I’m very happy finally to make it into the pages of Motor Sport, even if it is about 40 years later than I’d have liked.
When I left school in the mid-sixties I was not very good at very much else but art, and I went into graphic design. It was around about that time that I sent some gouache paintings of F1 cars to Motor Sport.
It was particularly the Brabhams that I was obsessed with at the time, with the green and gold finish. Of course, being a young guy and not knowing the system, I sent in the originals. I never heard anything back – and I’ve always wondered what happened to them!
I inherited my interest in motorsport from my engineer father, who used to sneak off with his friends and work with old motorcycles. I used to watch them working, and there was lots of racing oil around, and I think it started to get into my bloodstream. We lived in Sussex, and one day dad said, ‘We’re going to drive to Goodwood and see some motor racing.’
This must have been about 1958 or 1959. Stirling Moss was there, and Graham Hill was just starting out. Later we were there when Stirling Moss had that horrendous accident. We were on the corner where he crashed.
I grew up wanting to be either a fighter pilot or a racing driver. These two things obsessed me, and I used to draw pictures all the time. I did get a chance to meet Jim Clark and show him one, and he said, ‘Very nice!’ But I never managed to get his address to send it to him. I was also a big Bruce McLaren fan.
The art career didn’t go too badly, because I ended up doing record covers and designing typefaces for Letraset. Later when I got into the music business my manager Adam Faith used to buy cars from a guy called Bernie Ecclestone. He didn’t introduce himself in motor racing terms, he just said, ‘I’m a car dealer!’ Typical Bernie, you don’t know anything unless you find it out.
I didn’t really become a racing ‘insider’ until about 1977. I was flying to a show in South Africa and I met James Hunt, Paddy McNally and John Hogan, who were sitting in first class with me. That was the connection that really got me in, and that’s when I really got to know Bernie.
He and Gordon Murray took me on, and looked on me as a talisman for the Brabham team. I was lucky enough to get to know Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet, Riccardo Patrese and, a little later on, guys like Ayrton Senna, Gerhard Berger and Stefan Johansson. It was an exciting time, and I even drove a ground- effect McLaren at Silverstone for my BBC2 show – only six weeks after passing my driving test!
However, in the nineties I took more than 10 years out. I went through a personal financial recession. When everybody’s got the latest IWC watch, and you’re sitting there with a Seiko, you don’t feel so good! Then I moved to Australia, and last year I was invited to play the Grand Prix Ball in Melbourne. That was my first race for about 13 years.
Until about three years ago I found modern F1 very boring. Michael Schumacher had no challenge, and it appeared from the outside that Ferrari was starting, let’s say, to make the rules work for them. But in the last couple of years it seems to have come back in leaps and bounds. The rules have opened up, and Bernie has personally regained a lot of interest in it, having been distracted by all the financial side.
I think F1 is in very good shape now. If the manufacturers had taken over, I would not be enjoying it, because it would just be a corporate business. But last year was great. It was amazing to see the fear of losing in Michael’s eyes, and you kind of knew that you had racing back. It wasn’t just a given that certain things would happen. Fernando Alonso had to fight so much, and he had to fight himself as well.
I was talking to him about that at the launch of the Abu Dhabi GP. I said, ‘You really raised yourself as a man this year,’ and he said, ‘I had to fight a lot of bullshit, and I’m still angry about some things.’ I told him it was all about channelling that anger, and making it work for you, and he agreed it’s better when you have to fight to win. He said there was a lot of fortune in the first championship, and a lot of fight in the second. And he’s ended up respecting Michael a lot more because of what happened.
I was very impressed when I met Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica last year. I’ve only briefly met Lewis Hamilton, but he seems like a nice kid, and very talented. The future is in good hands. I can’t wait for Melbourne, and like last year, I hope to spend some time with Stirling Moss. The fact that my heroes have now become my friends is a magical thing.