Lunch with... Stefan Johansson

He drove for both Ferrari and McLaren in Formula 1, starred in Champ Car and won Le Mans. But for this cultured Swede, there’s more to life than motor racing


James Mitchell

He’s had a lifetime of racing whatever he could get, grabbing any opportunity, rolling with the punches when it went wrong, and never losing his laid-back, good-humoured approach. Having started with karts as a pre-teen, he’s still getting behind the wheel more than 40 years on. But, as well as managing Indycar hero Scott Dixon, he’s busy outside the sport, too. He’s a watch designer whose fashionable timepieces ride on some very expensive wrists. And he’s a painter whose hyper-realist canvases have graced several exhibitions. This is racing driver as renaissance man.

Stefan Johansson has lived in America for nearly 20 years, but for much of his career he lived in London. In F3 days that meant dossing with friends, but when the drives got better he took a flat in South Kensington, over La Brasserie in the Brompton Road. In 1985, when he was suddenly signed by Ferrari, that’s where I interviewed him with a BBC TV crew for the Six O’Clock News. So for old times’ sake, when he passes through London on his way to drive an Audi R8LMS in the Spa 24 Hours, he suggests we meet there.

His spiky hair and craggy face with its wide grin seem unchanged by the years. He looks wiry and fit: lunch is just a salad with a slice of very rare tuna, and a glass of mineral water. As a boy he played ice hockey and football at a serious level, but racing was always his priority.

He was born in Vaxjo, in the south of Sweden, 54 years ago. “My dad had a little body repair shop, and raced saloons at weekends: VW Beetle, Mini, an ex-Alan Mann Escort. At eight I was driving a kart, but in those days you couldn’t race until you were 12.” With help from his enthusiastic father, he rose rapidly through the national karting scene, and won the Scandinavian Championship in 1973. “I only ever thought of karting as a stepping stone to cars. Somehow we scraped together enough to buy an ancient Formula Ford Merlyn, and then I raced an old twin-cam Brabham. A guy who had links with the Swiss designer Jo Marquart, who was then with Modus in Norfolk, helped me to get one of their F3 chassis for 1976, but I could only afford to do sporadic events. At Knutsdorp Riccardo Patrese and Conny Andersson were fighting for the European F3 title. They’d both qualified at the front, I was mid-grid. I made a lightning start, from about 14th to third at the first corner, left my braking way too late, and absolutely nailed Riccardo. The Italians said it was a conspiracy, that Conny had paid this unknown kid to deal with Patrese. Later on, of course, Riccardo and I were good mates.”

The Modus was destroyed on the old Nürburgring in the rain, but now Marquart had set up Argo, and lent a chassis to Stefan. He rewarded him with fourth in the prestigious Monaco F3 race, and scored the marque’s first win at Anderstorp in August. Then, almost penniless, he moved to England. “I pretty much slept in my car for two years, scrounging a bed here and there. Sometimes I couldn’t afford to eat, because it was either put food in my belly or gas in my car to get to the next race. But when you’re young you can do these things. It never felt like hardship, it was just what I did.

“Then I fell in with race journalists Ian Phillips and Chris Witty, who shared a notorious house in Buller Road in darkest Kensal Green. It was a good scene, drivers and mechanics constantly coming and going. When Danny Sullivan vacated the sofa in what passed as the living room, I grabbed it. Ian and Chris did a good job of talking me up to people, and for 1979 I ended up in Derek MacMahon’s F3 team with a Chevron B47, alongside Bernard Devaney and Eddie Jordan. The B47 didn’t really work, but when we changed mid-season to the March 793 it came good. I won on the Silverstone GP circuit and would have won Cadwell, but the head gasket went. I ended up fourth in the British series. EJ and I became good friends: as a driver he was erratic, but I never really had a run-in with him on the track, although Bernard did. But I do remember at Oulton Park, in a short practice session to sort the car out, I wanted to try my two different noses. I rushed in mid-session for my other nose, but it was gone. EJ had pinched it. We had a big bust-up in the caravan afterwards about that.”

