“For a single decade, racing was my life. During my years in the cockpit I built friendships and rivalries with flamboyant drivers, eccentric team owners – and the odd character who was almost as difficult as me… Here’s how I remember them.”
1976 World champion – and friend
I liked James. We were in Spain together, when he was in a fancy place and I was down the road in a farmhouse. I was very friendly with him, but didn’t agree with a lot that he did. When he was World Champion, it was all hip and great, whatever he did and however badly he behaved. When he stopped being World Champion it was just bad manners, and he didn’t get away with it so much. He lived more in a short life than most do. He had a very short, good career, but it was the stuff he was doing off the track that made you nervous.
Team owner and Jody’s ‘frothy boss from 1974-76
When I came back from the US in the 1990s I became more friendly with him than when I drove for him. It was a nice family atmosphere at the team, but Ken could be difficult. The race that stands out is one at the Niftburgring when the race was stopped after a lap and the nose of my car had a bit of damage. Ken went off at me, and he always spat a bit… The first lap at the ‘Ring wasalways like a war, and it was wet. Did I know who touched my nose? Absolutely not.
After my third year, when they had the sixwheeler — which I didn’t like, I didn’t believe in the theory — it got harder. And my team-mate Patrick [Depailler] was saying it was fantastic. It reminds me a bit of the situation Hamilton found himself in this year. When I moved from Tyrrell was I thinking about whether I’d do better at another team? No. It was just the fact that I had to go somewhere else. It was a personal thing. It wasn’t that I didn’t like anybody at Tyrrell, it was just that my time was up there.
A thing I admired was Ken’s relationship with his wife Norah. She was lovely. They were always like a couple on honeymoon, which was lovely after so many years together. I thought I could never last that long in a marriage. But I have.
10-Time GP winner, a.k.a ‘Superswede’
A lovely chap. He lived in Monaco when we were down there. Naive, I suppose, is how I remember him. Some drivers used to talk about how much they were earning, and I’m sure there was a lot of bullshit, but at least you could gauge the market. But he would never do that. He was very talented. I remember him telling me some of the stories about Colin Chapman, and from what he told me [in ‘781 they just wanted Mario [Andretti] to win. They were very tricky, Lotus.
1978 World champion – and nemesis
Mario never ever came in to help when we were fighting for safety, and I don’t respect that. You’re not only fighting for yourself in that situation, but also for others in the future. Drivers were getting killed at that time, so when I was going for the championship, and the year after, I worked very hard on safety. Few people know that. When I retired, Gilles [Villeneuve] presented me at Watkins Glen with a medal for helping the drivers. Well, he gave me the box and said the medal would come later. I never got it!
Ferrari team-mate (and mate) in 1979 and ’80
I had a really good relationship with him. We had good fun at Ferrari and we worked very closely together. The press were always trying to make it into a fight. Before my time, the drivers there tended to be like that, but we both lived in Monaco and were friendly off and on the track. He was naive in a way and older than he said he was. He wanted to be the young, small guy. But he was not as mad as they all thought he was. That was an image he wanted to project. He was very serious and worked hard at his racing.
He worried about safety, which might surprise people. The thing with Rene Arnoux at Dijon in 1979, the sponsors loved it and wanted more of that. I said he was mad and that he’d get killed. Today, people get away with banging wheels like that. But he agreed and understood what I was saying.
‘Louche’ Tyrrell team-mate
He was a fun guy to be with. We got on quite well together at Tyrrell. He was a typical French driver from those days. It took Alain Prost to change that stereotype later. In those days they were all `looseheads’. On one day Patrick would say the car was fantastic, and the next day he’d be doing the same lap times and it would be `sheeet!’ because everyone else was now going faster. One of the funny things, in my first year at the team, concerned a corner I couldn’t take flat. But he would say it’s ‘quite flat’. I just couldn’t understand how. Then halfway through the season I realised he’d meant ‘not quite flat’… Another time, he was arrested at one of the French circuits for overtaking loads of cars on the way into the track, and they took him to jail. Ken had to go and get him out.
