F1 Racing - - CHEQUERED FLAG -

Years later, I went back time af­ter time, to do BBC and ITV com­men­taries for the F1 Bel­gian GPs from 1978 to 2001, races that were al­most in­vari­ably en­livened by the Ar­dennes weather. In glo­ri­ous con­di­tions, un­der clear blue skies and blaz­ing sun­shine, the track could be bone dry – only for black clouds to gather, re­sult­ing in a sud­den del­uge of tor­ren­tial rain onto parts of it, call­ing for nu­mer­ous fren­zied strat­egy changes.

So many mem­o­ries. Like 1987: round three. Nigel Mansell, lead­ing the cham­pi­onship in his Wil­liams, started from pole with Ayr­ton Senna third in his Lo­tus. Nigel lost the lead but tried to pass the Lo­tus on the out­side, ex­it­ing the ter­ri­fy­ingly fast Pouhon left-han­der. Con­tact, and they both spun off! Senna was out but Mansell con­tin­ued for 17 laps be­fore re­tir­ing. Rac­ing in­ci­dent? Nigel didn’t think so when he ap­peared in the Lo­tus garage. “I knew he hadn’t come to apol­o­gise when he got me by the throat,” re­called Senna. It took three me­chan­ics to sep­a­rate them.

There was a sim­i­lar adren­a­line-fu­elled dust-up 11 years later in 1998. It was one of the most dra­matic Bel­gian Grands Prix of them all, run in ap­palling con­di­tions that led to just eight of the 22 starters fin­ish­ing the race. On lap 26, fol­low­ing a mas­sive 12-car pile-up at the start, Michael Schu­macher’s Fer­rari slammed into the back of David Coulthard’s McLaren, rip­ping off the Fer­rari’s right front wheel. Back in the pits a grim-faced Schu­macher stormed into the McLaren garage. “Are you try­ing to kill me?” he shouted as he was dragged away from an im­pas­sive Coulthard. All part of F1’s rich pat­tern. That was the race, in­ci­den­tally, where Damon Hill un­der­lined his class by tak­ing the Jor­dan team’s first vic­tory af­ter a thrilling end-of-race bat­tle with his team-mate Ralf Schu­macher.

Need­less to say, I made the most of this rich drama, but my big­gest Bel­gian chal­lenge was in 1989 when my co-com­men­ta­tor, James Hunt, failed to turn up. To com­pen­sate for his ab­sence we got driv­ers who re­tired – there were plenty of them, with the race held in aw­ful con­di­tions – to join me in the box and tell us how it was. One of them was Martin Brun­dle, mak­ing a first be­hindthe-mike ap­pear­ance, and he was so good that BBC pro­ducer Mark Wilkin made a men­tal note. With Martin now one of the world’s top sports pun­dits, the rest, as they say, is history.

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