Derek Bell has enjoyed one of the most successful, diverse and wide-ranging careers of any British racing driver. In the first part of our exclusive conversation with Derek, he talked about the mindset he needed to succeed – and how to take calculated risks.
A winner’s mentality
From the very first race I drove, at Goodwood, it’s been the same: it’s about concentration. Your mind is totally focused on what you’re doing – particularly in my first race, when it was pouring with rain and I found myself in the lead. Thereafter, whether or not it gets set in your mind that that’s how you have to focus, I don’t know, but people were always surprised how relaxed I was before a race – even if really deep inside I wasn’t.
In the build-up, when you’re sitting in that car, everything’s blotted out and then you’re focused. Nobody tells you how to focus; nobody trains you to be focused. It’s just something natural that you get on to.
It’s not about adapting, it’s the fact that you realise you have to be focused, that’s what it’s about – it happens naturally.
Concentration – regardless of the competition
If you don’t focus, or you don’t concentrate, you cannot do a good job. You can’t have your mind roving on anything external. Your mind won’t let you. If you’re out there, driving at speeds of up to 240 mph, you can’t have your mind thinking about anything else. It’s an exotic, niche activity - and you don’t want anything drifting in. You must be desperately focused and methodical in what you do.
Success, bravery – and longevity
It’s down to focus and concentration. At the end of the day, if a wheel falls off there’s nothing you can do about it. No focus or dedication is going to help you there. And the same is true of any walk of life: nothing should deter you from what you’re doing, but if something freakish happens, it happens. You can’t stop that.
It’s the same with racing: if I sit back and analyse how I made it this far, it has been occurring to me recently that my career was pretty special – though at the time I thought it was quite average. It’s normal to not be satisfied with what you achieve – but, looking back at it now, I was, and I did achieve. I came 6th in the US Grand Prix – better than never having been in a Grand Prix at all. It’s true that you could always have made other decisions, but I’m proud of my career. Not everyone made it.
When you’re racing as a professional you take calculated risks the whole time – you don’t calculate it, but you take a risk every time you hold back by a fraction of a second…which is probably the reason I’m still here, because of my limits.
All those famous drivers who died – they didn’t die through their own errors. They crashed because something let them down. As a driver, you have to be calculated: we’re just so aware that it’s out there and could happen to us. Cars now are much safer than they were then – but you have to know your limits.
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