Lunch with... Pat Symonds

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He’s overseen title-winning cars, engineered Senna and Schumacher, but the memory of Singapore 2008 remains painful…

In the intense, rarefied world of Formula 1 a driver has to deal with people on many different levels. To his sponsors and the media he’ll be cheerful and optimistic. To his team boss he’ll be professional and determined. To other drivers, including his own team-mate, his demeanour will vary with circumstance. But how he really feels may only be revealed, in the privacy of his pit and back at the factory, to his engineer – the man he works with most closely in his quest for victories and glory.

Pat Symonds has worked in motor racing for more than 35 years, 30 of them in F1. His roles have included chassis designer, aerodynamicist, head of R&D, technical director and engineering director. And he has fulilled the key role of engineer for a string of front-running drivers, including two of the greatest of all time: Ayrton Senna, during his astonishing first season in F1; and Michael Schumacher, whom he helped to win his first two World Championship titles.

I know Pat to have, like all the best people in racing, a driven will to win. I also know him to be – perhaps unlike one or two people in racing – honest and honourable. So it was a shock to me, as to everyone else, when he confessed to involvement in what became known as ‘Crashgate’. In the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix Nelson Piquet Jr crashed his Renault into the wall, bringing out the safety car and thus helping team-mate Fernando Alonso to win the race. A year later Piquet, aggrieved at being fired by Renault, announced that the crash had been deliberate, at the behest of the team. The race-fixing enquiry that followed banned Pat from Formula 1 for five years, and Renault team boss Flavio Briatore for ever.

I’m delighted when Pat agrees to have lunch with me because I know that, in his direct and open way, he will tell me as much as he now feels able to do about the Singapore incident – as well as giving his impressions of the drivers he has worked with. We meet at The Inn at Farnborough, near Banbury, a proper village pub that serves us proper English fare: smoked salmon, rib-eye steak and sticky toffee pudding, plus a drinkable glass of Shiraz.

Pat’s father was an engineering oficer in the RAF, and then ran a Ford dealership. “Our visits to Snetterton turned me on to racing, and from the age of 12 my ambition was to design cars. In a classroom discussion at school [Gresham’s, in Norfolk], the teacher asked us all what we wanted to do in life. One of my classmates, John Village, said he was going to be a racing driver, and I said I was going to be a car designer. That got quite a laugh from the other boys, but 10 years later, in 1979, John won the European Formula Ford Championship in a Royale RP26, a car I designed.”

On leaving school Pat secured a Ford-sponsored undergraduate apprenticeship.

“Then they sent me to Cranield to specialise in vehicle dynamics. Adrian Reynard was in my year. Making a living in racing was an alien thought: in those days even an F1 team only employed about 12 people. But once I’d got my Masters degree I ired off letters to the British race car makers, and David Lazenby took me on at Hawke.”

He stayed there for three years, and was responsible for the very successful DL17 and DL19 Formula Ford cars. In 1978 he moved to Royale, where his RP24 and its successor the RP26 won a string of FF championships, and his FF2000 car, the RP27, was almost unbeaten in 1980. At that time everything in Formula 2 was being won by Brian Henton and Derek Warwick in Rory Byrne’s Toleman chassis, with Brian Hart’s engines. Toleman team boss Alex Hawkridge approached me and said, ‘We’re thinking of moving up into F1. Would you like to look after our R&D? I’ll give you £10,000 a year (twice what I was getting at Royale) and a Golf GTi.’ So on January 2 1981 I became Toleman employee No 20, based in Witney. Rory was in charge, with John Gentry as chief designer.

“The Toleman TG181 was a triumph of ambition over common sense. We said, ‘how do you win in F1? You have to have a turbo engine, because that’s what Ferrari and Renault are doing. Who will sell us one? Nobody, so we’d better make one. Brian, turn your F2 engine into an F1 turbo for us.’ We really did believe we could beat all the DFV cars, and maybe give the Ferraris and Renaults a run. It was all madness, but brilliant fun. The car was a pig – in fact it was nicknamed The Flying Pig.

We never managed to qualify until Monza, because it did have grunt in a straight line. And amazingly Brian Henton got it to the finish, last and three laps behind. Brian wasn’t technical at all, and used to argue a lot, but he was massively brave. He’d just say to himself, I will get this car round this corner. Then Derek qualified at Las Vegas, and did about half the race until the gearbox packed up. I’d known him since Formula Ford. He worked tremendously hard, was always constructive – and he listened to his engineer. From FF to F1 and now BRDC president, Derek is the same as he’s always been, a totally down-to-earth, friendly guy.

