chassis form it was quicker than when they put the body on!

“As for the four-wheel-drive car, Chapman really believed in it. But Rindt and Hill hated it, so it was a case of, ‘Put old Miles in it and see what he can do’. Hill did one test in it and refused to drive it again, while Jochen did the Oulton Park Gold Cup and managed a distant second place against minimal opposition consisting mainly of F5000 cars. After that he said he wouldn’t drive it any more either. Mario Andretti raced it a couple of times, and he crashed it at the Nürburgring. Then at Watkins Glen, when it rained in practice, everybody said, ‘Now the 4WD car will be the thing to have’, but Mario was 6sec off the pace.

“I tested it at Snetterton, and the thing was undriveable. Awful. It would spin, very slowly. It had so much inertia in all that drive train – the drive shafts, the diffs front and rear and the central diff, all of which had to speed up and slow down in response to throttle and brake. And once you’d started to slide it was gone. They took me to the French Grand Prix, so that was my first F1 race, and it did its usual trick of melting the fuel pump.” John did four more Grands Prix with the 63: at Silverstone a long pitstop failed to cure gear selection problems, so with the car jammed in third gear he droned round to finish 10th and last. Monza, Mosport Park and Mexico all brought retirements, but in a fine effort he qualified at the Canadian track halfway up the grid. “It went well there because Mosport is all fast sweeping curves, where stability is important. That’s why the 56 4WD turbine car worked well at Indianapolis, because in that environment you haven’t got the delicate balance all the time between throttle and steering, you’re committed to one balance.

“But on twisty tracks it was a disaster. It was long and heavy, and slow down the straights because of transmission power losses. The improvement in F1 rubber meant that you didn’t have any more grip than the 2WD cars, because of the understeer. So Chapman put more and more torque through the rear wheels, which turned a car which might have had some potential as a 4WD car into a terrible rear-wheel-drive car.” At the end of 1969 season the 63 was consigned to history. Its sensational replacement was the Lotus 72.

“The thing about Lotus was – perhaps it’s the engineer in me – if you wanted to be somewhere where there was new stuff going on all the time, where there was excitement and you were at the spearhead of design, Lotus was the place to be. Chapman was a great opportunist, and his designs were in many respects extremely elegant, for example using one bracket or one pick-up point to do several jobs. I found him very inspiring, and when he was in inspiration mode he could get anybody to do anything.

“But once he had an idea he pursued it to the death, and he would argue that black was white. If I’d had more experience, and the knowledge I have now, I could have stood up to him when we went through the debacle of the anti-dive and anti-squat suspension on the original 72. But I was only 25, with less than half an F1 season under my belt. Chapman wanted someone who would race for Lotus and not ask any questions. He’d say. ‘They’re my cars, you don’t tell me what to do with them’. And I wasn’t part of Chapman’s inner circle. I had no money at all: he paid me £300 a race, and out of that I had to pay my own expenses. Once, flying back from a race, I was so broke I had to ask him if he could give me some money. He pulled a big roll out of his pocket, peeled off a few notes and gave them to me. He regarded me as a sort of grease monkey.

“I don’t think Maurice Philippe, who had to interpret Chapman’s concept and do the detail design, was in a position to stand up to him either. But once they got rid of the antis, and going into the Fittipaldi era when they’d put it together properly, the 72 was a great car.

“Towards the end of the 1969 season, at Watkins Glen, Graham Hill had the accident which broke his legs. He wasn’t deemed to be fit, so I found myself No 2 in the F1 team to Jochen Rindt. In fact Graham signed for Rob Walker and did a full season. I was sent to South Africa to do winter tyre testing in the 49, and by the time we got to the South African Grand Prix I’d had quite a lot of time in it. I finished fifth, with Graham sixth in the Walker 49.

“I got on very well with Graham. We flew to lots of places together, and he was very supportive. I think he identified with me as somebody struggling along, just as he had done in his early days. Jochen, on the other hand, kept his distance. He’d make a sarcastic comment and then retire to Bernie’s motorhome and play gin rummy. He didn’t see me as F1 material. He was probably right. Somebody said I didn’t look like an F1 driver, I looked like a geography teacher, and I should have been wearing a chalky tweed jacket with leather elbows.

