“Bernie came from heaven: you can quote me on that”


It’s not your usual month here at Motor Sport – hence my appearance at the helm of this newsletter. Our editor Damien Smith’s absence is wholly excusable because he has just become a father for the third and fourth times. Huge congratulations to him, partner Jennifer and their new twins.

In other news, the financial unrest in Formula 1 has been well documented, both on our website and in the magazine. F1 sits on a precipice at the moment, staring at a future of possibly shrinking grids, struggling teams and an increasing number of races staged far from the sport’s European heartland. This month, however, Simon Taylor had lunch with Sir Frank Williams – and it’s the veteran team owner’s continuing love of the sport that shines through. Set against news of the German GP’s cancellation and Monza’s uncertain future, it’s a breath of fresh air.

Williams knows all too well how tough F1 can be – in 1969 he bought a Brabham chassis off British club racer David Bridges (much to the annoyance of Ron Tauranac, who hadn’t wanted to sell him one) and made it to Monaco, where Piers Courage finished second. “Formula 1 was very different then, in those pre-Bernie days,” Frank told Simon. “Seven of us went to Monaco: me, three mechanics, the truckie, Piers and his wife Sally. Sally did the timekeeping. I was paid £900 to turn up with one car, and £900 didn’t go very far in Monte Carlo, even then. I had to borrow money from Piers to pay the hotel bill.”

Interestingly, though, unlike many others, he has only kind words to say about Bernie Ecclestone. “Until he arrived, F1 was just another European motoring activity, but he was the one who realised that it was seriously under-developed commercially. He saw the opportunity. The team bosses never thought Bernie was getting too big for his boots, because his brilliant negotiating powers were able to secure very good deals for us for each and every Grand Prix. He is hugely clever, which everybody knows, but people on the outside don’t realise that he also has a fantastic sense of humour. Bernie came down from heaven: you can quote me on that.”

The powers behind the German and Italian Grands Prix might disagree on that one.

As part of the Williams special, Simon Arron visited the Williams Collection to speak to Frank’s son Jonathan and long-time Williams employee Dickie Stanford. Their job is to keep the Williams Heritage fleet – which houses “one of everything from the FW06 to the FW36” – as active as possible, alongside selling and servicing cars for customers. Williams’ Grand Prix history is one of the richest and it’s good to hear that we’ll be hearing and seeing more of their ex-GP machines.

Elsewhere in the May issue, Gary Watkins pays tribute to Gérard Ducarouge, the driving force behind Ayrton Senna’s first Formula 1 victory, Simon Arron interviews 1983 world rally champion Hannu Mikkola and Richard Heseltine investigates a particularly original Lancia Stratos.

We hope you enjoy it.

UK newsstand readers and subscribers will notice the ‘Spirit of Adventure’ supplement with this month’s magazine. Produced in conjunction with Dunlop, it’s an insight into areas of open competition in the motor sport world. “There are,” says editor Smith, “certain races and sporting arenas, all too few in number, that continue to survive on the edge rather than in the middle of the road” – cue pieces on the Isle of Man TT, the Nürburgring 24 Hours and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

If you are reading the May edition overseas don’t worry – you can still read the supplement on your iPad or Android tablets from Tuesday April 14th. The digital version includes video clips to complement the features and you can download it by visiting the app store.


You may also like