There were two weeks between the 1978 Grand Prix in Argentina and the race in Brazil so directly after the Argentine race we flew to Rio de Janeiro. When I arrived in Rio, I found the modest little hotel near the docks where the team was to be housed for the week prior to the Grand Prix.

Divi found that two eyes are better than one.

Divi found that two eyes are better than one.

On the plane I’d felt like I had some sand in my eyes and, after spending a miserable night, discovered I was loosing the sight in my right eye.  I went to the hotel reception to ask if there was a good eye doctor nearby. The receptionist was great.  Not only did he call the doctor, he also arranged for a taxi to take me there. The doctor, who turned out to be Swedish, confirmed that at some point I must have looked directly at the sun and that I had solar retinopathy.  He said if I was lucky it would heal in a week.  So I returned to my hotel room with an eye patch, some drops and a bottle of pills to relieve the pain.

After four miserable days I was summoned to see Anthony “Bubbles” Horsley, Hesketh Team Principal, who wanted to be sure I was OK.  Bubbles had flown in on Concord and was staying in the Hotel Meridien, where I found him in bed with food poisoning. We looked at each other and laughed: here was a half blind driver and a sick Team Principal. The situation did not look good for qualifying, but we both recovered and, in the meantime, I moved into the InterContinental Hotel, where most of the drivers were staying.  I did not have a reservation there as our team was booked into a different hotel.  But whilst insisting to the receptionist that they must have lost my reservation, I met-up with Gilles Villeneuve and Jochen Mass and the hotel eventually decided that I was a bona-fide driver.  They found me a beautiful room that they filled with flowers and fruit and a welcome note.

The Jacarepagua track was new and run in anti-clockwise direction.  It was not the type of track my Hesketh was well-suited to, having only two short straights and a lot of constant radius corners. Adding to the ambience, the track was dusty and temperatures were up in the 90’sF (32+C).  Each time I came into the pits to make a suspension change the mechanics blew compressed air into my helmet to try and keep me cool.

The highlight of my week was a bicycle race arranged by the organizers.  I led the entire field for a lap with all the drivers laughing and hooting as they snaked in a long line behind me before most of them blew by me on the second lap. On track I struggled with the six speed box and the reluctance of the Hesketh to grip in the corners.  Finally, in my hurry to put a good lap down I missed a gear in qualifying and blew a large hole in the engine so, once again, I became one of the four non-qualifiers along with Arturo Mezario, Eddie Cheever and Vittorio Brambilla. Carlos Reutemann won the race in his Ferrari ahead of Emerson Fittipaldi and Niki Lauda.

The Hesleth was not suited to Jacerapagua . . . especially with a hole in its engine.

The Hesleth was not suited to Jacerapagua . . . especially with a hole in its engine.

I watched the Grand Prix on TV from the comfort of my hotel room as I was still embarrassed about facing the team after destroying the Hesketh’s engine and not qualifying. But it proved to be not a sensible move as several drivers were negotiating with Bubbles to take over my drive.

The next race was the very fast Kyalami track in South Africa where I felt sure the Hesketh would be competitive.

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