Interview: Alan Jones
Australia’s Alan Jones’, 1980 Formula 1 world champion, joined MotorsportRetro.com in the Melbourne paddock at the opening Grand Prix of the year to share his thoughts. Son of a successful racing father, from an early age Jones wanted to race. He started 116 Grands Prix, scoring 12 wins and 24 podiums. He drove for seven teams in his career, but without doubt his prime time was with Williams where he won his world title in 1980. The following year, he announced his retirement and won what was – then – his final race. He still had the bug though, and returned with Arrows, and the Beatrice-Haas Lola, run by Cal Haas who Jones had previously raced for in the ‘70s in Can-Am. After F1 he raced in Australian Touring Cars, scoring wins and podiums, finishing second overall in 1993. He was also a commentator in Formula 1 for Channel 9. He’s also a bloody good laugh.
By Rich Fowler
Have you ever searched yourself on Youtube? (If so, what’s the best clip?)
As a matter of fact it was only just recently that somebody told me, because I’m not really into Facebook, Youtube, twitter and all that. But my favourite clip really is the dice I had with Alain Prost at the Hockenheim. I looked at it the other day and I thought ‘Jeez, I was good!’
What was your most satisfying race, whether you won or not?
I would probably say Watkins Glen 1980 after Montreal after I clinched the world championship. I didn’t qualify all that well. I said to Frank Williams: “I think this engine is down. And typical, Frank said “well if you think its down we will change it”. Which he did, and we were quickest in the warm up.
I made a pretty good start and got onto…and typical Americans they had about 9 tons of concrete dust on Turn 1 (to clean up oil). I hit that and skidded off and thought: “Oh I’ve buggered up my skirts.” I came back on the track and did about a quarter of an exploratory lap and then just went for it. We were passing people and that was good. Then I was going to down the back straight and Reuteman moved over to stop me going down the inside – so I passed around the outside. That was very satisfying.
What was the first racecar you bought with your own money?
God…yeah! I think it was probably a BT28 Brabham, Formula 3.
Which car you’ve driven is your favourite?
The 1980 Williams, yeah yeah!
What is the greatest racing car ever built?
The best racing car ever built…?? You know probably, for its innovation and its creativity, the Lotus 78. It the was the first of the ground effects cars and I think that was pretty ingenious of Colin Chapman.
Which racing car would you most like to own?
None of them… Particularly if you had to buy one!
Was racing better then or now?
Ummm… I really think racing is good now and I think racing was good then. At the end of the day you grow with an era. I get more excited with what’s coming and not what’s been. A 170 mph corner still has to be taken at 170 mph no matter what you are driving.
Who was the greatest driver of all time?
You’d have to base that, I guess, on the amount of championships. I mean Fangio was revered – and quite rightly so. He won five world championships, and no one ever thought that that record was going to be broken.
Michael Schumacher came along and won seven world championships in a time – with all due respect to Fangio – when it was probably more difficult to string championships together. When Fangio was driving half the field were privateers, and you could jump out of one car into another car… When Michael did his the field was a lot more competitive, a lot more closed up. So you’d have to say Michael.
What was your closest shave or “holy shit” moment ?
I had a few! I was at Donington running down the back straight and we were testing radial tyres for Goodyear. The thing delaminated and tore the back left hand suspension off and the wing, and I went bouncing down the barrier thinking: “This is not too bad because there is an escape road at the end and I’ll just come to a steaming halt there and I should be OK…”
But what happened was the barrier finished and there was a series of those cement post that England has, with wire in between them.
The front left hand suspension clipped one of the cement posts and it (the wire) just flicked up and clipped the top of the dashboard and put a scar on the top of my helmet… So you knew ‘there but for the grace of God’. An inch or two either way, and it would have been all over red rover.
What is your favourite racing livery or logo?
I was always a bit keen on the John Player JPS car. That was a good-looking thing.
Which drivers, dead or alive would you most like to have dinner with?
None of them!
What was your biggest disappointment in racing?
Ahhh. Not winning Monaco and certainly not giving Frank (Williams) his first Grand Prix victory.
What was the first race you saw in person? Did you see your Dad Stan race here at Albert Park?
Yes he did race here. In actual fact there is a photograph of the front row and there was Jack Brabham Stirling Moss and Dad! They were on the front row and there is a Zephyr convertible parked on the footpath…there were no barriers in those days and I was leaning up against the grill of it…waiting for the start.
Alan Jones (leaning on Zephyr) looks on as Stan Jones lines up next to Jack Brabham and Stirling Moss. Albert Park 1958. Image courtesy: Autopics.com.au
I there an event you still like to race in?
Mmmm… I can name you a few that I wouldn’t want to!… (Ed note – Well that might be more interesting)
OK, I don’t like oval racing. I’m not a believer in running in sixth or seventh position minding your own business and then the leader has a crash and comes back as a crowd in pieces. So that doesn’t appeal to me, no.
What’s been the best post race party?
After I won the championship in Montreal Mansour Ojeh from TAG, within a matter of hours had the whole wall of the ballroom festooned in photographs framed in non reflective glass and a really good band. That all happened within hours.
Would you call yourself a fan of race history?
Absolutely. I just love watching old footage you know things like a tribute to Fangio where he goes round that old airport you know…
What do you think of the current historic scene?
Well its very strong, there is no question about that, and I think its getting stronger. You would have only had to go to Phillip Island recently to have seen that… I mean there were guys there from America and all over the place. Or think of Goodwood’s Festival of Speed, or The Revival… It’s just amazing.
Was there a race, or event where you had a “how did I get here?” moment.
I guess the first Formula 1 race I did was a non championship race at Silverstone and you know your sitting on the grid with Andretti and those sort of people. I had to pinch myself a little bit.
What’s your current state of mind?
Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most…
Special thanks to Alan Jones