1972 and ’74 world champion. Even bigger sideburns than Jody’s
A lovely guy. The first time I came upon him was Paul Ricard ’73, when I was leading the race and we collided when he tried to pass me. It was only my third Grand Prix and afterwards we had words. I said to him, ‘If the same thing happens again, I will do the same’. And he stormed off. But I became very friendly with him after that and would go to his house when we were in Brazil and so on. A great champion.
1975, ’77 and ’84 world champion – and quickest ever RAT
A total professional. Some drivers you can take any corner next to them and feel comfortable, and some drivers you know you never would. The worst ones are the least predictable. Those were mainly French at that time — the likes of [Jean-Pierre] Jarier and so on. But Niki, he was great. A straight guy. On the track, I don’t know if I was faster than him, but I certainly pushed harder. But he probably set up the car a lot better than me and got things organised in his teams better.
Looked for Jody at Silverstone ’73 – but never found him (luckily)
My first memory of John was racing against him in Formula 2 in Sweden. We went wheel to wheel down the straight and he was a tough guy. Then again, so was I. Thank goodness I didn’t drive for him. When I finished my first year, when I’d done Formula Ford and Formula 3, both McLaren and Surtees offered me a drive. I took McLaren, which he wasn’t best pleased about. But you’ve got to give him his due for what he achieved, being World Champion across two different disciplines. That hasn’t been done by anyone else. As for Silverstone 1973, I don’t know about John, but Andrea de Adamich still hasn’t forgiven me. I met him at Ferrari’s 60th year celebrations and he’s still upset with me! He was the only one who was hurt that day [he suffered leg injuries in an accident that ended his F1 career].
The man whose big (small) shoes Jody had to fill in ’74
Jackie has been a good friend for many years. The first time I met him was in South Africa when I won the Driver to Europe competition. Ford introduced me to him and I didn’t know who this short guy with a funny voice was. Then the next time I saw him was at Brands Hatch when I was doing Formula Ford. He came up and spoke to me. I was impressed he’d remembered who I was. The thing about Jackie is he’ll talk to anybody — he’ll talk to ‘nobodies’, if you understand what I mean. I admire that about him, he’s a genuine, good-hearted guy — although he talks too much sometimes.
His tragic death left a lasting impression
I didn’t know him really. I had a big argument with him in Canada at the race before he died. Then we made up and shook hands at Watkins Glen. The next time I saw him he was dead. I was the first one on the scene, but I don’t remember what I saw. Jackie said, ‘you’re lucky’ because he stopped at the accident, too. He never told me what he saw that day.
Bespectacled Ferrari team manager and ingegnere
A difficult guy. A better team manager than an engineer, although he had some cars that did well. But things like the ‘wing’ cars, he didn’t accept that very much. Our engine was wide and every millimetre was critical, but he put exhaust pipes into that whole critical area under the car, so we didn’t have any downforce tunnels. But to give him his due, he made things happen.
Gregarious Canadian F1 boss from 1977-78
After three years at Tyrrell I knew I had to move on. Walter Wolf was a loud guy, whose team in 1976 hadn’t qualified for half the races. I asked, ‘Can I get this and this?’, and he said ‘OK, for this amount of money’. It was great. It was a tight unit and the first year was wonderful. Walter had a Lamborghini with a siren that went off when you opened the door: Walter Wolf has arrived. That summed him up. He talked a lot and delivered about 80 per cent of what he said, which is more than most people.
1980 world champion – and ‘tough guy’
I once went to a shady place with him (not a brothel) in Brazil. I was trying to keep a low profile, hoping no one would recognise me. As he came in everybody shouted ‘Alan, hello!’ They all knew him. A tough guy. It’s not that you couldn’t trust him, but I remember him at Monza when I was going for the championship. The younger guys had no respect for that. I always felt if it was getting towards the end of the season and I wasn’t going for the championship, I’d still race against them because that’s what I’m there for, but I wouldn’t race really hard. I certainly wouldn’t put them in danger because I’d have hated to knock them off, especially if they’d been working for five or six years to be in this position. I knew how much that meant. But Alan — I remember going to him on the grid and talking to him about it. But I knew he would have done anything, whatever the circumstances.
