De Villota in his cherished Williams FW07 on his way to winning the 1980 Aurora AFX British F1 title.
Photo: Mike Jiggle Collection
When I was young, growing up in Spain was very difficult for lovers of motor racing. The Spanish were then known for bull fighting, football and golf. In the 1960s, I saw Harry Källström driving the Lancia Fulva in the Rally of Spain, part of the European Rally Championship. Harry made the Lancia dance around—I really wanted to do this too. On the racetrack, Jim Clark and Jochen Rindt were my favorite racers, they had a command of the cars and a particular style of driving I enjoyed watching. My first motor sport was in a Lotus Super Seven, hill climbing in the Spanish Championship, I even tried racing it on tracks, but was up against Ford GT40s and Porsche 906s and 908s. Living near Jarama, my motor racing career grew until I made a decision to leave work and make it my life. With very little money, I managed to get a drive in the 1976 ShellSport Championship in the Lyncar built and run by Martin Slater—they were very good to me. In my second season, I won at Mallory Park, it was the same car as the previous year, but the boys had done a fantastic job preparing it.
From there I was able to purchase a McLaren M23, a car I raced both in the ShellSport series and at my home Grand Prix. The car was originally raced in the USA as an F5000 M25, but had been converted back to an M23, Alistair Caldwell sold it to me. I got the car very cheap as it had been damaged in transit when seawater got into the cargo bay of the ship. After the M23, I ran a Lotus 78 in the Aurora AFX British F1 Championship. The results weren’t too bad, but my greatest results came with my greatest racecar, a Williams FW07. The car was just the best, I purchased it directly from Frank Williams, and it gave me six pole positions and nine podium places, including five wins, and I became the 1980 Aurora AFX British Formula One champion. Obviously, I was pleased with all my victories that year, two at Mallory Park, one at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, but the win at Monza—the only time the championship ran away from the UK—was special, with all the history surrounding the circuit. Yes, a very special moment. I also raced the car at the Spanish GP that year, starting from 17th on the grid. Unfortunately, just under half distance I crashed out, but Alan Jones won the race in a factory run FW07—he became World Champion that year. I think the Williams FW07, designed by Patrick Head, is one of the all-time great racing cars.
After my championship year, I joined Guy Edwards in the World Endurance Championship driving a Lola T600. I found it very interesting watching and comparing driving styles. Our season wasn’t the best, although we had two victories, one at Brands Hatch and the other at Enna. Driving sports cars is a world away from Formula One, it’s much more fun and the guys I raced with were a very friendly bunch. Looking back, it’s a shame the British F1 series folded—it was great racing, which gave me some memorable races and, of course, the British F1 Championship.