In a career that lasted four decades, British racing driver Derek Bell achieved much – but it might not have gone that way. In the second part of our exclusive conversation with Derek, he discusses how much of his success was down to luck – and hard work.
In many ways, my career was down to luck. When I started out at F3, my stepfather backed me: we borrowed from the bank and spent the lot on a car, two engines, some spare tires and a van to carry it to the races.
I did have one difficult season: 1966. I had loads of spare parts lying all over the place in my garage at the farm. Every Monday we’d be getting a call from Lotus: “what broke this week?” It wasn’t the fact that I crashed, it was because the car kept on falling apart.
But we still had success – which showed that I did have talent. We didn’t have managers, PR people… Everything was my decision, along with my stepfather, who didn’t say much but loved it.
The car wasn’t great and it shouldn’t have been a good year – but I won my first race, and eventually won eight of the 16 races I drove in. Then because I’d done well in the beginning, I got a call to participate in the international race, in Silverstone. And on the back of that, I started driving in F2 – and three races in, I got a call from Enzo Ferrari, and the rest is history.
It wasn’t pure luck, I think I must have had some talent, been a talented driver. I was flavour of the month for a month or two. I’d never imagined or dreamt that I would drive for Ferrari, but going there, meeting him, doing a test drive – it was like a bloody dream.
How to not give up
At the start of my career, I was definitely an also-ran – but I also showed tremendous form at times.
By the end of my time at F3, I’d gained a lot of experience, it’s made a better driver of me – but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. It wasn’t as though we knew we had money to carry on (we didn’t), but we’d shown to ourselves that we had the ability to do it and we never once considered quitting.
It was the beginning of sponsorship in 67/68. I remember writing to all these companies – I had nobody to advise me. The only one who came back to me was Avis: ‘thankyou Mr Bell, we wish you all the best’, and it included a button with their logo: ‘We try harder.’ And that sums it up. Go for it.
We weren’t desperate – but if we were going to do something, we had to do it properly. I’ve always had that in mind, with people I’ve worked with: don’t fanny around with small issues, do it the best you can, get stuck in and do it.
Driving, as with everything you do in life, should be a natural thing. It’s all a matter of feel. When younger people say that they’re not sure about taking risks in their life, I say: you have to do what you want to do, because you’re only going to put your all into it if it’s what you want to do. You’ve got to have a passion for what you’re doing.
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