Racing Against the (Time) Machine, story and photos by Sergio Álvarez and Diego Merino

NEWS & STORIES, SERGIO'S COLUMN

Jarama and Formula 1. Nowadays, those two concepts don’t get on too well in the minds of the younger generations of Spanish motorsport fans. It’s even easy to forget that the top track from the whole region of Madrid hosted a handful of GPs in the late 60s, the 70s and the early 80s, and that the likes of Jim Clark and Gilles Villeneuve won in this scenario the last races of their respected but tragic careers.

Nonetheless, the people responsible for the circuit took note from the success of Espíritu de Montjuïc and decided to bring back historic racing to a place that, in the context of international racing, is the definition of a lost jewel. We would go to see how a bunch of classic single-seaters from a wide range of categories were brought back to life. And we couldn’t waste the opportunity of learning a bit about how this sort of racing works with the ideal professor… well, the ideal coach, to be more precise.

At the time we met him, Nick Padmore had won 100 % of the races of this year’s championship, but this weekend he has come just to provide coaching support to his fellow colleague Max Hilliard. Of course, Nick will not confess it to us, but we guess he decided so in order to give a chance to their rivals (take note, Toto, Paddy and Niki). He receives us in what, for the box standards of today, is a rudimentary garage.

We could be forgiven to believe that the thing about the official FIA Formula 1 Historic Championship has to be the conjunction of tradition with 21st century technology, no doubt about it. We see a couple of laptops around. Wow… today’s telemetry taking loads of data from lots of sensors installed in a Shadow DN5 of 1975, isn’t it? “No, we don’t have sensors,” assures us one of the mechanics. “We use the computers just to collect information about the driving of Mr. Hilliard.” We see them making adjustments in the brake discs. “Hey, and what are you working on with such a commitment?” we inquire. “We are making sure of the state of the car, checking that it has suffered no damage in the last session. But we are not applying any particular change nor adjusting any setting.” OK, not much to see then, but at least there must be a story in the logistics of carrying all those cars from the UK to the track and then back again. “We don’t ship them, nor we have any agreeement with a business dedicated to transportation. We load all those cars and material into the lorry and go back home.”

But don’t be fooled by this background. Mr Padmore has a few things to talk about.

Sergio & Diego: In first place, how does it feel (to win) 12 out of 12?

Nick: Really amazing. First, how my season started was trying to drive the Shadow DN5 at Brands Hatch, but Max Hilliard wanted to drive that car, so he was jealous of me because of that car. He told me: “Would you mind driving the Williams instead?” So I fell off that Shadow car and took the Williams. We have the Williams, the Lotus, the Shadow and the Surtees. I raced the Williams at Brands Hatch and it worked really well: two poles, two wins, two fastest laps. Then Max suggested: “Do you want to do the next race?” I said yes, and we saw that with our pace we could win the championship: we won that race, and the next race, and the next race…

Sergio & Diego: How did you end up competing in historic racing, among all the possible categories where you could drive?

Nick: In fact, I’ve been racing for years and I’ve done a lot of modern stuff. The last ten years I have been doing more and more historic racing. And, with historic cars I have also been doing more and more coaching for customers, and with them comes the opportunity to drive their machines.

Sergio & Diego: You have a strong background in motorsport. Which competitor is the one that you have respected the most during your motorsport career?

Nick: I think that the toughest and the most experienced was Ander Vilariño. We raced together in 2010 and I can tell you that he’s extremely fast. Probably one of the best races I had with him as a team-mate was at Spa. He was leading and I was second and, coming out of La Source, I had a much better run and we went side-by-side through Eau Rouge (and I beat him).

Sergio & Diego: You have raced in Formula Palmer, endurance, GTs… Which one has been the car that gave you the more pleasure?

Nick: I still think that it is the historic Mini Cooper S that I raced from my father. It’s probably the most rewarding car that you could possibly race. It was so much fun that you really had to be on it to be quick. But for a car with which you have to be very, very focused to drive it, it has to be the Williams FW07, because when the ground effect works on that car, it’s incredible, and to make the ground effect work you really need to push.

Sergio & Diego: What pieces of history of your different F1 cars (the Shadow, the Lotus, the Williams) would you choose as the most relevant ones?

Nick: The Williams FW05 was a very good racing car, but Max doesn’t own it any more. It had a good story, because it was a car that handled very well and had a lot of history. Then the Lotus 77 is also an amazing car, as is the Surtees of 1971.

Sergio & Diego: Did you know that Gunnar Nilson scored his first podium here at Jarama in 1976? We wonder if your chassis is the one that raced here that year.

Nick: Hmmm… I will find out that! Hilliard should know.

Having been in a couple of historic races over the last decade, I don’t recall seeing this particular Lotus here, so maybe it’s the first time.

Yes, it is the first time, certainly. I raced this car all of last year. We did all the rounds with it.

