Miles away from Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg


You never have to look far if you really want to gain a true sense of perspective. Take the October issue of Motor Sport, for example.

Since Sunday I, like the rest of the motor racing world, have been mulling over what happened at the Belgian Grand Prix. The consequences of Nico Rosberg’s clipping of Lewis Hamilton’s left-rear tyre will be fascinating as the season unfolds into the autumn. But the incident itself? An ill-judged attempt to ‘prove a point’ to his former friend doesn’t make Rosberg much of a villain in my book.

The hysteria was predictable, but this was hardly Senna spearing into Prost at 160mph. It wasn’t even Suzuka a year earlier, for that matter.

Having decided as much, greater perspective on Hamilton’s pouting bottom lip landed on my desk the other day, when the new issues arrived in the office. As usual, I flicked through to check all the words and pictures were where they’re supposed to be, then paused on page 88 and the picture of the distinguished gent with swept back silver hair. John Miles, Simon Taylor’s latest lunch guest. What he lived through in Formula 1 makes the Hamilton/Rosberg melodrama a pinprick of insignificance.

Miles, of course, was Jochen Rindt’s team-mate at Team Lotus in the year the Austrian became F1’s only posthumous world champion. He’s rarely seen in motor racing circles these days. Always thoughtful and fiercely intelligent, we were delighted when John agreed to the interview. This extract explains why. It raised the hairs on my neck when Simon first filed the piece, and did so again as I re-read it in the finished magazine.

“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 that was there the weak point was, and when I hit the brakes the shaft broke. Fortunately I didn’t have to slow that much for that corner, it was just a single down-shift, and that saved me. The car leaped across the road and swerved violently to the right, but I scrabbled round the corner somehow.

“[Colin] 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.

In this issue

Prost vs Lauda by Adam Cooper
Lunch with John Miles by Simon Taylor
Decoding Lewis Hamilton by Mark Hughes
Patrick Head at Goodwood by Rob Widdows
Group C2 track test by Simon Arron
Special Saloons by Gordon Cruickshank
1954 French GP by Richard Williams

“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 his car.

“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 basically, ‘Do as I say.’ 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 already started. 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 there and find out what’s happened.’ 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.”

It was called F1 then, just as it is today. But now it all plays out on a different planet.

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