The following January, straight from this promising but not dramatically successful F3 season, Stefan found himself at Buenos Aires for the Argentine Grand Prix, trying to qualify the F1 Shadow DN11. “Right up to the last minute they were trying to sell the seat to Beppe Gabbiani or Renzo Zorzi, but the money never materialised. So there I was, first practice, standing in the pit lane among my heroes like Andretti and Reutemann while somebody made me a seat. I’d never been near an F1 car in my life. Talk about being thrown in the deep end. I think Witty had suggested me to Bert Baldwin, the ex-Goodyear guy who was the Shadow team manager. The car was, to put it mildly, a disaster, and no way could I or my team-mate David Kennedy qualify it. All I could do was look in the mirrors and try to keep out of everybody’s way. We tried again at the Brazilian GP, and on that long, superfast downhill left-hander on the old Interlagos the car was flexing so badly that the steering was locking solid. You could still just about do it flat, but it was important to get the radius right going in, because once you were committed the steering was stuck where it was. And the g-loads with the sliding skirts, I just wasn’t race-fit for that. I couldn’t hold my head up.”

Back to F3, and a ride with Ron Dennis’ Project 4 team. “It was the first time I ever got paid to race – not much, but enough to buy my first decent road car, a second-hand BMW 2002, which I got off John Macdonald. You’ll remember John in F1 with the RAM team: he’s had his ups and downs, but now he’s stadium director at Queens Park Rangers for Bernie [Ecclestone] and Flav [Briatore]. Ron was just the same back in F3 as he became in F1. I have nothing but admiration for him. No compromises, everything has to be the best you can make it. He had Marlboro sponsorship and the new March 803 – but that turned out to be inferior both to the older 793 that Kenny Acheson had, and to Roberto Guerrero’s Argo. So we switched to a Ralt. With four races left in British F3, the only way I was going to win the title was to start from pole, win and set fastest lap every time. That’s basically what I did, and I took it by two points. That got me my drive in F2.”


Spirit-Honda F2 drive led Johansson back to F1 the following year

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This was with Alan Docking’s Toleman-Hart team and, despite season-long tyre troubles, Stefan won at Hockenheim and, after a switch to Avons, at Mantorp Park. He ended up fourth in the F2 championship. “Hockenheim was one of my best wins. In practice we didn’t realise we had an engine problem, and I qualified 13th, but we had a fresh engine for the race. I got the car hooked up and drove through the field, picking everybody off one by one. At the start of the last lap Manfred Winkelhock was leading, with everybody in those huge grandstands already cheering a German victory. Going into the Sachskurve I faked a dive up the inside, Manfred moved in tight to block me, and I went round him on the outside to take the flag.

“At the end of 1981 John Wickham and Gordon Coppuck, who ran March’s F2 programme, got a deal with Honda to set up a brand-new team – Spirit. They hired me and Thierry Boutsen to drive their V6 F2 cars. The first F1 turbo V6 was ready at the start of 1983, in a converted F2 chassis, and I did the Race of Champions in March. In Friday practice we were second quickest, four-tenths behind Keke Rosberg’s Williams, which amazed everybody. It was so cold that nobody could get any heat into their tyres: our car was so overweight we were blistering the hardest compound Goodyear had.” But the good news ended there: on Saturday the car blew two engines, and a third four laps into Sunday’s race.

“We managed to do six Grands Prix that year and usually qualified mid-field, but it was dreadfully unreliable. At the end of the year Honda took their engines to Williams, Spirit lost the deal, I lost my drive, and it was back to Square One. I’d done Le Mans for the first time that year, finished sixth in a Joest 956 with Bob Wollek and Klaus Ludwig. So I decided I’d accept any drive in anything, anywhere, just to keep racing and practise my craft. For 1984 I based myself in Japan, fought all season for their F2 championship, won races and just missed the title in the final round. And I did sports cars: in Europe with Joest, in Japan with Toyota, won the Sebring 12 Hours in a Columbian guy’s Porsche. Countless long-haul flights and living out of a suitcase. I did 36 race weekends that year. In the middle of all that I drove for two F1 teams. When Martin Brundle was injured in Dallas, KenTyrrell called.


Life wasn’t easy at Ferrari

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“Established drivers sometimes found Ken difficult, but for a young guy like me he was wonderful. Like a father, his arm around my shoulder, giving me the confidence to get the best out of myself. I only drove five races for him, but he gave me a whole book of knowledge that I didn’t have, little things that were really important, how to approach a race, the right way to warm the tyres. At the time everybody was talking about Stefan Bellof as the wunderkind, but in my first race, at Brands, I out-qualified him: then I was taken out in the first-lap pile-up. I finished eighth in Austria, ahead of Stefan. Then Tyrrell was banned because of the water-tank ballast affair. But Johnny Cecotto didn’t come back after his Brands Hatch crash, so I found myself a Toleman driver at the Italian GP.”

