F1 - 1000th Race, Nicholas Frankl Shares Memories
Senior Editor and Racing Correspondent
The Auto Channel
I don’t recall much of my first F1 championship race. It was May 1971, Monaco (where else you, might say) and I was traveling with my yet-to-be-discovered twin sister, Annabelle, who was still ?cooking’ beside me inside our mother, June. Ferrari heartthrob at the time, Jackie Ikyx, predicted she would “have zee twins”, despite only one of us being expected. Maybe he should have been Belgium’s top gynecologist instead of the racing legend as he was proven right 2 months later! Come Silverstone in July we were proudly walked down the pit lane in a double stroller and introduced to the drivers and their wives and girlfriends. Emmo, Barbro, Ronnie, Jackie, Helen, Graham, Betty, Francois you name it.
Forty seven years later and I’ve attended at least one F1 race per year since 1986 - the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix thanks, in no small part, to my father. Some years over a dozen GP’s and over 200 F1 races from Melbourne ?96 to Japan & the last Argentina GP in Buenos Aires ?97 (where I came away with great experiences and a new exotic Argentinian girlfriend). Plus completing three seasons running the famous Asprey sponsorship of Ferrari from 1996 to 1999 - the Schumacher / Irvine / Todt era. It was a time when Ferrari were in the doldrums & hadn’t won a drivers’ title since ?79 with Jody Schecter. That sure seems a distant memory.
Over these decades I have read many books from my father’s collection and watched all the great films, and learnt more: about the gentleman racers; the Hawthorne / Collins / Enzo Ferrari relationship in the 50’s; Graham Hill, Jim Clark, and Gold Leaf Lotus beginning the commercial money in the sport; the evolution of the cars, the switch from front to rear then mid-engine, the introduction of aero dynamics; the leaders & innovators of the sport like Jack Brabham - who was a lovely man with great decorum - Colin Chapman, Gordon Murray, Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin, who along with Walter Hayes created and funded the legendary Ford Cosworth V8 DFV. Ken and Nora Tyrell became friends, plus Barry Griffin at Goodyear (who for years dominated F1), and I got to know Jackie Stewart and his sons Mark and Paul; Sterling & Suzy Moss; and Alain Prost, who holidayed in Naples, Florida after winning the World Championship in ’93. Thanks to my father, I spent with Ayrton Senna from ?86 to ’93; and even met Fangio on the Mercedes stand at the Frankfurt auto show in ’91. Some of my boyhood heroes like Stefan Johansson became acquaintances and friends.
Hungary always brings back fond memories: There was the charity horse gift to Nigel Mansell (he got on but didn’t ride it) in ?91 outside the Forum Hotel Budapest, the epic police motorcycle convoys (they had new BMW’s K75’s, we had rental Lada’s…) to and from the Hungaroring track (even Senna and Prost were in shock by the time they reached the Marlboro press conference!), plus Sly Stallone and the famous Leroy Beach Club dinner of 1998, with circling helicopters and promotional models and, naturally, never having enough passes to go around.
My interactions with Bernie were also courteous and productive (some of his paddock henchmen weren’t so much fun to deal with) even when I visited his offices in Prince’s Gate, London, trying to buy the then-very-struggling Minardi Team (which had a very Italian accounting system) before Paul Stoddart, which financially was ruinous for him even if he ran the same chassis for about 5 years.
Of course there will always be “boring” or “formulaic” races and that’s the nature of the sport in general and certainly the current rules. But in the 60’s Brabham ruled, usurping the slower “old technology” Ferrari’s, then came the Ford DFV 70’s when Lotus and Tyrell dominated, Ferrari had runs with their glorious old school V12 before falling in line with the V10 era, and Williams and McLaren with Honda power were unstoppable in the 80’ and 90’s.
Most memorable races included driving up to my dear petrol head god parents Maurice and Sheila near Stratford-Upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace) and waking up at 3.30am on a cold Sunday morning for bacon and eggs along with 20 million other Brits to watch Nigel Mansell on BBC, with Murray Walker commentating, to clinch the world championship at the final race in Adelaide, only to watch our hopes explode along with his left rear Goodyear 10 laps from the chequered flag! The nation, along with “our Nige” wept collectively.
Other stand outs would include Mansell winning at home in ?92 with a sell-out crowd and being there when he stopped and the track got invaded – it was chaos! The many many Monaco Grand Prix – each one a very special occasion combining friends from around the world with business and the sheer glamour of the pageant. I recall being stuck at Portier corner in ?94 with Goran Ivanisevic the Wimbledon champion and Nora Tyrell. We couldn’t get to the pits but finally a track car, a small Renault, picked us up and whisked us through the tunnel to Rascasse corner with Nora sitting on my lap and the champ curled up in he back, all 6ft 4 of him. We all jumped out and she asked me if I wanted a cup of tea in the motor home. God bless her.
I remember watching both Ronnie Peterson, whom both my parents were very close to, crashing in Monza in ’78 on TV as a 7 year old and May 1st 2004 like it was yesterday. My father and I were at home in Biggin Hill and I was reporting for BBC radio. It was beyond a shock.
The first Austin Grand Prix was a super weekend (they still are) and we created a My Yacht Club to cater to the international and coastal fans who wanted a European party vibe. All the Ferrari fans and owners showed up and even Massa got to the door but realized it was sponsored by Lamborghini and he would be in trouble if he got recognized or photographed. We had Hollywood celebrities, the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, Indycar champions, Olympian’s and NFL players and lots of very friendly Texans, too! I’m sure the Miami race will be even better and having toured the track with city representatives we are looking forward to hosting a yacht weekend.
More recent races that stick in one’s mind include Montreal ?98 – which was a very exciting and chaotic race, Hamilton’s first Drivers championship on the last corner of the last lap in Brazil, Vettel sneaking in and winning in Abu Dhabi in 2010 and now watching lovely Charles LeClerc win his first podium in Bahrain. Mexico City, although a total cluster F*** of a city to navigate was special for the atmosphere in the baseball stadium and after-race concert – all helped with vast supplies of fine quality tequila.
Spa is a must just to attend at least once. Back in 2000 we managed to secure a brand new Ferrari 360 – Ikyx had the only other one (and he was clerk of the course…) so on the Sunday after the race we managed to sneak slowly onto the race track and have a blast. The guards were obviously tifosi as they waved us past and off we went into the dark abyss of the Arden’s on full chat! This was part of a family tradition at the Hungarian race when, aged fifteen, I did a few laps with a Hungarian boyhood friend in a brand new Mercedes SL420 – the only one in Hungary.
For as long as Annabelle and I have been alive Formula One, it’s teams and drivers have been an intertwined part of our lives and we are not alone, of course, with this “infection” and passion for the sport and its people.
Here’s to another 1,000 races and to my 6 month old baby daughter – who was in the womb at Monaco 2018 aboard the My Yacht Monaco super yacht - also enjoying her first F1 race in May 2019.