Sitting resplendent outside the Autocar Awards last night was a shiny, Nitrous Blue Ford Focus RS, a car that two hours later would snaffle a brace of gongs.

And standing next to the 345bhp bruiser was its chief engineer, Tyrone Johnson, a guest who’d flown in overnight from Germany.

For blokes like Johnson, who have lived-and-breathed a project for three-and-a-half years, these moments must be sweet: public recognition of his team’s efforts and a chance to mingle with other car industry achievers.

But at the back of his mind, he was still the engineer at work: “I can tell you a detail about what went into this car that sums up how thorough we were.”

I’d never heard of Ford’s ‘pothole test', but I have now. Every Ford model has to pass this version of automotive torture, in which a prototype has to survive unscathed after 560 drive-overs at 50mph. The pothole itself is many inches deep and edged with steel reinforcement.

"I don’t now why it’s 560 times. But that’s what we had to pass," he smiles.

"You can pass it by tightening the rebound damping so the wheel doesn’t move, but that obviously compromises the handling. Let me tell you what happened to one of our competitors when we put it through the pothole test, all the suspension and steering bent, including the subframe."

Johnson became involved in the Focus RS project at an early stage, but after the basic project definition.

As a result, he was handed a two-wheel drive design with a budget to match.

In the six months set aside to produce a watertight, production plan, however, it became clear that four-wheel drive was essential to match the power output necessary for the required performance. His next challenge was to fight for a budget to make that happen.

"Raj Nair [Ford’s head of engineering] takes the credit for that," says Johnson.

"Even up to the final meeting we weren’t sure we’d get the go-ahead. Our finance man was presenting the numbers, but we were getting questions from everywhere. And I was thinking we’d all be packing up our desks and moving onto something else."

"Then Raj said do it, but don’t ask me for another dollar of budget."