Mercurial 12-time GP winner and unlikely politician
He was always getting psyched up. He’d walk around looking at your tyres, and this and that. He always thought Goodyear was giving him the wrong tyres, such a suspicious sort of guy. He still owes me money for an aeroplane trip we took, and I paid his share. Don’t know how he was nearly president of Argentina. That’s baffling. I couldn’t have believed he would go into politics. He was quiet and kept to himself. But I suppose as you get older and you’ve been in the spotlight, you change. Like Denny [Hulme], towards the end of his career he spoke out more and grew in confidence.
The first time I met him he’d asked me to come up and see him. I met someone on the edge of a motorway and followed them from there. I went into this door and there were guards all around. I was led into this dark room with oldfashioned white furniture, I sat down and he said, ‘How much money do you want?’ That was his first question to me. I said, ‘I’m too young to talk about money.’ I think I went up there a couple more times until 1978 when they came up to me after the second race and said they wanted to sign me. I said, ‘No, not now, wait until the end of the season’. But they were insistent. So I agreed and told them how much I wanted. We worked on the contract and got it signed. Everyone said it would be a disaster because he was a difficult guy, but I got on very well with him.
First F1 team-mate, a.k.a ‘The Bear’
A good guy. He helped me because of his experience, but there were things he didn’t tell me too. I remember I was taking a hairpin in second gear, he was taking it in first and didn’t tell me. Somehow I found out.
Brabham boss turned F1 Oligarch
Bernie’s a charming guy. I’ve always got on well with him, although I haven’t always agreed with some of the things that have gone on. He’s always been good to me. Well, nearly always. When I came back from America I said a few things about Fl and didn’t get a ticket for the Monaco GP. Normal punishment. Like a lot of successful people, very charming but you don’t know where they are coming from. When I left he was working for the constructors. When I came back he owned the whole thing. I’ve never liked that, because the sport was never owned by anybody. It was something bigger than that.
Marcch co-founder and future ‘Dark Lord’ of the FIA
A piece of work. What he did for Fl was disgraceful. It seemed like he was challenging to make the worst, most political decisions. He was so powerful, and thank God they got him out of there. Although I suppose he did a lot for safety.
Fellow McLaren driver and rival in ’73
I don’t remember much about him. I flew with him once. At that stage you’d be doing a lot of tyre testing. Goodyear would try a compound, then they’d find a better one and Revson would get it. Then Denny would find another which was better again, and I’d get Revson’s tyres. Hand-me-downs. Then I’d go quicker and Revson would want them back.
Jody’s other claim to fame…
A second world the showed that fitness mothers for racers too
He’d raced against and beaten the best of the decade. But for those who aren’t motor sport fans, his greatest victory was yet to come. Superstars was a 1970s TV sensation that pitted sportsmen from different disciplines against each other in a kind of Decathalon, from cycling to swimming to squat thrusts. It wasn’t until 1981, offer he had retired from racing, that Jody raised a few eyebrows in the competition and not just because he was the first racing driver to win it…
“I’ve always worked on my fitness and did exercise from when I was very small. But for a race driver to win World Superstars was something else. I was against top athletes like (sprint hurdler) Renaldo Nehemiah and (rugby player) Andy Ripley, who played for England. I beat them over 10 sports. Yes, I used a bit of Fl engineering (he caused controversy by coating the soles of his shoes in oil for the squat thrusts). But I was very proud of winning it. I was quite good on the bars and the gym exercises, and I was good on the bicycle because I was handy in the corners. I remember an American footballer coming by me on a straight, but he went straight on at the corner. I was OK at swimming, too.”