“The first time I raced the 72 was in Spain, and it was so bad I didn’t qualify. It was no better at the Silverstone International Trophy, where I started from the back of the grid. Jochen was just in front of me, qualifying slower than some of the F5000 cars. The car had done no testing, and it had mega amounts of anti-dive and anti-squat. The angled suspension links provided resistance to braking dip and acceleration squat, so when you put the brakes on you were trying to jack up the front. If you have more than 100 per cent anti-dive, as the 72 had, braking at 1G you could take the front springs off the car and nothing would happen, because all the longitudinal loads were being absorbed by the links, not the springs. The braking grip was terrible and there was no braking feel at all, no sensation of anything happening until you saw the front wheels locked and smoke pouring off the tyres. The same under acceleration: the thrust was still going through the top radius arm, but it was also trying to jack up the back of the car, so the suspension locked up and you got no traction.

“Jochen said to Chapman, ‘I don’t like it, and I’m not driving it’. After the Silverstone disaster Tony Rudd, who was then engineering director on Lotus road cars, told Colin he’d tried anti-dive at BRM years ago and the drivers hated it. Somehow he was able to persuade Colin to bin it. Then there was a typical Lotus panic. The whole monocoque had to be changed, and it turned into a huge saga. They altered it in stages, and the first time I got a fully parallel car was at Zandvoort in late June. That was Jochen’s first victory in the 72. I qualified eighth, and ran sixth until I spun five laps from the end and John Surtees’ McLaren got past. By then the car was falling to bits.

“I was eighth at Clermont, had a couple of engine failures in the next two rounds, and then we got to Zeltweg. Four laps into the race, as I was coming through the downhill turn before the final corner, my left front brake shaft broke. The inboard brakes were served by shafts running from the hubs to the brakes and, to save weight, these were hollow. What they did was drill them from each end until the drilled holes met in the middle, because – don’t get me going on this – they didn’t have a drill long enough to go all the way through. And of course the holes didn’t quite meet cleanly, so there was a weak point there, and when I hit the brakes the shaft broke. Fortunately that corner was just a single downshift, I didn’t have to slow much, and that saved me. The car leaped across the road and swerved violently to the right, but I scrabbled around somehow.

“Chapman and Maurice Philippe saw my shaft had failed, but I don’t know what they did about it. The next race was Monza, and the team arrived late because they had been working all-nighters building a third car for Emerson Fittipaldi. When Friday practice began I was waiting in the paddock and the cars hadn’t arrived. When they finally turned up the guys were absolutely wrecked. They got the cars going, we went out, and I trundled around on my own, knocking back bits of wing and flattening bits of wing, until I arrived at an aero set-up that wasn’t too bad. Graham Hill, who’d got a new Lotus 72 for Rob Walker, was in the next-door pit, and he got to the same aero set-up as me.

“Then, right at the end of practice – after Emerson had crashed the new 72 at the Parabolica, too badly for it to be repaired for the race – this red and gold missile appeared in my mirrors. I moved over and Jochen came flying past me with no rear wing on his car and no front flippers. Following him around the Ascari Curve he was well over the circuit boundary, and the car looked absolutely evil. It had been Jochen’s decision to get his chief mechanic Eddie Dennis to take the wings off.” Significantly, the official Monza practice times show that Miles was 1.43sec faster than Rindt in this session.

“I came into the pits with 15 minutes of practice left, and Chapman sent word to my chief mechanic, Beaky Sims, saying, ‘Take the wings off John’s car’. I said, ‘I don’t want to do that’, but Chapman’s response was just, ‘Do it’. So they took the wings off and I went out. I got to the Curva Grande and I’d never driven such a dangerous thing in my life. The car just snapped into oversteer, and was undriveable. So I tootled round, came straight back to the pits and said to Colin, ‘I can’t drive this car’. After the session ended we had a row in the truck. Colin’s actual words to me were, ‘The only way you’re going to go quick is to take the wings off your car’. I said, ‘Maybe so, Colin, if we had time to sort the car out properly to run without wings. But as it is now I cannot drive that car without wings’. He said, ‘You’ll do as I say’.

