MU MUCH MISTAKEN…
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!