Jackie Stewart was down on his hands and knees, under the car, looking for the rattle he'd heard coming down The Corkscrew. "I can't find it but these prototypes are all hand built and you never know which bits they forgot to tighten."
It was wet and cold and the light was lousy, but we had Stewart and the track for a day, plus the director and film crew so we had to shoot the commercial. This was in 1981 and the new Ford Turbo-Thunderbird was a whole new direction for Ford. Story was that a couple of years before, there was a pre-production meeting in the new President of Ford Phil Caldwell's office. Caldwell looked around the room at the designers of the new Thunderbird. The car looked like a pagoda with wheels and Caldwell said, "I see a lot of glum faces. You guys like this car?"
"No, but it's what we gotta do to sell it."
Ford was hemmoraghing money. The new Thunderbird was already a year behind schedule. "Well why don't you guys come back when you got a car you like," Caldwell said, a decision that would turn the company around. This was that car, the new Turbo Thunderbird. The one that Jackie would later say was faster than a BMW 633 CSi. (And prove it at a press day in Detroit.) Jackie Stewart was the spokesman for Ford and I was the Creative Director for the agency.
In the morning while the film crew had been setting up, Stewart was having fun showing us the different styles of Formula One drivers. "See how we're coming into the corner in a flurry of feathers and blood," he'd say as the car heaved into a turn squealing and skittering on the limit. "That's how Kekki does it."
Then he'd do a lap of supreme smoothness and speed. "That's how Prost does it," he said happily.
Film production is 90% sitting around waiting; waiting for the crew to get set up for a shot, waiting for a bit of sunlight, waiting for the magic light before sunset, waiting for the agency/client to make up their minds.
Meanwhile Stewart had been talking about how his senses come alive at speed, how when he was at the limit he was supremely aware of the world around him. How he could smell the cut grass, see the scatter of grit on the track, sense the grip of each wheel. Then he said, "when I am driving really well, I always have plenty of time."
It seemed like a paradox at first. I had driven race cars and I never had any spare time. Until it occurred to me that racing at the highest level is a mind game. That the best driver's mind is faster than the car. And that was the key to writing about a sport that had defied attempts to make it come alive on the page. Write it in the first person, give us all the sensations and thoughts, make it come alive in the mind of the driver and you can fill two pages with the detail of coming down the straight at Brands Hatch and it will seem to the reader, so fast it will take his breath away.
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