My father was involved in motor racing and because of that, I have always been very close to it. My Dad did a little bit of racing himself, but he also worked for a company that supplied tyres to Formula One and other branches of motorsport, so I used to go to races with him. The drivers at the time included the real icons of Formula One, particularly Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Jackie Stewart were the ones that I admired.
As I became involved in motor racing professionally, I was very fortunate to begin my early career with Patrick Head, who recently retired this year from Williams F1 after being there for 30 years, winning many World Championships. Patrick was the guy who set the standards for me in terms of engineering and approach. From a distance, another engineer who inspired me early in my career was Colin Chapman, who in those years was a truly iconic character. I didn’t know him very well but came across him as he was still in racing when I started.
Patrick Head actually interviewed me for my first ever job in motor racing. I was living with my parents in Reading at the time. I was in my early twenties and I saw an advert in the local paper for a metal working machinist at Williams in Reading. I’d worked as a machinist as an apprentice, so applied and went along for the interview, just to have a nose around and see what it was all about. Luckily for me they offered me the job, though I gather I wasn’t actually first choice, it was offered to someone else but they turned the job down so I was second choice and snapped up the chance. That was my first connection with Patrick.
I worked for them for a year, at which point Patrick and Frank left to set up another company, which I later joined, working with them for seven years in my second spell, which was the late 1970’s to the mid 1980’s, a period when Williams started winning World Championships. We won our first one with Alan Jones and our second with Keke Rosberg. My role was varied, when I joined as there were just 11 of us in the whole team. When the team is that small you really do all sorts of varied jobs. I would make the bits for the cars for them, be a mechanic at the track, drive the truck and just do whatever I needed to, to make the whole team function.
As the team expanded, I had a young family at the time and didn’t really fancy the travel, so I became factory based and started an R&D group at Williams as the factory was expanding and Patrick decided we needed some properly structured research and development in its own small way, so I headed up that group. This was when I got particularly involved in the aerodynamics of the cars and focused on this work for a number of years, including building a wind tunnel at the factory. When I finally left Williams, I was chief aerodynamicist, despite not having any formal qualifications in the subject, but motor racing was like that in those days. If you showed an aptitude, you got the opportunity and felt your way through it to make it work. It is of course very different nowadays and we employ highly qualified academics, professors and doctors in the field of aerodynamics.
My next post lasted a couple of years working at a fledgling company called Force. It was an interesting group to work with and included Neil Oatley who has recently celebrated 25 years at McLaren as chief designer, Adrian Newey, who is now chief technical officer at Red Bull Racing along with a number of other people who have gone on to hold senior positions in motor racing for many years. This all came to an end when there was a buy out and the company decided not to be involved in Formula One.
I then moved on to Arrows for 3 years and became chief designer, having some reasonable success. At this point I received a phone call from Tom Walkinshaw at Jaguar Sports Cars.
You can read the 2nd of my motorsport memories here
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