F1 Racing - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

The most charm­ing and charis­matic of them all? No con­test: Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi, cham­pion in 1972 and ’74, who makes you feel as though you’re the most im­por­tant per­son he’s ever met. He loves to talk about his time in F1 and Amer­ica with McLaren, with Colin Chap­man’s Lo­tus, with the tow­er­ing pres­ence of Roger Penske and rac­ing against Sir Jackie Ste­wart.

His fel­low Brazil­ian Ayr­ton Senna was very dif­fer­ent. I com­men­tated on so many of his epic drives – Monaco ’84 in the Tole­man, his first F1 win in the Lo­tus in Por­tu­gal ’85, ev­ery one of his McLaren drives and, so sadly, his last race in the Wil­liams at Imola in 1994. His charisma – and he had it by the buck­et­load – was dif­fer­ent from that of Fit­ti­paldi. More in­tense, his com­mand of ev­ery as­pect of his ded­i­cated pro­fes­sion and of the English lan­guage was awe­some. For me, his era, when he raced against Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Nel­son Pi­quet and Michael Schu­macher, was the great­est of them all.

Now here’s an­other con­trast of per­son­al­i­ties: John Sur­tees and James Hunt. I’ve been lucky enough to know John for the whole of his bril­liant rac­ing ca­reer as a seven-time mo­tor­cy­cle cham­pion, an F1 world cham­pion and a bril­liant sportscar racer, and no one com­mands greater re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion from me. It’s an out­rage that he has not been granted the knight­hood he so richly de­serves. Stub­born and determined but al­most in­vari­ably right, he, like Nigel Mansell, who was also easy to of­fend, could be hard work, but both of them re­main true friends to me.

As, in a funny sort of a way, James Hunt turned out to be. I cov­ered the whole of his ca­reer – For­mula Ford to F1 world cham­pion – and we worked to­gether as BBC TV com­men­ta­tors for 13 years dur­ing which, dif­fer­ent as chalk and cheese, we had our ups and downs but our chem­istry seemed to work. When he died, aged 45, we were on good terms and as a unique and mem­o­rable char­ac­ter there’s no doubt about the fact that he tops the lot.

Re­grets? Just one. I never met Jim Clark. I’ve stood close to him but in those far off days of the 1960s he was a god and I was just a fan who was ei­ther too po­lite or too over­awed to in­ter­rupt him in the pad­dock. But I don’t re­gret too much not hav­ing had to in­ter­view Kimi Räikkö­nen. Mika Häkki­nen was dif­fi­cult enough!

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