Stefan’s drive at Monza was sensational. Having qualified a lowly 17th – “I was always a better racer than qualifier” – he climbed to fourth by the end. “I had to make a late pitstop to check a wonky rear wheel bearing. Otherwise I would have been on the podium. Then at Estoril, in Friday qualifying, I was fourth quickest, and my team leader Ayrton Senna was sixth. He just couldn’t accept that anybody could out-qualify him in an identical car. He had it torn apart – he thought there must be something wrong.

“Ayrton was always the same, very focused, very intense, very serious. To have the success he had, maybe that’s how you must be, but I could never work like that. If you take a small step away from the little closed world of racing, you find so many other interesting things. But if he’d decided to work in a bank, he’d probably have been running Goldman Sachs within five years. People like Ayrton and Alain [Prost] and Michael [Schumacher], their talent may be no more than five per cent ahead of the rest. But their work ethic is probably 20 per cent ahead. That’s what it takes to be truly great.

“Not that I wasn’t working hard. I was absolutely 100 per cent dedicated to making it in F1. But my problem was that I was so grateful to be there at all, it wasn’t in my mind to be World Champion at any cost. When I was in the car there was no question of my commitment, but to get to the top you have to be a bit of an arsehole, and there are plenty of them around. If you want to beat all those guys you have to get into arsehole mode too.”

In that Portugal race Stefan was running sixth, ahead of Niki Lauda who needed second place to be World Champion. Lauda dived inside him and dislodged the Toleman’s front wing, and the ensuing stop dropped Stefan to 21st. In his drive back up to 11th he set the third fastest lap of the race.


Marlboro backing was crucial to his career

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“Enzo Ferrari had watched Monza and Estoril on TV, as he always did, and soon I had a call offering me a test contract at Maranello. But René Arnoux and Michele Alboreto were well ensconced there, so no question of any races. And I’d tested the new Toleman, which was fantastic. Rory Byrne was a genius.” So he signed with Toleman for a full 1985 season. John Watson, in the twilight of his F1 career, was to be his team-mate. But two weeks before the opening race in Rio, having failed to secure a tyre contract, Alex Hawkridge announced that Toleman was pulling out. In Rio Stefan got one more drive in a Tyrrell (because Uncle Ken was in dispute with Stefan Bellof’s management) and finished a doughty seventh. Then he returned to England, with no prospects.

What happened next was like a fairy story. “A week after getting back from Rio I got a phone call from [Ferrari team manager] Marco Piccinini, saying he was flying to London to meet me. There’d been a monster row with Arnoux, and he’d been fired. There were lots of rumours why, but to this day nobody really knows what went on. I met Piccinini at the Savoy Hotel: he just told me to hold myself ready, and flew home. Next day, Tuesday, another phone call: come to Maranello at once, the Old Man wants to see you. I go straight to Heathrow and catch the next plane to Milan. An assistant meets me at the airport and drives me, not to the new factory where everything was by then, but to the old place. It was pretty much derelict, completely quiet, no lights. We walk down a long dark corridor, late afternoon sunlight filtering through grimy windows. Watching me from the walls are photos of my dead heroes, Nuvolari, Ascari, Hawthorn, von Trips. I had goose-bumps. At the end of the passage I walk into a room and inside are Piccinini and [Ferrari’s son] Piero Lardi. Sitting at the back of the room, in the gloom, is the Old Man, so I can only see his silhouette. It was like a Fellini movie, with him the master of this little drama, orchestrating it all.

“Piccinini and Lardi did all the talking. The only question the Old Man asked was, ‘Are you hungry?’ Actually I was starving because, in the excitement, I hadn’t eaten all day. But I didn’t like to say so. It turned out they’d already released to the press that afternoon that Arnoux had left and I was replacing him. I had a seat fitting that night, tried a 126C4 turbo at Fiorano the next day, and the day after that flew to Estoril for the Portuguese GP. After just 14 Grands Prix for four different teams, having never done a full season for anybody, I was a works Ferrari driver.”