“Next morning when I came down to breakfast, Jochen was sitting there eating a boiled egg. I said to him, ‘For me, without wings this car is dangerous’. He just said, ‘You’ll be all right, John’. I arrived at the track, there was my car without wings, and everything in the Lotus pit was in the usual chaos. By the time my car was ready to go out, practice had begun. Driving towards the pit exit I noticed everything had gone quiet. Chapman and Dick Scammell came running up and said, ‘Jochen’s crashed. You’ve got to go out and see what’s happened’. But fortunately the marshals wouldn’t let me out.

After they’d dragged the wreckage back from the Parabolica into one of the garages Rob Walker, Graham and I lifted the door and went in and looked at it. Graham just said, ‘Well, he’s finished’. One of the problems was that he wasn’t wearing his crotch straps, and he had submarined so much down the car, because of the severity of the impact with the barrier, that his lap strap had cut his throat.

“Now, as is well known, when the wreckage of Jochen’s car was examined, the right front brake shaft was seen to have failed. But I must stress that it was a totally different breakage from mine at Zeltweg. It was what’s called a bird’s mouth failure, where the shaft twists until it tears apart in a sort of beak shape. The argument is, did that breakage cause the accident, or was it a result of it? Some people, like [the late Lotus team manager] Peter Warr, have said the car in that set-up was unstable, and Jochen simply lost control. I don’t believe it. If that had been the reason he might have spun, or gone off the road straight ahead [as Emerson had done on Friday]. But in fact the car abruptly turned sharp left, and slammed directly into the barrier with massive violence. That, to my way of thinking, is commensurate with brake shaft failure. Of course there was no data acquisition then. In those days none of the F1 teams even went into a wind tunnel.

“That was Saturday morning. Chapman withdrew the cars, and I went home. The following week I was in France, because Steve McQueen had hired me to work on his movie Le Mans, driving a Ferrari 512S. The next race was Canada, which Lotus decided to miss, and then came Watkins Glen. I assumed I was still driving for Lotus, but then I had a phone call from Peter Warr. He said: ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have been replaced by Reine Wisell’. It was a complete shock. I said, ‘So what does the future hold for me at Lotus?’ He said, ‘You can drive the Type 70 Formula 5000 car at Brands Hatch’. I had already tested the 70, and it was a tractor, a bugger’s muddle of a car. So to save some of my self-respect I refused. Lucky I did, because they gave it to Alan Rollinson, and it fell to pieces under him. I had no further conversation with Colin, and I think the general perception was that after what had happened at Monza it was my decision to leave, that I had decided to reconsider my future. That isn’t true.

“However, when I did consider it, I wondered if this was really the way to go motor racing. When I was racing the Elan or the F3 car, even though we did a lot of races, everything was measured and calm. In the F1 team there was that theatricality which always surrounded Chapman, this fizzing pendulum from triumph to disaster to triumph to disaster. I think I would have got on much better with Ron Tauranac at Brabham, or Bruce McLaren. And there had been all those deaths – just in the past few months Piers Courage, who was a friend; McLaren; and my team-mate Rindt. The year before at Oulton Park I’d been the first person on the scene when Paul Hawkins’ Lola went up during the TT, and I watched him burn to death.

“But that wasn’t the end of my racing. For 1971 Denys Dobbie hired me for his team of Chevron B19s, and I had a great time. Lots of good lads were doing it: Chris Craft, John Hine, Toine Hezemans, Wilson Fittipaldi. We had some great races, everybody was happy, and I won the British Sports Car Championship. Then Louis Stanley, the BRM boss, summoned me to his suite at the Dorchester. His wife Jean, with her piled-up hair, answered the door. Big Lou said [John does an excellent imitation of Stanley’s pompous drawl] ‘We’d like you to drive for us’. Then he said, ‘Excuse me, will you, I just have to make a phone call’. When he came back he said, ‘I’ve just been on to the engine test house, they’ve found another 20 horsepower’. I gather he went through that charade with every driver he tried to sign.