Sergio & Diego: All these cars are (Cosworth) DFVs. It seems that there is a whole industry around the DFV…

Nick: Yes, all the cars in this series have these engines.

Sergio & Diego: We see there are many competitors that chose the Geoff Richardson DFV engines over Hy-Speed, why?

Nick: Because his engines are the best. When we bought our first historic F1 car, it was the Walter Wolf Racing Williams FW05, which was a Geoff Richardson car and engine. For me the guy is really the best in the business, because wherever the cars are running, he’s there, and he listens to the engines when he’s on track, and he is checking everything. So his customer service is brilliant.

Sergio & Diego: Do you have camaraderie among the competitors? For example, do you help one another when one of you has a particular problem?

Nick: Yes, the whole paddock is very friendly, to be honest. Maybe we are even happy to share spare parts. The engines cost so much money that you have to be very careful lending one of them.

Sergio & Diego: How much do you spend for a year?

Nick: I suppose you spend between 200,000 and 250,000 pounds.

Sergio & Diego: What is the difference between the costs of each of your your cars? Are they sensible?

Nick: The engines are all similar, like 1,000 miles old. It’s really the tyres and the wearing parts of the car what make the difference. They can be run for a really reasonable price for what they are. Remember, they are Formula 1 cars.

Sergio & Diego: Which one of the three cars is the most expensive to maintain?

Nick: They’re all about the same, but the Williams is probably the one that costs the most.

Sergio & Diego: Talking about the DFV, there was a span of years during which the DFVs were raced. An F1 car from 1967 is very different from one of 1976 or even the 1980s. With the same engine, the chassis changed massively, for example in terms of materials. Do you feel the differences when you drive them? Do you appreciate the progress with these cars?

Nick: Absolutely huge. It’s possibly easier to try to go faster in a ground effect car than in one of those. They move around so much, that you could spin, because they don’t have the aero, and sometimes you have to go sideways. To be very quick with a ground effect car, you need to get in it and just keep your foot down, but your car doesn’t move.

Sergio & Diego: Are you running the skirts with full effect?

Nick: We are not allowed. If we were to try, we’d be good. But we have to run a minimum of 40 mm at all times, so that’s what we do. When we go around, we feel we actually go fast… Imagine the guys back in these years, when the skirts really worked! Incredible.

Sergio & Diego: In those cars, you have to sit in a way that makes your legs rest over the front axle. Safety wise, don’t you fear sometimes for your knees?

Nick: No. Never.

Sergio & Diego: But the Shadow must be much more intimidating, because you are strapped onto the fuel tank. Don’t you ever think about it?

Nick: I don’t even think about that.

Sergio & Diego: But you must feel how the safety standards evolved from an early 1970s car to one of 1982.

Nick: The seat of most ground effect cars pushes the driver more up front. They are very tiny so, for Max, when he got the Williams, he couldn’t fit in it. But the earlier cars are slightly bigger and actually have a bit more room. The driver was really the afterthought, the space for him was pretty small.

Sergio & Diego: And in addition, these tracks where you race are very narrow.

Nick: When I started 6-7 years ago with historics, I couldn’t believe how narrow they were. Then you go to Silverstone and it is a completely different story with modern tarmac.

Sergio: Imagine Diego has decided to take part in free practice driving one of your cars. As a coach, what advice would you give to him?

Nick: I think the whole thing is about the gearbox. When you drive these cars, you spend a lot of time trying to learn with these years. If you miss a gear and it goes completely wrong, it could possibly cost you 18,000 pounds, the price of one gearbox for those cars. Whenever I coach drivers for these cars, if they have never driven a manual gearbox before, they’ve got to learn to change gear.

Sergio & Diego: How long did it take you to get used?

Nick: Having gone through the ranks, the manual gearbox does give you an easier time. If you try to change gears slowly, you’ll find it difficult. It has to be a very punchy at first, and fast change.


Saturday’s race made you suspect that somebody had written a script to support the view of purists about ‘the better past times’. From the grandstands and pelouses, the public enjoyed a close fight on track between an old Williams and an old Arrows. But the defining moment was the mistake of Patrick d’Aubreby (March 761) forced by a certain Max Smith-Hilliard while defending from a queue of cars. Hilliard kept his third place until the chequered flag and gave everybody a lesson about calmness and racecraft… or was Nick Padmore the man behind such a brilliant mindset?

Photography by Diego Merino.

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2 thoughts on “Racing Against the (Time) Machine, story and photos by Sergio Álvarez and Diego Merino”

  1. Fab interview with Nick, loved reading it. In fact I was supposed to be setting off to work….but couldn’t bring myself to turn it off & come back later.
    Now just need to keep my foot in & hope the aero package in the Renault Trafic lets me pick up a bit of time!!!

    • CKN says:

      Yeah, it’s a good one. Kudos to everyone involved in the “making of”. 👊

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