“Are you kidding!” It was the reaction of David Sears, a Norfolk spearhead, when his late father, ex-passenger car hero Jack Sears, told him that family friend Colin Chapman, boss of the Hethel’s Lotus team, had been on the phone to invite Sears Jr. to an upcoming Formula 1 test in December at Paul Ricard.
It was early November 1979. Sears had won two of the UK’s four major Formula Ford 1600 titles that season – the RAC British and the P&O – and then starred in the Festival at Brands Hatch. After the win in his round and his quarter-final, he turned his Royale around in the semi-final when water entered his visor and was only able to return to seventh place. From 14th on the grid, he grabbed fourth place in the Final – “I was the only one to pass” – and easily set the fastest lap.
“Colin was impressed with this and he talked to my dad,” Sears says. “He used to come to the farm to take pictures and have dinner, and draw all these amazing things on a napkin – a microlite that would do 100 mph and 100 mpg, a chassis for F1 cars and god knows what. When my dad told me he offered me the test, I thought he was joking but he said, ‘No, it’s definitely on.’ “
After such a successful year, the then-Sears partner persuaded him that he would have time for a relaxing vacation before the test.
“My oldest mother said to me: ‘You did very well, you had a good year, we are going on vacation,’ so we went to Kenya,” he recalls. It was in November, and we would be back before the test.
It was the intention, only for Lotus to bring the test forward to November: “Blow me away, the weather forecast turned out bad for December. At that time, there were no cell phones, no way to find anyone. Colin said, ‘Where’s David?’ to my father, and my father had no idea.
“Of course I’m running on a sandy beach in Mombasa thinking I’m going to drive an F1 car, and by the time we got home the tests had already taken place… It shows you need to be available at any time, on standby, but that just wasn’t possible back then.
David Sears, photographed in 2005
Photo by: Motorsport Images
A trial contract with Lotus was offered. Nigel Mansell, who had already made an exit in 79, was one of the contenders; Stephen South the other: “I had said to Colin, ‘It is surely too early for me to get out of Formula Ford’, and he said yes, but he wanted to see how people at each level behave, and that’s why he asked me from Formula Ford, Nigel from F3 and Stephen from F2. “I’m not going to give you race training, but I can give you a test contract.” Nigel was more experienced. than me, and he had studied engineering, and Colin recognized him as having a good engineering brain.
Along with his successful professional career as a driver, Sears created his team David Sears Motorsport, which enjoyed enormous success in the Opel / Vauxhall Lotus class before transforming into Super Nova. It became the flagship team of Formula 3000 and enjoyed success in GP2 before falling victim to the collapse of the A1GP. Sears has also been involved in the management of some of its DSM / Super Nova loads.
“This [the missed Lotus test] was closest to F1 as a driver, ”he says. “Most people would agree that leading Juan Pablo Montoya and Jan Magnussen in F1 is easy, but I got Taki Inoue there and I think I deserve a hell of a gold for it. only person who could have done it!
There was also a fun postscript from Mansell to the shenanigans of late 1979. The Moustachu Brummie went to the March Factory Team for the 1980 British Formula 3 Championship season, and Sears had a luck there too to graduate from FF1600. But his backer, Glover Oil, believed it would be counterproductive for an F3 rookie to line up alongside the already established Mansell.
The fourth round supported the Formula 2 round on Easter Monday at Thruxton. Sears had qualified 10th, but passed Mansell on the last lap for a nice fourth.
“I could go flat on the right side before Church in the Argo, and Nigel couldn’t in the March,” Sears laughs. “On the last lap I went around him and it was close to entering the church, and after that he came up to me with a key and slapped me on the helmet and said, ‘Don’t do that again. “I said to Nigel, ‘If you lift, of course I’ll do it again.’ “
The 1998 F3000 champion Montoya is the best known in the Sears management team
Photo by: Motorsport Images