Meeting the man who guided Clark to victory in 1963

| 13 May 2013

I travelled up to Silverstone last week and wondered anew at the transformation of the place since I first went there in 1988. Never the most charismatic of circuits, the old layout did at least have an all-or-nothing aspect to it that enabled you to see cars and drivers on the absolute limit.

I was standing on the inside of the old Stowe corner when Nigel Mansell took pole position by a country mile in 1990, and the memory still gives me goosebumps.

The track itself retains much of that appeal, but the demands placed upon the venue by Grand Prix racing have led to an increase in the scale of the surrounding infrastructure. Its transformation into a modern Formula 1 ‘facility’ has, inevitably, changed the face of Silverstone.

An example of that is the ‘Wing’ building that incorporates the pits, media centre and umpteen other things. It was here that I met a man whose memories of the place went back a lot further than mine.

Much is being made of this year being the 50th anniversary of Jim Clark’s first F1 World Championship, with events taking place up and down the country. And, quite by chance, I found myself taking a spare seat at lunch next to Cedric Selzer (standing in main picture and on far left above), who that season acted as the legendary Scotsman’s mechanic.

Selzer didn’t enjoy the most promising start in motor racing, however: “I met Stirling Moss in 1960 when he was racing in South Africa. He offered to write a letter of introduction to BRP and I came over to Britain, but the team didn’t have any vacancies for a mechanic at that point.

“I then very briefly worked in Formula Junior for a guy named Ian Raby, but he sacked me because I wasn’t very good!”

By no means disheartened, Selzer instead set his sights even higher, and made his way to Monaco for the 1961 Grand Prix.

“My mum knew someone who lived in Nice, so I had somewhere to stay and the use of a motor car. In those days, you could just walk along the circuit after the race.

"I asked someone where all the Formula 1 teams hung out and he told me, The Tip Top bar. I went down there, got talking to the Lotus guys and it turned out that they needed a mechanic.”

“Working for Colin Chapman was okay as long as your face fitted," he adds. "I actually got sacked twice! Once was when I got blamed for a bearing failure in one of the engines, but it turned out that Coventry-Climax had fitted the wrong type of bearing, so that saved me.

“Then another time Trevor Taylor had a suspension failure. When we got back to the factory, everyone was sort of keeping their heads down. It turned out that I’d been fired and reinstated without really knowing much about it! It took about six weeks for Chapman to actually say anything to me, mind…”

“After that I was assigned to Jimmy’s car. He was the best driver I ever worked for. At Rouen in ’64, he jumped into Pat Lindsay’s ERA, which was there for the historic race. His first standing-start lap wasn’t far off Lindsay’s best, then within a few flying laps he was quicker. I asked him how it was and he just shrugged and said, ‘Bit of a bumpy ride’. It was so easy for him.”

Although it was an incredibly successful period for Clark and Lotus, Selzer left in 1964: “It was a great time to work for the team, but we were always looking to the next race. There was never time to sit around celebrating. I needed to go and do something else. I needed a new focus. I didn’t find it, though – I’m still looking for it now!

“I went off and built my own car for the Formula 100 series. I sailed yachts, too, but that was a bit expensive, so I decided to sail other people’s yachts...”

More than 50 years after leaving his native South Africa, Selzer still lives in England and remains busy. Even after only a brief chat, I suggest that he has enough stories to fill a book.

“I’ve got more than 100,000 words here,” he says with a smile, patting a black folder that he’s been holding. “It needs sorting out, but I’m hoping that it’ll be published later in the year.”

It should be quite a read.