I was watching Top Gear the other week. Jeremy Clarkson was driving a Lotus T125, which is a quasi-F1 Grand Prix car that ordinary folk can rent for the day, as long as you have half a mil lying around.
Something Jeremy said caught my attention. He said he was having a mental problem with belting along at 160mph and leaving his braking to the 100yards before going into a corner. He was used to hitting the brakes 300yards before going into a big corner.
Maybe I’m a little dumb, but I never had that mental mind block. When people told me I could leave my braking late in my single seater, I believed them and after a half dozen laps, the car let me know how quickly it can stop for a corner.
But maybe that fearlessness came from the fact that I never knew what speed I was actually doing. The reason was simple: there was no speedometer in the car. It wasn’t important. The rev counter was the most important indicator in the car. Speed wasn’t important. How many revs I was pulling was. Revs told you where I was on the power band. The gearbox was fitted with specific gear ratios that best suited each track so that I would be pulling peak revs at the end of the straightaways. Speed was something that happened, but not something to monitor.
I suppose ignorance of the mph was helpful. Because it’s hard to tell 120 from 140 mph. It’s all quick. So it made me a little braver.
Whether I could say that now is a tough one to answer. Part of the reason there was never a speedometer in my cars was there wasn’t the room. The dashboard is tiny and I needed to fit in the pressure and temperature gauges and tachometer, etc. Just as I was leaving the sport, digital displays were coming in and they had everything on them, including the speed.
So maybe I wouldn’t be so brave if I knew how fast I was going.