One of my earliest Formula One memories was seeing Nigel Mansell’s spectacular tyre blowout in 1986 while chasing the world title. A dramatic end to a dramatic season, the sparks and unpredictability caught my attention.
A golden age?
Fast forward a couple of years, and Mansell’s team, Williams, had lost their engine deal with Honda. In an era of turbos, for this season they had a normally aspirated engine from a company I hadn’t heard of, Judd. It was never going to compete with the works turbo engines in that season, but Mansell did manage a competitive second place at the British Grand Prix.
Come the ’90s, and my Dad was kind enough to take me to a couple of races. The first was 1991’s Belgian Grand Prix at the famous Spa circuit, Michael Schumacher’s first ever Formula One race. The wail of the cars was unlike anything I’d heard before – before you even saw the cars, the scream of the engines was astonishing and overpowering. I can remember the two Lotus-Judds , with their young, energetic drivers Johnny Herbert and Mika Hakkinen, duelling through Eau Rouge. The Lotus team may have been in decline at this point, but here was a historic name, trying its best to match past glories, and not only evoking memories, but making them too.
A local connection
What I hadn’t realised in all this, however, was how close to home the engines powering these cars were. Judd is the eponymous company of John Judd, and based in Rugby, my home town. John Judd himself was born in Coventry, and his racing pedigree was great, working on Coventry Climax’s Formula One engine before going on to work with Jack Brabham, where he also prepared Cosworth engines for other teams, that included a World Championship win for Keke Rosberg in 1983.
The pedigree was there, then, so it may have come as no surprise when Judd designed his own Formula One engine. It was at a time when Formula One was moving further towards motor manufacturers dominating the sport, so it should maybe come as no surprise that a small-ish independent company from Rugby would see Judd engines end up as mostly midfield runners, as they just didn’t have the budget of other teams. For them to be as competitive as they were, however, showed what a great job they did, and maximised what they had – they also offered a way for smaller teams to have a chance at trying Formula One, something we don’t see nowadays.
The work of the company wasn’t just restricted to that formula, of course, as they also worked in sportscars, Formula Three, Formula Two, Formula 3000 etc. You name it, they’ve been there!
Still making memories
And they’re still going. Not in Formula One at present, but still there, still racing. Old habits die hard.
And memories also take a while to fade. That shriek, that squeal… it really was a golden age of motorsport for some of us, and this Warwickshire company helped to make it so for me.