Flashback: Capelli feeds the seagulls in Canada

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. In this month’s image, Ivan Capelli connects with nature after the 1988 Canadian GP

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The tranquillity of a race track a few hours after the finish makes a stark contrast to everything that has gone before. It’s a striking feature of any major motor race and evident to those staying behind to complete their weekend’s work.

For journalists, it was particularly noticeable in Canada in 1988, given that the media centre at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve was situated in the control tower. While writing my race report, I happened to look out of the window and saw Ivan Capelli feeding seagulls on the deserted main straight. It was the work of a moment to nip downstairs and take this picture.

This scene was typical of the thoughtful and kindly Italian. During an interview many years later, he would describe the pleasure he got from soaking up the atmosphere of a race weekend, from beginning to the very end. He would, for instance, make a habit of standing in the middle of the stadium at Hockenheim, just to look up at the empty grandstands and savour the silence compared to the bedlam earlier in the day.

Being in the middle of the St Lawrence, the Montreal track was heavily populated with seabirds once the noisy race cars had been silenced. Capelli’s union with nature was rounding off a satisfying weekend, the man from Milan having finished fifth to score the first points of the season for the reconstituted Leyton House March team and their young designer, Adrian Newey.

Having run out of titbits, Capelli was heading back to the March garage when his sense of well-being was literally wiped out. A minibus carrying crew members from a leading F1 team sped down the straight, fatally injured at least two birds, and drove on.

Capelli’s distress and outrage were apparent as he ran back and vainly tried to resuscitate the injured gulls. (He would later report the incident to the team principal concerned. The guilty members were reprimanded, and a contribution made to a wild bird charity.)

Putting this painful episode behind him, Capelli would go on to take an outstanding second place in Portugal three months later, his March-Judd showing a clean pair of heels to the champion-elect, Ayrton Senna, and giving the similar McLaren-Honda of Alain Prost a run for its money before the turquoise March had to slow with overheating problems.

Capelli was the toast of Estoril. Knowing the buoyant and mischievous mood of the small team from Oxfordshire, it can be assumed that Ivan’s post-race moment of contemplation that evening would have been brief – if it happened at all.