“So I did the Race of Champions, qualified on the second row and finished seventh after a pitstop. Then I went to a non-championship race at Hockenheim and did some laps in the new P160, and it was quite good. But three-quarters through the last practice session [team manager] Tim Parnell said, ‘Your car’s round the back.’ And it was an old P153. I was quite pleased when, after six laps of the race, water came dribbling out of the exhaust.

“My final racing foray was in touring cars with my old friend Brian Muir in his Camaro. Our crowning glory was beating the works BMWs and Capris to win a six-hour race at Paul Ricard. And, after more than a decade, that really was it. Wanting to involve myself in more cerebral activities, I swapped racing overalls for workshop overalls and built engines for Ken Brittain and Spike Winter at Racing Services. We did the engines for Gordon Spice’s Group 1 Capris, and I enjoyed it. It was good therapy. I did that for three years, and then I became a journalist on the road-test team at Autocar.

“Those were the days of steam-driven typewriters and blue-pencil corrections, and I found writing desperately hard at first. Eventually I got the knack of it. It was the first proper salaried job I’d ever had. All the cars I road-tested, and the experience of driving so many bad cars, certainly made me a better developer of road cars today. It was a dreadful period for the British motor industry. The worst of it was they actually thought their products, like the Marina and the Allegro, were competitive with, say, the Alfasud, which was a fantastic little car, even if it did fall apart.

“We always did our maximum speed tests on the public road, usually down the M45 to Coventry, crosswinds and all. The chief road tester was Mike Scarlett, a lovely man who sadly died of motor neurone disease. Once he and I were on a German autobahn, maxing a Ferrari 512BB. Piece of shit that was, as most Ferraris were then. It was raining heavily, he was driving, and suddenly we hit what appeared to be a lake, and the car started to aquaplane. I said, ‘Mike, we’re in trouble’. And he said, ‘Yes, I know’. But he just eased off the throttle, very gently, and he got it back.

“I stopped being a journalist because I wanted to use my hands again, so I joined Lotus Engineering. I worked on the Lotus Sunbeam, and the Supra that we sorted out for Toyota. Then Lotus was sold to General Motors, and that was the start of a fantastic period. I became the champion of the front-wheel-drive Elan, and I worked on active suspension, the front-drive Cavalier for the US, the first Ford Focus, and stuff for Rolls-Royce, Volvo, Kia, Hyundai. In the early ’90s I also did two days a week back at Team Lotus, partly in charge of the F1 chassis set-up. Mika Häkkinen and Johnny Herbert were like a couple of puppies, with the attention span of gerbils, but both really lovely blokes. In 1993, when Häkkinen went to McLaren, Alex Zanardi joined: a very grown-up guy, highly intelligent.

“I was with Lotus Engineering for 18 years, and then I did three years at Aston Martin. I had a lot to do with the DB7 GT, the Vanquish and the Vanquish S, which was a far better car: it actually had brakes that worked. Once the DB9 got to production I left, because I was worn out. Then Larry Holt of Multimatic offered me a job. They’re very nice people to work for, so after 12 years I’m still there.

“For the last 30 years my job with all these companies has been development by sitting in the car. If something needs redesigning I’m not the designer but I prompt, I have input: we need to change the front roll centre, we need to change the compliance steer. I discuss the options of how to do it. We’ve just helped a manufacturer who was getting complaints from the Far East that their car’s ride was too harsh. We showed that if they thought differently about how to damp the car they could get themselves out of the box they were in.

“Because I’m an engineer, you’d think that modern F1 should attract me. But that’s not the sort of engineering challenge I want. I got much more satisfaction from turning the Vauxhall Astra into a production car that handled well, and there are a million of those on the road. In F1 there is no financial compromise, whereas if you’re designing a production car, even if it’s an Aston Martin, you have to get the results you want and still stay within a budget. On a volume car, if you want to change the suspension geometry and pierce another hole in the subframe, that may be hundreds of thousands of euros. The discipline of that is much more interesting, much more challenging, than pissing about in F1 where money is no object.

“I’ve moved on from motor racing, and I’ve done other things which mean more to me. Once motor racing was all I lived for. But in the end you suddenly realise there are other things in life.”