Formula 1 reaches a milestone this weekend and I am immensely proud to be part of the 1000th Grand Prix. I have worked in the sport for 28 years, however my first Formula 1 memory was watching James Hunt win the 1976 World Championship. What fascinated me was that he won the title, without winning the race. My nine-year old self could not comprehend why there was such a big fuss for a guy who did not take the chequered flag first. That ignited my passion for Formula 1; I had to understand how he could be world champion without winning.
The first F1 race I went to was the 1985 European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. I was 18 and went with Clive, a good friend of mine. It was our first road trip, but we didn’t realise the cars ran on Friday so arrived late on Friday night having missed the action. I confess that we didn’t actually have tickets, but my friend’s family ran a catering firm, so his Mum loaded us up with a car full of bread buns. When we got to the gate we said we were delivering the buns and of course we were waved through! Nigel Mansell won the race - his first Formula 1 win - every evening we stood for hours watching the mechanics putting the cars together and that’s what I enjoyed the most.
Reflecting on races gone by, my favourite F1 race is Spa 1998. Without a doubt, it was amazing. We’d started as a little Formula 3 team and in 1991 we had made the leap up to Formula 1, and we were not really taken very seriously by the establishment. We finished fifth in our debut season, had a disastrous second year (11th) but just kept working away at it. We’d had podiums and had got very close to winning, but it wasn’t until Damon Hill joined the team in 1998 that we made the breakthrough. I think he showed us how to win. We were in a position to take first and second in the Belgian Grand Prix, but it was Damon who came over the radio and said “Look, the only way you are going to guarantee this win is if we stop racing each other.”
It was a great race; there was the big accident at the start, then there was the Schumacher and Coulthard incident, but you have got to be there when the chequered flag falls and we were. To be there on that day was amazing and the whole team was ecstatic. We used to have an annual jolly to Spa and Eddie Jordan used to lay coaches on for all the factory staff to go to the race. They were sat in the grandstands in the pouring rain, but what a race for the whole team to be there, it was brilliant.