At Estoril, in that torrentially wet race, Stefan was punted off (ironically, by Patrese), rejoining 17th and climbing back to eighth by the end. But his second race, two weeks later in front of the tifosi at Imola, was sensational. A misfire in qualifying meant he started 15th, but after a brilliant drive up the field he was in the lead with three laps to go – when the Ferrari ran out of fuel. In Canada he finished an obedient second to team-mate Michele Alboreto. In Detroit a week later he came through again, starting ninth and finishing second, almost brakeless, to Rosberg’s Williams-Honda. Despite his late start, he was now lying fourth in the World Championship. Thereafter Ferrari lost form, with unreliable engines and handling problems, although he continued to score brave fourths and fifths. He started from the front row in Germany, only to be hit by his team-mate and suffer a puncture, but at Ricard, in a hugely brave last-lap move, he passed the Lotus of Elio de Angelis on the outside at Signes to take fourth place.


Winning 1980 British F3 title in Project 4 March

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“Every time we tested at Fiorano lunch would be laid on in the little house by the track, and the Old Man would hold court. He loved to talk, talked all the time, with Piccinini translating. It was always the same: he’d talk for five minutes about the chassis, all the work we were doing to sort out the handling, then he’d talk for 25 minutes about the engine. He was all about the engine, didn’t give a shit about the rest. As long as Ferrari had the most horsepower he was happy. Then he’d stop talking about cars and ask about the girls you’d been dating, wanted real detail, then he’d tell stories about when he was a frisky young lad. Piccinini, doing all the translating, would be blushing pinker and pinker. The Old Man did it just to wind him up. Such a sharp guy, great sense of humour, and an unbelievable presence. He was always friendly towards me, even after I’d left the team. Whenever he saw me it was always, ‘Ciao, caro Stefano!’

“I had a tough two years at Maranello. I had to learn to deal with the politics and in-fighting. At Ferrari everything was always on several levels: you made one friend, you made two enemies. It was me and Harvey [Chief designer Harvey Postlethwaite] against the rest. But it was a fantastic experience, the best you could have in racing. As the No 1, Michele got rattled when I arrived. Suddenly all conversations were in Italian, me picking out the odd word here and there. Later we became really good friends, and 12 years later we won Le Mans together. It wasn’t a good period for Ferrari then: when Michele and I got our first look at the 1986 car, we glanced at each other thinking, it’s going to be a long season. It just looked wrong, bulky and ungainly. It was quick in a straight line but not much grip, not much downforce, so in corners it was crap.

“But I loved those turbo cars. They were a handful, but so much brute power. In corners you had to alter your driving style to give yourself as much room as possible at the exit to sort your shit out. Of course, they had the traditional gate gearchange. Nowadays with paddles it’s a doddle, but back then you’d be fighting a big powerslide through a corner, and in the middle of all that you’d have to snatch the next gear. I’d go to the factory and work on my gearbox myself, file the forks smooth and get them precisely how I wanted so I could make a really quick change across the gate. The mechanics didn’t mind, they loved it that I mucked in. I don’t think you’d see an F1 driver today on the shop floor with a file in his hand… “I beat Michele in the points that second year, got four podiums [Spa, Zeltweg, Monza and Adelaide]. At that time McLaren was streets ahead of everybody on aerodynamics. When I’d been driving for Project 4 in F3 they had this little room upstairs called The Fishtank with three guys sitting there, John Barnard, Alan Jenkins, Steve Nichols. All hugely talented, plotting a carbon-fibre F1 car that none of us knew about. Now they were all at McLaren. I kept telling the Old Man how much wind tunnel work they were doing, and he’d say to Lardi and Piccinini, ‘What are we doing?’ Then in the factory it was like a firing squad was waiting for me. And what happens? They get the best wind tunnel money can buy, they hire John Barnard, and they fire me.


Spirit showed promise in F1 but was blighted by unreliability

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“So for 1987 I went to McLaren, back driving for Ron again, to replace Keke [Rosberg] who’d retired. I knew it wasn’t for long, because Ron was determined to get Ayrton Senna alongside Alain Prost. He hadn’t been able to get him out of Lotus yet, but he was working on it. But it was a good option for me, and it was a far more harmonious team than Ferrari. Gordon Murray was the designer: what a cool guy. Ron himself just cared, cared about every detail, cared about everybody who worked for him. You could see that in the loyalty of his staff, people who’d been with him since the beginning. He took the time to get the best out of everybody. And he wasn’t always serious: there was a clear line between work and play, but once work was over he could be a lot of fun.

“And Prost: I probably learned more from Alain in one season as his No 2 than in the rest of my career put together. He was in a different league to everybody else, the way he operated, the way he organised himself. From the first race I was just blown away by the flow of information he fed back to his crew, the clarity and depth of detail. No electronic data then: his crew just had to go by what he told them. He was like a computer himself. It made me realise how I could raise my game. Even Ayrton, when he arrived from Lotus, Prost’s example helped him move up to the next level.”