“For 1982 we had Derek and Teo Fabi, we’d updated the car and engine, and we thought we were in with a chance. We absolutely weren’t. In Brazil both cars failed to qualify again, so on the Sunday morning Alex called a meeting. He decided on a new approach: Rory and John Gentry were going to design a new car, and I was going to run the F1 team. At the races everything was going to be down to me, including engineering both cars. It was a huge jump. But I learned that if you don’t fiddle with things, you start to understand them. With a little bit of intelligent engineering we gradually got the old car to work. By degrees we started to qualify, and if it hadn’t been for a puncture Derek would have scored our first points at Hockenheim. It was very rewarding seeing the car gradually improve.

“Rory and John decided the new car should have a carbon monocoque. That was pretty advanced: only McLaren had done it, and Lotus were in the process of doing it. We were using a wind-tunnel at the military college at Shrivenham, and we designed our own moving ground for it. In the tunnel we found something really interesting. If we shaped the monocoque in a particular way we could get enormous downforce. It was so dramatic we decided to keep it a secret until 1983, and when the new car raced before the end of the season we used a conventionally shaped monocoque. Then the FIA ruled that for ’83 all cars would be lat-bottomed, and our advantage disappeared.

“But we had a careful look at the new rules, and interpreted them in a different way to everyone else. We had an enormous underwing at the front with the radiators housed in it, and a huge wing forward of the rear axle line, and we had heaps more downforce than anyone else. In early testing at Rio we were fastest, and Derek qualified fifth for the race, and sixth at Long Beach. But the TG183B was massively sensitive, and difficult to set up for each circuit. Finally at Zandvoort in August Derek scored Toleman’s first points with fourth place. At Brands Derek and Bruno Giacomelli were both in the points, and then Derek was fourth again at Kyalami.”

For 1984 Warwick went to Renault, Giacomelli was dropped – and, amazingly, Alex Hawkridge was able to sign the new sensation of the lower formulae, Ayrton Senna. “I was surprised we got him, but F1 team principals were more risk-averse in those days. From the start, Ayrton’s perception of what was going on, and his ability to recall it accurately, was amazing. Remember we had very little data acquisition in those days, some very crude stuff in testing but none at all during races. The drivers would tell us what the water temperature was, and what the revs were so we could get the gear ratios more or less right, and that was about it. When I asked Derek for his revs in one corner he said, ‘I can’t tell you. I’m too busy there.’ Ayrton remembered the exact revs on every corner. He had a mental capacity way above what he needed just to drive the car.

“In Dallas that year he touched a wall and broke a wheel. During the debrief he said: ‘I can’t make out how I hit that wall. The wall must have moved.’ With any other driver you’d say, ‘Don’t be bloody ridiculous.’ But he was so troubled by it that we went and looked at the wall. Tyre marks showed that somebody had crashed into one end of one of the huge concrete blocks and pivoted it a little bit. He’d been placing his car a few millimetres from that wall, and when the edge had moved a fraction he hit it. I thought then that this guy was beyond anything I’d ever experienced before.

“There were some aspects of him in those early days that still needed improvement. He didn’t have much of a sense of humour – although later on Gerhard Berger, who became his soul-mate at McLaren, showed that wasn’t true. And at irst he wasn’t very it. In South Africa he fainted at the end of the race, and we had to pull him out of the car. But he wouldn’t accept that he had to do something about that, because in the beginning he wasn’t very self-critical. But, God, as a driver he was fantastic. I just hoped we could produce a car that was worthy of him.

“And at Monaco we did. Ron Dennis had only agreed that we could switch to Michelins if we didn’t get the latest-spec rubber. But at Monaco it was wet, and there was only one spec of wet Michelin, so we were on a level playing ield. And in the conditions Ayrton’s ability, his incredible way of driving a turbo car, his unbelievable throttle control, all came together – although, as with most legends, it does get better with time: people tend to forget that, while he was catching Prost when the race was stopped, Stefan Bellof was catching him.

