MU MUCH MISTAKEN…
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.