Stefan’s McLaren season brought second at Spa and Hockenheim (on three wheels after a tyre disintegrated on his last lap), third at Rio, Jerez and Suzuka. In practice in Austria he breasted a rise in top gear to find a large deer in his path. It tore off the left side of the car which then cannoned into the guardrail at 140mph. With a broken rib and a splitting headache, he qualified the spare car that afternoon. “The MP4/3 with the TAG turbo was probably the most difficult car I ever raced, very nervous, with a tiny window between being on the pace and being, um, out of the window. I ended up sixth in the championship, Alain was fourth, only 16 points between us.” Then, as expected, Senna arrived, and Stefan was looking for a drive again.


Onyx was also ill-fated in 1989

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“After that it all went downhill. For 1988 Ligier was the best seat available, alongside Arnoux, and the car was hopeless. René and I used to say, Aerodynamics by Galileo. The only thing that kept it on the ground was gravity. Then came Onyx, which at first sounded exciting. The men behind it were Mike Earle, whom I knew well from F2 days, and Alan Jenkins, who’d been a mate since Project 4. There were various semi-dodgy characters involved on the money side before the Belgian Jean-Pierre van Rossem, who was Moneytron, came in initially as a sponsor for my team-mate Bertrand Gachot. Gradually he put in more until he ended up owning most of the team.

“It was all brand-new, literally finishing the cars in the paddock in Rio for the first race, and we had to pre-qualify, which was brutal. Talk about pressure: it made Indy 500 qualifying look like a walk in the park. You had to get to the circuit at 6am, and at that hour it took a lot to be absolutely on the limit at once, looking for tenths and hundredths. Plus the track was cold and damp at the beginning, so only the last five or ten minutes mattered anyway. If you made it through, you were a basketcase for the rest of the day. Even so we ended the season 10th in the Constructors’ Championship out of 16, ahead of people like Ligier, March, Minardi and Lola. And I got a podium in Portugal!” From 12th on the Estoril grid, Stefan went through without a tyre stop, hanging on with threadbare tyres to finish a sensational third.

“The team was right on the edge with money, Funds would always appear just in time to get to the next race, but I couldn’t get paid. My retainer was a serious amount to me, close to $1 million, and race followed race without a sniff. Before the last race at Suzuka, Van Rossem called me and asked me to meet him in a hotel in Tokyo. I went to his room, he opened a suitcase and it was crammed full of cash, my entire salary for the year. I walked out of the hotel with a couple of bulging plastic bags. I didn’t know what to do with it. I called a friend from my racing days in Japan and we managed to pay it into a bank. Then I wired it to my account in Europe.


Blond, blue-eyed boy was always popular with his peers

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“After van Rossem lost interest, the team was bought by the Swiss Peter Monteverdi, helped by Gregor Foitek’s father Karl. I never met Monteverdi, just had a 15-second phone conversation with him. ‘I just bought the team, I don’t want to pay you any money, are you still interested in driving?’ ‘Well, I’m not sure about that…’ ‘OK then, you’re fired.’ Click. Unsurprisingly my seat was taken by Foitek, but by August the team had died.

AGS was next. “That was just as weird: another out-of-the-blue phone call, no testing, just turn up for the first two races, Phoenix and Brazil, to find a car that isn’t fit to qualify. Decent money, but of course it was never paid. Over a year later I’m sitting in my office in Monaco – one of my projects then was a little brand development company – and a debt-collector comes to see me. He was buying up all the unpaid AGS contracts, and then going after the ex-owners of AGS for the cash. He bought mine for half its stated value, which was a nice windfall because it was a sensible sum of money.


Two years at Ferrari didn’t result in wins

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“Then I became a McLaren test driver, plus I filled in at Arrows in 1990 when Alex Caffi got hurt, and that was the end of F1 for me. I’d had enough. I looked to America, and in mid-1992 I joined Tony Bettenhausen to drive his CART Penske-Chevrolet. My first race was Detroit, on the Belle Isle road circuit. I finished third ahead of Michael Andretti and Danny Sullivan, who’d preceded me all those years before on the Buller Road sofa. I got two more thirds that season, and Rookie of the Year. That was good enough for me: I left Europe, moved to Indianapolis, and did CART for five seasons.