“The only other time we had the right tyres was at Estoril. It was Michelin’s last race, and they told Ron to stick it. Ayrton qualiied third, and finished third. By that time, of course, he’d signed for Lotus. Alex was very affronted when Ayrton announced his departure at Zandvoort, before the date by which we had to take up options, and without giving us the chance to talk to sponsors and staff. As a punishment Alex suspended Ayrton for Monza, which was cutting off his nose to spite his face, because the Toleman would have been good there. When we got to the next race I expected Ayrton to be bitter, but he wasn’t. He was so intelligent, and he’d decided he could have handled it better. The result wouldn’t have been any different, because he was an ambitious man moving towards his life goals. But he apologised to me. I don’t know if he did to Alex.”

Toleman’s 1985 season started badly, with no tyre contract, and then a saviour arrived: the Italian clothing irm Benetton agreed to buy the team outright. “That year’s car, the TG185, was beautiful, and so easy to set up. Rory designed it, I was doing the aerodynamics, and we were beginning to understand all that. I was also doing R&D, and was engineer on Teo Fabi’s car. Teo was a lovely guy, but an enigma.

His ability to drive a car through a quick corner was second to none, which is why he was so good in Indycars. And he was intelligent. Sometimes he’d out-think himself, and he wasn’t terribly good in traffic if he got flustered. But I enjoyed working with him, and I had real respect for him.

By the end of 1985 we knew we couldn’t go any further with the Hart engine, and switched to the turbo BMW. And Gerhard Berger joined us alongside Teo. I absolutely loved Gerhard. He never took life too seriously, but he didn’t mess around either. He was stunningly quick, but it was a little bit when he wanted to be. He didn’t always come up with 110 per cent on every lap. Our engines were done by Heini Mader and ran vertically, unlike Paul Rosche’s lay-down works engines in the Brabhams. BMW supplied a chip for qualifying and a chip for racing, but with my new-found interest in electronics I thought, ‘sod that, we’ll race with the qualifying chip and I’ll write a new chip for qualifying.’ We never measured the horsepower because it was way too high for any dyno, so we’d plot the power at different boosts and extrapolate. Our first target was to get a megawatt, which I think is 1360bhp, and we certainly got over 1300. In races fuel consumption was the limiting factor, and we’d be well below 1000 horsepower. In Mexico Gerhard scored Benetton’s first win.

“Then we switched to the Cosworth GB, a gorgeous little V6 turbo. I loved that engine because you could design such a nice car around it. The problem was the engine had been developed around BP fuel, and we had a Mobil contract. Fuels then weren’t petrol, they were a chemical mix of benzene, toluene and xylene. We kept detonating pistons, and it wasn’t until mid-season that we got it right. Berger had gone to Ferrari, it was Teo and Thierry Boutsen now. For 1988 the rules were 3.5 litres normally aspirated, or turbos with boost reduced to 2.5 bar. Ford were working with Yamaha on a ive-valve normally aspirated V8, using three inlet valves, and were very keen we went with that, but in the end the five-valve version never raced.

“In 1988 this larger-than-life character called Flavio Briatore arrived, put in by the Benetton family. He knew nothing about motor racing. In Brazil he came into the Benetton garage with another guy who said, ‘Who are these people?’ ‘Oh,’ says Flav, ‘They’re only engineers.’ I thought, ‘I’m not going to get on with this bloke.’ Actually we did get on reasonably well for a long time – until the final bust-up in 2009.” Benetton’s drivers over the next three seasons included Johnny Herbert, Emanuele Pirro, Roberto Moreno, Nelson Piquet and Alessandro Nannini, who was dreadfully injured in a helicopter accident in 1990. “He was on his way to a party Rory and I were having, because we’d decided to leave Benetton. The team seemed to be stuck in a rut. We were finishing third and fourth in the championship, but it wasn’t obvious how we could move on from that. Flav seemed to have lost faith in Rory and me, so he decided to get John Barnard in. At first I was supportive of that: maybe it would be the step-change we needed. But John refused to come to Oxfordshire, he reckoned the people in Witney knew nothing, and he said car design had to happen in his base in Godalming. I was working on the active-suspension car which was coming together well in testing. But John didn’t understand it, so he didn’t like it. Rory and I thought, ‘Barnard’s here for life now, it’s time for us to move on.’ We had a council of war with several other Benetton people, and in the end 12 of us left and joined Adrian Reynard.

I thought Flavio would go ballistic, but he said, ‘Let’s part on good terms, because one day we may work together again.’ And he was right.

