Flashback: Jonathan Palmer's Zakspeed sponsor sewn up

For two decades Maurice Hamilton reported from the F1 paddock with pen, notebook and Canon Sure Shot camera. This month we’re at the 1986 Austrian Grand Prix and spot a busy wife behind the scenes doing her bit for Jonathan Palmer


Maurice Hamilton

A stitch in time saves drive. An overdramatic paraphrase of an old saying, perhaps, but securing further sponsorship, no matter how small, could help oil the financial wheels of a struggling team at the height of any season four decades ago.

This picture from the Österreichring paddock in August 1986 shows Jonathan Palmer‘s wife sewing a sponsor’s patch onto her husband’s overalls on the day before practice began. There may have been only four more races to go after this one but, with Mexico and Australia on the schedule, money would have been getting tight, particularly at Zakspeed as the independent German team prepared for the 12th race of what had been a very difficult season.

A desperate search for better performance from the four-cylinder Zakspeed had seen a switch at this race from KKK to Garrett turbos. It was a fundamental change that brought neither an increase in power for the 861 car nor a more elevated grid position for either Palmer or his Dutch team-mate, Huub Rothengatter.

You wouldn’t come across such a scene today. With a driver’s onboard weight being crucial, embroidered badges are considered much too heavy. Wafer-thin logos are printed on overalls and suits are replaced as regularly as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen edge each other off the road.

In the 1980s, a back-of-the-grid driver may, if he was lucky, have a couple of sets of overalls to see him through the season. It meant hard work for the wife/girlfriend/mother as decals were stitched onto the thickly layered flameproof material. In some cases, a personal sponsorship arrangement may have been for just one race, in which case the driver’s partner had to be equally adept with a scalpel and scissors.

Rothengatter did manage to finish eighth in Austria, albeit four laps behind Alain Prost’s winning McLaren-TAG. But Palmer’s new backer didn’t get much of a run for its money, the Englishman coming to a smoky halt with engine trouble after four laps. It was his seventh retirement in 1986. You could say less productive time was being spent working the wheel than the needle and thread.