‘AH’: gone, but never forgotten
It’s not hard to imagine the reaction of dear old Alan Henry to the qualifying imbroglio that threatened to engulf the Australian Grand Prix: “You’d have thought they could have bloody well sorted this out before putting us on a plane to fly twelve-thousand miles to watch this bloody shambles.”
Then he’d have grinned with relish at what he was about to write, popped open his slightly careworn laptop, and set forth to pen a rigorous skewering of those he deemed responsible for messing up the sport, about which he wrote with such care and conviction for more than four decades.
AH, who died last month after a long and debilitating illness, was a towering figure among the F1 press pack and an inspiration to many lured by the romance of one day becoming a motorsport journalist. Waspish, witty, diligent and deft in equal measure, he was a key part of F1 Racing from its very first issue and a source of wise counsel, as well as camaraderie, to those who worked for the magazine.
As editor-at-large, he fulfilled roles as columnist, correspondent, feature writer, and… well, if you turn to page 114, one of this magazine’s best-kept secrets will finally be revealed.
The outpouring of sorrow at his passing has been truly remarkable. Fond tributes from colleagues who worked with him at Autocar, The Guardian and Autocourse were to be expected. More notable were the kind words shared by the likes of Alain Prost, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and many other great drivers. It’s a mark of a man known also as ‘TB’ (Top Bloke) that he was able to garner such respect from the subjects of his sometimes withering prose. Maybe they just recognised integrity when they saw it.
Maybe, too, they enjoyed his sense of fun, for in a sport often guilty of taking itself too seriously, AH could be relied upon to prick any pomposity that might come across his radar. (To this day I remain deeply thankful that I resisted his attempt to make me ask Niki Lauda [a close friend of Al’s] if he had seen a Youtube video of a group of drunken Germans singing about his burnt ear. AH would no doubt have found the encounter extremely funny; not sure that Lauda would felt likewise…)
He was equally steadfast in his adherence to the belief that while motorsport, and eloquent coverage thereof, were of paramount importance, so, too, was having a good time while you were at it. AH was a cornerstone of F1’s self-elected ‘claret club’ (membership strictly by invitation only) and he was well capable of out-staying younger, less sturdy travelling companions when in the mood for revelry. On one such occasion, at the 2005 Japanese GP, I remember AH berating me for leaving a hotel bar at around 3am. It was with no little awe that I found him in the press room the next morning, clearheaded and hammering away on deadline, having arrived several hours before yours truly.
RIP old chap. You were one of a kind.
Follow Anthony on Twitter: @Rowlinson_f1