“Rory and I built ourselves a little office in Bicester and a couple of test rigs, and set about designing Adrian’s F1 car. But it never got built, because after six months Flav sacked Barnard, and wanted Rory and me back. We said we’d only come if he took all 12 of us, which he did. And Ross Brawn joined as technical director. We inherited John’s car, got the cooling and the gearbox sorted out, and had the 1992 car ready by Spain. And now I was engineering the young Michael Schumacher.

“The first time I worked with him was at a test in South Africa. He’d been trained by the Mercedes sports car team, and I loved his professionalism and polish. At once I thought, ‘here is a guy I can work with.’ He knew nothing about me, but he reckoned he knew how to set up a car. There was a quick corner at Kyalami, and he said, ‘The car’s good everywhere except it’s oversteering there.’ He thought we should tackle it aerodynamically, but I said, ‘No, we need to increase the rear roll stiffness.’ He said, ‘That’s crazy, that will make it oversteer more.’ I said, ‘No it won’t, because it’s touching the rear bump stops.’ We increased the rear roll stiffness and the car was immediately better. He said, ‘You know what you’re talking about.’ After that we got on really well.

“Michael has such a bad reputation in the UK, and that all dates back to when his adversary for the title was Damon Hill. In fact he’s a lovely guy. He cares about people. If we were having a team get-together at my house he’d come and sit in the kitchen having a beer with the lads. A lot of drivers hardly know the names of the mechanics on their cars. Michael not only knew their names, he knew their wives’ names and their children’s. He does have a sense of humour: we used to tease him about the German thing, and he took it all in good heart. He is misread by so many people, but he’s a totally different person from how he is perceived by the public. I think the world of him.

“Rather like Ayrton, even when he’s on the limit he has mental capacity left over for analysis and strategic thinking. In 1992 there was nothing like the instrumentation on the cars that we have now. He wanted to know what his times were over each section of a track, so I bought 10 cheap Timex digital watches and we’d stick one to the steering wheel, and he’d time himself from corner to corner. Nowadays all that’s in the electronics. Unlike Ayrton in his early days, he was always tremendously it: he understood that itness meant lap time.

“F1 team people live and breathe their work, but that’s not always relected in the driver. Michael always, always put in as much as everybody else, and more. That lifted everyone, so we’d raise our game further. You think, I can’t possibly work any harder, and somehow you just find that extra little bit. He was like that in the cockpit. He’d get to the point where it was as fast as the car would go, and then if he needed a bit more he’d find it from somewhere.

We’d work as hard as possible through Friday and Saturday to get the car as good as we possibly could, and by the time we got to the warm-up on Sunday he’d say, ‘right, this is the car I’m going to race, it’s not perfect, but now I’m going to ind what more I can get out of myself,’ and he’d spend the warm-up trying different lines, experimenting on each lap.

One of my favourite cars was the 1993 active Benetton with my four-wheel-steer system – from an engineer’s point of view, the ultimate car. We’d started on it at Reynard, and we were going to introduce it for 1994. Then in June ’93 the FIA announced that from 1994 all cars would be passive. I wasn’t going to throw it all away, so I agreed with Ross we would race it in the last four rounds of 1993: the only car ever to race in F1 with four-wheel steering.

“Riccardo Patrese hated that system; he only liked driving a car that was completely passive and neutral. But Michael felt it was something we could exploit, and he just loved it straight away. It was so sophisticated, it knew where it was on the circuit. As you approached a corner the rear wheels would steer out to help you into the corner, and in the corner it would identify if the car was oversteering or understeering and help correct that. We would programme it from circuit to circuit, and the driver didn’t have to input anything, although he had a few switches he could use to trim it. But from 1994 all cars were passive, so there was another avenue that was closed to us.

“Even so, from the start with the 1994 car we knew we had something special. But the new Cosworth HB kept breaking cranks. We couldn’t get through a day without a failure, and we were getting nowhere. We went to the first round in Brazil with a job list as long as your arm, worked from Thursday morning to Sunday evening, and just got a few hours’ sleep on Saturday night. The rest of the time we worked solidly. We were almost dead. I don’t know how many cranks we broke in practice, but on Saturday night we put in the race engine which had a new type of crank, and in the warm-up we did one installation lap to make sure there were no leaks, and then we parked it. We slumped in the corner of the garage and got 10 minutes’ sleep. Then Michael went out and won the race.”

