The brief was simple. An email to all the journalists on Autocar: pick your favourite racing driver of all time.
What we didn’t expect was quite the repertoire of answers that came back. Covering most eras and a vast spectrum of the sport – from Formula 1 to club racing – it just goes to show how varied motorsport and its followers are. For once, there are no wrong answers: it has led to many discussions and a fair amount of incredulity but, in the end, it’s all about personal choice.
Do you agree with us? Would you go for someone different? Let us know in the comments below.
I grew up worshipping people who could race cars well, but when I started to meet them for the job, a certain disappointment set in. Having hoped for long explanations about how they analysed and honed their magical skills, I was disappointed that so many, even the best, were from the don’t-ask-me-mate-I-just-do-it school.
John Miles restored my faith. He was the thinking man’s racing driver, a cerebral character who rose in the late 1960s to become Jochen Rindt’s team-mate at Team Lotus in Formula 1, before turning his back on the sport to become, first, a distinguished technical journalist at Autocar, and later an accomplished engineer mainly at Lotus, who specialised in chassis and suspension design and dedicated himself to developing better road cars.
Having “caught” motor sport as a kid from an uncle, he started with an Austin Seven at 16, meticulously prepared it himself, and thinking nothing of driving 200 miles to Oulton Park for a race, then 200 miles back. He dreamed of big cars, GT40s and Cobras, but had to lower his sights somewhat and eventually moved to a Lotus Elan, in which he “won just about everything”.
Through this he was spotted by Lotus and started racing Lotus 47 sports cars and F3 single-seaters. That led to F2 and F1: he did 15 grands prix but the relationship with Colin Chapman never really worked; he was replaced soon after Rindt’s death at Monza.
He raced sports cars for a couple more seasons, then joined the road test team here at Autocar, creating a much-loved column called ‘Miles Behind Wheel’ that specialised in improved versions of ordinary cars. One of his better-known projects was to devise a cheap, highly effective rear suspension mod for the Ford Capri that improved its handling tremendously.
After about a decade, Miles’ restless nature and a desire to “use my hands again” led him to Lotus Engineering, where he was involved for 18 years (mostly in an unacknowledged capacity) in improving a variety of road cars, from Vauxhall Astra to Aston DB9. He had a period of prominence when Lotus launched the front-drive, second generation Elan, whose clever suspension geometry much reduced the torque steer that affected light, powerful fwd cars back then.