As first times go it takes some beating: round the Nordschleife in a McLaren F1 supercar
Every time I go to the Nürburgring I’m taken back to my irst visit to this great track. It was 1994 and I’d been sent to doorstep McLaren, which had hired the new Nürburgring to demonstrate its ground-breaking F1 supercar to prospective clients. On site was Dr Jonathan Palmer who’d developed the car from scratch. My mission was to beg, steal or borrow a ride. I opted to beg.
At first it worked better than expected. McLaren couldn’t use the track during lunch, so while Ron Dennis, Gordon Murray and others entertained the big-hitters, Jonathan and I snuck off to the Nordschleife only to be denied track access. Why? Despite letting coaches through, a prototype McLaren F1 was not permitted because this was a public day and the Nordschleife was nominally a public road and we didn’t have any number plates. Five minutes later, having scavenged some, we were off.
Only then did I discover three things. First, the F1 was the fastest land-borne thing I’d sat in, second the track was damp and third, Palmer hadn’t been here since sharing a Porsche 956 with Keke Rosberg and Jan Lammers in the 1000Kms. “I think I remember most of it,” he said.
Imagine being introduced to both the Nürburgring and the McLaren F1 via Jonathan Palmer at the same time. I thought of all the millionaires at the new track waiting for their turn and that this might moderate JP’s behaviour. Not a bit of it. More even than the forward thrust, I remember going sideways through turn after turn. He never lost it, never looked like losing it, and at the end of a couple of laps smiled and said, “Think I’d better get back now.” To him it was a few minutes light relief between duties; to me it was a landmark moment. I thought I knew what could be achieved by the right combination of man and road-going machine; the McLaren F1, Palmer and the Nürburgring proved I didn’t have a clue.