Up early to head for Silverstone for the 25th anniversary – to the week – of my first media accreditation, granted in 1997 for the British, German and Austrian Grands Prix. I'd flown across from my native South Africa on a wing and a prayer, desperately hoping to break into the sport by hook or crook at age 43.
I have three stand-out recollections of that weekend: Saying to myself as I swiped my pass at the turnstile that if I failed to gain accreditation again, I'd at least held it once; Jacques Villeneuve won for Williams (later today he obliges with a celebratory selfie); and the horrific post-race traffic jams that were such that it took four hours to reach London after checking out of the media centre.
My memories of the past quarter century are both very rich and extremely precious, covering as they do much of the Hakkinen, Schumacher, Alonso and Hamilton eras, special drivers all. But the biggest privilege by far has been moving in a world of high achievers while travelling the world – around 60 countries visited directly or indirectly in the course of my career – and meeting and/or befriending a number of them.
Growing up as an F1 fan in a rural SA village – without F1 TV broadcasts until the late eighties - I would never have thought that one day I'd have numerous opportunities of calling the giants of our sport by their first names over a chat or meal. Such memories are priceless, and how I managed to make it into the F1 paddock was recorded in an interview here.
A reminder of the value of the Halo
Before lunch we have yet another example of the value of the Halo, much derided when initially mandated in F1 in 2018 but thereafter introduced to other categories. During the F2 Sprint Race, Dennis Hauger's wayward car lands squarely on top of Roy Nissany's cockpit, but the latter is uninjured due to the strength of the safety device. Little do I know that the device will see service later in the day...
Pirelli's Head of Communications Matteo Bonciani, who in his former role of FIA Media Delegate had done much to facilitate my career, is kind enough to host a celebratory lunch for Dutch colleague Aaron Deckers, my good Hungarian friend Sandor Meszaros and myself in the tyre company’s hospitality unit. Needless to say, table company and menu are both absolutely top class. Thanks guys!
Latest news on a South African Grand Prix
After lunch I busy myself with the latest situation regarding the 2023 calendar, and it seems that a South African Grand Prix deal is far from done regardless of positive noises in the paddock.
Sources in both Europe and South Africa are adamant that a number of significant issues still remain, not least organisational matters. Staging a Grand Prix is not simply a matter of paying a hosting fee and off-loading 20 cars at the airport; there are myriad other considerations and these could break the deal.
Will the event happen at all? My information is that the chances of a race at Kyalami are 50/50 at best, with the likelihood of an event in 2023 presently being no better than 30 per cent. I sincerely hope to be proven totally wrong, but nothing I've heard over the past three weeks – since I expressed my opinion here – has caused me to change my mind.
Apologies to all my SA friends and fellow fans: I'd prefer to have been in a position to deliver good news on my 25th anniversary, but that is my understanding of the state of play at present.
A thrilling race at Silverstone
The British Grand Prix itself turns out to be a superb action-packed, high-speed showcase for F1, with drama never being far from the surface: Zhou Guanyu's accident proves the safety of the sport, while the final 10 laps are absolutely scintillating and prove that the new regulations do permit real racing. As for the result: Carlos Sainz Jnr's victory proves that nice guys can win in F1.
Indeed, thankfully the race delivers a fitting 25th anniversary for me. The drama reminds me of that 1997 British Grand Prix: JV, whose father I'd met in South Africa in 1977, won after Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen retired, having been stuck in the pit lane for 30 seconds with a faulty wheel nut, and today the father of the winner – rally legend Carlos Sainz – is one of my paddock friends.
The drive to London, where I stay overnight – ahead of attending Monday's memorial service for another of the giants of F1 I'd been fortunate enough to meet, namely Sir Frank Williams – provides another similarity: It takes well-nigh four hours to reach London. Some things in F1 should never change; but over the course of 25 years it's high time some did!
F1 Podcast: Ferrari win – but did they botch their strategy again?
RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken and Michael Butterworth discuss the key topics from the British Grand Prix, including Ferrari's questionable strategy calls.