“The ambience was altogether different from F1: Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, a good crop in the days before the CART/IRL split. Mario’s the real deal, the ultimate racer. His approach is, you do it first and foremost because you love racing. It’s not about doing stuff behind the scenes, trying to get some advantage over your team-mate. It’s about the man-to-man battle on track, how to pass a guy without pushing him off the road. You get that in F1 too, but the F1 environment lends itself less well to the straightforward stuff. Emerson was reborn when he came to CART. I felt the same: you get re-energised. That’s why F1 careers are shorter than Indycar or sports car careers. There’s so much bullshit that has nothing to do with the racing. When you step out of all that, suddenly you come alive again.

“The worst thing for me was the accident in Toronto in 1996 with Jeff Krosnoff. There were four of us going into the braking area. I dived out to have a go at Emerson, and Jeff took a run on me from way back, coming up the inside. He clipped my rear wheel with his front and catapulted into the air in a massive accident. Jeff was killed, and a marshal too.


IndyCar switch suited him well

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“At the end of ’96 I kind of stopped driving. I’d done plenty of sports car races – I won the Spa 1000Kms in 1988 for Sauber, and in 1990 and ’91 I did Le Mans for Mazda, and Toyota in ’92 – and then [Team Scandia owner] Andy Evans persuaded me to do the 1997 Sebring 12 Hours in a Ferrari 333SP with Fermin Velez and Yannick Dalmas. Well, we won that, and then Joest got me into a TWR Porsche for Le Mans with Michele and Tom Kristensen, and we won that too. So I realised I hadn’t stopped after all.” Indeed not: in the US and Europe Stefan has raced Reynard, Audi, Zytek, Acura and Lexus Riley. During his career he has done no fewer than 19 24-hour races.

He has been a team owner, too: his Indy Lights team, Johansson Motorsports, ran for five seasons. “The Lights team was how I got involved with Scott Dixon, and I’ve been his manager ever since. He’s won the Indy 500, been Indycar champion twice, second twice, third this year. He’s one of the best I’ve seen. We had a couple of opportunities to get him into F1: he had a Williams test, but the timing wasn’t right, and he’s too old now, he’s 30. In America, of course, that’s young. I also look after Justin Wilson’s brother Stefan, who’s doing Indy Lights now.


Winning Le Mans in 1997

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“In 2003 I was brought in by Jimmy Vasser and Ryan Hunter-Reay to run a Champ Car team. We won a race in our first year, that wet race at Surfer’s Paradise, but it folded when Champ Car was swallowed up by the IRL. I also built America’s first indoor kart track at Indianapolis, ran that for seven years. Then I sold up and moved to California, bought a house beside the beach at Playa del Rey.

“You have to be passionate about what you do in life. I was passionate about my racing, and it’s the same now with my watches. It was just a hobby at first, but now it’s got really serious. I design the case and face, and the movement is the one that’s in most luxury watches – like the Cosworth DFV of the watch world. This year I shall do about 150, selling for between £6000 and £10,000. No retail, no advertising, just word of mouth. Brad Pitt wears one, Mario is a big fan.


Johnansson returned this year in Audi R8LMS

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“As for the painting, this is going to sound weird, but I felt driven to start it in 1986 after Elio de Angelis died. Elio and I were best mates, never in the same team, but we spent a lot of time together. When we were in Rio he bought a Goddess of Bahia bracelet. You tie it on your wrist and make a wish, and it’s supposed to come true. A couple of months later we were testing at Ricard, me in the Ferrari, him in the Brabham, and things hadn’t been going well for him with the new low-line BT55. I joked with him, ‘Hey Elio, you’re still wearing your bracelet. Did your wish come true?’ ‘No’, he said, ‘it doesn’t work,’ and he pulled the bracelet off and threw it away. Then he went out, something broke on the car, and he crashed fatally.

“Anyway, for me painting’s the thing that comes closest to reproducing the sense of solitude you get in a racing car, that concentrated state of mind, almost like meditation. I usually paint late at night: suddenly it’s 4am and you don’t know where the time went. Perhaps that’s what I should have been doing with my life.

“But I can honestly say I’ve never woken up without looking forward to getting stuck into the day. I’ll stay involved with racing until I don’t enjoy it any more, or I’m not contributing, whichever comes first. But simply racing cars, and doing nothing else, doesn’t make you a happy human being. There are lots of other good things going around. You just have to find a balance along the way.”