He won Round 2 at Aida as well, and then came Imola, and the dreadful impact of Ayrton Senna’s death. “The effect on all of us was profound. It sounds terribly callous, but Roland Ratzenberger had been killed on Saturday, that was shocking, and we all said, ‘What a dreadful shame’, and carried on. But Ayrton’s death stopped us all in our tracks. Engineers are quite pragmatic, and the shock soon turned into frustration at some of the knee-jerk reaction of the rule-makers. The FIA had to be seen to be doing something, but there were many unintended consequences which made the cars more dificult to drive. We had to cut back on diffusers and then the dreaded plank came along, which spoiled our beautiful 1994 car.

Rather than making things safer, it actually increased the likelihood of having an accident, although when you had that accident you might be going a little slower.

“Two races after Imola came Barcelona, and they put in this peculiar chicane. The teams were up in arms, and several of them boycotted first practice. Flavio, who always wanted to be the centre of attention, turned it into a personal battle with the FIA president. He said, ‘You won’t be hearing anything more about Max Mosley. Mosley is inished.’ He didn’t just say it to us, he said it to the world. That’s one of those things, even if you think it, you don’t say it.

“I don’t know if that had any bearing on the ensuing accusations against Benetton about traction control. In our software we’d got rid of all the stuff that was no longer allowed under the new passive rules, but the basics were still there to work the gearbox and so on. When the FIA inspected our software they found the menus were still there for engaging launch control, but if you selected them they didn’t do anything. It was obvious, as the FIA inspector conceded, that nothing was being used. Nevertheless we were castigated.”

Schumacher was then disqualified from his victory at Spa because the mandatory wooden plank under his car was found to be worn away more than the permitted 1mm tolerance; and he was handed a two-race ban for ignoring the black lag at Silverstone.

By the time the teams arrived for the inal Grand Prix in Australia Schumacher’s lead over Damon Hill was a single point. In the race they collided when Hill went to pass Schumacher after he had clouted the wall. Pat smiles wryly at the memory: “At the time I supposed Michael didn’t have full control of his car because the steering was broken. But in subsequent years there have been other incidents, and you start to wonder.

Remember when he suddenly stopped his Ferrari during Monaco qualifying. And the collision with Jacques Villeneuve in the 1997 title decider at Jerez. Michael is as good as he is because he’s so competitive. I’ve sung his praises and will continue to do so, but occasionally his competitive instincts have got the better of him, and then he doesn’t think, he reacts.”

After winning the World Championship again in 1995, Schumacher left for Ferrari, and then persuaded Ross Brawn to follow him. Later Rory Byrne went too. By now Pat was Technical Director; the drivers were a returning Gerhard Berger, who scored his last win at Hockenheim, and Jean Alesi. In 2000 the Benetton family sold the team to Renault, and Flavio, after a spell away, returned as team principal. Drivers during this period included Giancarlo Fisichella, Alex Wurz, Jarno Trulli, Jenson Button – and Fernando Alonso.

“Fernando’s talent is pretty special. He said some pretty hurtful things about the team from time to time, like we weren’t supportive, which to my mind wasn’t true. I didn’t form a relationship with him like I have with most drivers. But Fernando is very, very bright. He’d sit in debriefs looking bored, and I’d think he’s not paying attention, and then he’d ask questions which showed he had followed every detail. Like Ayrton and Michael, he can find something extra from nowhere.

Give him a sniff of a win, and suddenly he’ll be doing things you didn’t think were possible. And in 2005-6 we won the drivers’ and constructors’ championships, back-to-back. Now we’ve got to talk about Singapore 2008.

After we’d had a dreadful year in 2007 Alonso came back, and our No 2 driver was Nelson Piquet Jr. Fernando was on a huge salary, so the team budget was under stress. We made over 90 people redundant, and I was led to believe – I choose those words carefully – that the team was in serious trouble, and if we didn’t pull our finger out Renault wasn’t going to carry on and Enstone would close at the end of the year.

“Going to Singapore the car was pretty damn good, and we felt we were in with a good chance. But in Q2 Alonso had a fuel hose problem, and ended up a disastrous 15th on the grid. Before the race it was suggested to me that we could use a stoppage by Nelson to bring out a safety car to help Fernando. Who did the suggestion come from? Nelson Junior himself. He knew he was hanging on to that drive by the skin of his teeth. Possibly he saw this as a way to improve his position in the team. Anyway, he suggested it – which of course is completely contrary to anything he admitted to when the enquiry came a year later.

