Jackie Oliver

Jackie Oliver 3rd July 2010 at the Goodwood Festival of SpeedRJ: Jackie, did you give a lot of thought to your post-racing career whilst you were driving, or is it something that developed towards the end of your career?

JO: Well, a lot of people say this (historic racing) is my 3rd career. Certainly not. My first career was as a professional driver and that stage of my life, I felt it was time to stop. That was a difficult decision. But I still wanted to be involved in the business and so I thought that maybe this is the time to become a team owner. From in front of the camera, to behind the camera as it were!

But when I sold my Formula 1 team at the beginning of the Millennium, I was out of professional motor racing, in which I’d been in for virtually 40 years. Two things then happened. One is that Lord March saw and said “Would you like to join up with the Revival meetings?” and I said “No, I gave that up a long time ago”. But he said “Ah, but you might like it”. So I went down and drove a little Porsche, quite similar to the one I’m driving this weekend and then he said to me afterwards “Did you enjoy it?”

I said “Yeah, I’d do it again” and of course, I’ve been doing it ever since and so that put me back into classic car racing, not as a career move, but where I started and that’s where I’ve been going on now for 10 years with a variety of cars.

The best thing about the historic series is that it is stemming from where it all started. I don’t make any money or profit, I don’t drive open-wheeled cars – there is an element of caution with regards to that, but I’ve been doing it for 10 years and it’s like driving a bicycle. You never really.. it never leaves you behind, but I’m better at it than when I first started when Lord March introduced the Revival, around the year 2000, because practice makes perfect. The basic skills remain and so I very much enjoy it.

As long as I can still do it effectively and competitively, than I’m enjoying it. As I get older, than maybe there’ll be a time where I won’t be able to do that and so I’ll stop.

RJ: Having been in historic racing for quite some time now, have you found that this too has developed? Have you noticed any differences than when you first started or is it more get into a car and drive the hell out of it, as it were?

JO: Well, I think it’s bigger than that, because, racing is.. from the 1930’s to the 1970’s really, is the golden age. The 1980’s.. it’s not classic. The iconic period is probably late 1950’s to maybe when I stopped – certainly the 1960’s, that was the era to drive.

It’s not just about the cars – although they are iconic cars, of course – it’s also about the venues. So, all the best cars and all the best venues really come from those periods and they capture the imagination of those that remember and even the younger generation.

So, 40’s cars, early Formula one cars, Alfa Romeo cars aren’t for me, but you’ve got to understand they have a lot of nostalgia and they draw people – both the drivers who raced them and people to watch them, whether it’s this weekend, or the Revival, the Silverstone Classic, the BRDC events in July are all an example of that.

So, do I like to drive the cars that I used to race professionally? Yes, absolutely. Do I enjoy coming to these events with people that ask for my autograph that have photos of my cars that I raced in period? Yes, absolutely. It’s nice for me and it’s nice for the spectators. They’re able to “get” to us which you can’t do in the Formula 1 paddock.

RJ: Well, in modern Formula 1, not many people can after all. It is more restricted….

JO: I think it has to be, as otherwise the race drivers would never be able to get into their cars. TV has blown Formula 1 to proportions that a following of lifestyle and fame that is much greater than it was when I was racing and because of that, there has to be an exclusive zone, unfortunately, but that’s just the nature of how it is currently.

RJ: Do you still follow Formula 1 that much?

JO: I go to two or three events a year – normally in the Summer. I went to Bahrain this year, Abu Dhabi last year, Spain.. I still have a lot of friends in the sport – fellow entrants like Ron Dennis, particularly, at McLaren; Martin Whitmarsh, Christian Horner I see on a social basis, so I’m still involved with the social side from those days. Funningly enough not so much as with the racing but more with the shooting.

I like to shoot quite a lot and of course, also, particularly with my involvement as a director of the BRDC in getting the Grand Prix back to Silverstone. I did a lot of negoiating with the current contract that starts again in the winter time. So my business skills and contact there help the BRDC and with Silverstone and running the business as a non-executive and getting elements of the sport there for the BRDC so that we have fantastic programmes, not only for the classic, but also for Moto GP and a long-term contract with them.

RJ: Would you still like to be involved now in team management in Formula 1 today?

JO: Well, when I sold the team in 2000, I was approached by someone, because of my long-term involvement, to manage drivers – some drivers that are now very successful in Formula 1. But it’s not something I wanted to do – it’s not… There was an element of it that attracted me, it was flattering to be asked and because of my connections, I would’ve been quite helpful for drivers, both from inside the cockpit and of course, outside the cockpit, but it just didn’t really appeal to me.

RJ: What elements make a good team manager? You stayed in the sport a long while and did reasonably well – poor old Alain Prost less so? Is there a secret to it or is it just luck?

JO: Timing and luck. Running a team, which was a mid-grid team.. I ran it 25-26 years and I had years where I lost lots of money and I had years where I made money but it is as precarious as racing a car. When racing a car in the 60’s and 70’s, I put my life on the line. Running a Formula One team, I put my financial security on the line. I had peaks & troughs financially. I got out, fortunately, on a peak – I sold the team to Tom Walkinshaw and I did very well but a lot of it is timing, a little bit of business skill, not too much, and a fair proportion of luck and I’m enjoying the fruits of that labour.

Ken Tyrrell got into the same thing – there are lots of examples of people who had Formula 1 teams.. Lotus – went out of business and they were very successful and there were lots of teams were not successful who came and went just as quickly so I was somewhat – there was some luck. I look at the current structure of Formula 1 and people say, “Would you like to do it again?” And I think not. I think the risks are as great, if not greater financially, especially, from the 1970’s.

When I started running the Arrows team, I had a million pounds. It was a lot of money to have, especially in the late ’70’s and when I left and sold the Formula 1 team, I had £65 million. It is now heading that it is too difficult for a private entrant to be in the sport at a reasonable capability. Whether those days return remains to be seen but at the moment it is a big worldwide sport that has built up to a level where it is a little bit too strong for most private entrants to be involved.

Interview conducted on the 3rd July 2010 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Thanks to Jackie for his time, patience and kindness and also thanks to Gabby Zajacka for arranging the interview.