Stars of Formula One need a helping hand with their craft occasionally, but it might come as a surprise to discover that many of them seek the assistance of a 71-year-old man who doesn’t even go to races when things aren’t going well. Motorsport veteran Rob Wilson has helped the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll get better on the track and in recent times he has been mentoring Red Bull’s reserve driver Liam Lawson through his rookie year.
Insiders regard Wilson as the sport’s ‘secret weapon’, but you won’t catch him putting international-class drivers trough their paces in a single-seater rocket around Silverstone. On the contrary, the old hand prefers to wish out his tips in the comfort of a £25,000 Ford Puma.
The New Zealander keeps a low profile and is never likely to be found in the pit lane or on media duties at a Grand Prix. Instead, he simply focuses on fixing issues for drivers who may be struggling with corners, understeers or simply finding it tough to complete races.
Wilson has been involved in the world of motorsport for over half a century, during which time he has helped over 75 drivers including half of the names that compete on the F1 circuit today.
The respected driver coach never became an F1 driver himself, although it was a close-run thing, but excelled at Formula Ford and Formula 3 before enjoying spells in NASCAR and Indycar in the USA as well as competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
On four occasions he looked destined to become an F1 star himself, only to be usurped by competitors with bigger sponsorship deals on each occassion.
Far from bitter about his near-misses, Wilson believes it was merely setting him up for his true calling in life, helping other drivers to succeed. Speaking to the Telegraph, he said: “The whole thing was a rehearsal for this. There are a few aspects to driving fast. There’s all the ABC (acceleration, braking and car control) stuff. Anyone can teach that.
“Sure, you can look for a higher mid-corner speed or at coming off the brakes later to avoid understeer, but the answer isn’t in squiggly lines on a screen – data download masquerading as engineering. It’s when you feel it in your bones.”
Those who know Wilson best believe that his true talent is nurturing drivers to translate little messages through their bodies to control the car more effectively. His methods can be difficult to understand and it is for that reason he uses a normal manual transition car so that drivers can feel exactly what it is that he wants them to feel.
Wilson said: “You become one with the car, the car becomes one with the surface, you become one with the surface, and you can almost transcend the car. When they arrive, they are the most important person in the world.
“They’re anxious to show how fast they are, what incredible reflexes they have. And I have to get rid of all that.”