“My big mistake was, at that point I should have just said, ‘don’t be silly. No way are we doing that.’ But I didn’t. Under competitive pressure, I suffered from what we were saying Michael occasionally suffered from – a serious error of judgement in the heat of competition – and instead of rejecting the idea, I shared it with others. I wish I’d never done it. But the pressure was immense. I did honestly think that if we didn’t win a race soon there were going to be 500 people out of work. It was gamesmanship that went the wrong side of the rules. But I never expected it to blow up as it did. There are instances in F1 when things as bad, or worse, have gone unpunished.”

In the race, Alonso started with a light fuel load, and pitted to refuel on lap 12. On lap 14 Piquet hit the wall at Turn 17, bringing out the safety car. Alonso made up track position on the front-runners, and once everyone else had made their stops Alonso was on his way to victory. At the time conspiracy theories abounded in the paddock, because for Alonso to have started mid-grid with a light fuel load didn’t seem to make much sense, and Piquet’s accident happening just when it did seemed an extraordinary piece of luck for Alonso. Some of the more perceptive commentators expanded on these theories in print. But then the next race, Japan, took over – and was won fair and square by Alonso. Singapore was all forgotten.

Until August the following year. Piquet’s pace during 2009 had not impressed Briatore, and after his 12th place in Hungary he was replaced by Romain Grosjean. In the acrimony following his dismissal, Piquet told a Brazilian radio reporter that he had been instructed to crash in Singapore by Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds.

The FIA launched an investigation: Briatore issued an instant denial, and instigated legal proceedings against Piquet.

“When I was at school I learned two big lessons. One, if you do something wrong and you get caught, you say, ‘yes, that was me’, and you take your punishment. Two, you don’t welsh on your friends. So I immediately declared my involvement in Piquet’s crash, but – even though Max Mosley tried very hard to persuade me to do so – I didn’t inger anyone else. Suddenly I was on my own.” Days before the FIA held their investigation, Pat resigned from Renault F1; so did Flavio Briatore, although he continued to declare his innocence.

The FIA banned Pat from all FIA-sanctioned motor sport for five years, and banned Briatore for life. Renault was disqualified from F1, suspended for two years. Piquet escaped punishment, in return for co-operating with the investigation. Alonso was exonerated.

“The five-year ban was a big shock to me. It’s no secret that engineers and senior personnel in F1 earn quite a lot of money, so the financial penalty was enormous.” Then Briatore took the FIA’s decision to the French courts, claiming £1.2 million damages. The court decided that the bans were not legal, but only awarded Briatore £12,000 damages, which must have been much less than his costs of going to court.

Instead, Pat agreed with the FIA that his ban should only operate until the end of the 2012 season, reducing it to just over three years, and that he could in the interim work as a consultant. “All my friends and ex-colleagues in F1 were hugely sympathetic and supportive, but at first it was very hard. I did some public speaking, talking to companies about team-work and innovation, and some consultancy on engines and aerodynamics for one of the big road-car manufacturers. And I wrote for specialist motor racing magazines, which I really enjoyed. Flavio remains banned from taking any operational role in motor sport, although he can still attend races – as can I. I’ve never asked Bernie for a pass, but I’ve gone to the British GP as a spectator and stood in the crowd, because I like racing.

“Then at the start of 2011 Marussia asked me for advice. Having gone to Paris and got FIA president Jean Todt’s approval to do so, I made a set of recommendations to Marussia, including a proposal for their 2013 car. Then they said, ‘now come and do it’ – within an enormously telescoped schedule. So it became an in-depth role. I can’t go to the races, but I connect onto a computer at the circuit and speak to the engineers each evening. But I don’t input anything, because that might be against the spirit of my agreement with the FIA. Next year I can go to races, and I’ve had offers already from several teams.

“I’ve worked really hard through my career. Then I made a mistake, a big mistake, and it’s almost as though that negated all I’ve done. I’ve been involved in seven World Championships, and I’m proud of them all. But what I’m more proud of – and why it hurt me so much to have to leave Enstone – is that in 1981 I joined a little team as employee No 20, and by the time I had to leave it was over 550 people.

“But to me, future goals and ambitions are far more important than memories. And next year the shackles come off. I’ll be back.”

Simon Taylor