INTERVIEW

Bertrand Gachot

Bertrand Gachot qualified his Venturi Larrousse-Lamborghini 11th on the grid at Silverstone. It was a fine showing for the Belgian in what was once his adopted country.

Gachot no longer lives in England. Eleven months ago he was sent to jail for spraying a taxi driver with CS gas. His motor racing career was, it seemed, in ruins.

"On paper I was finished," he admits. "This is a sport in which you represent some big companies. There is a lot of exposure. If the boss of marketing in one of these has the choice between two drivers he will say: "Take the one who has not been in jail". I would understand that.

"The funny thing - and I think it proves that the press and the public sensed that what happened to me was not right - is that the whole thing turned around. In the end the whole business helped me to find sponsors. It is incredible. When I thought it was over, it turned around. On the day I went inside I thought everything was over. At the same time I was laughing because I thought it was not possible that it should be happening to me. What have I done for this? I never wanted to give up. I took it. I said: "OK, you have done one thing in your life, this is a new challenge. You are going to cope with this." When I got the chance to come out and do it all again I was so happy. You should never despair, even when you have something which you think is very bad. You must always remember that life is very complex and so many things can happen.

"You should be happy and enjoy every day that you are alive. I'm enjoying what I am doing and the team I am working with.

"Last year with Jordan was a difficult year. We started in pre-qualifying with virtually nothing. We built up the team and it started to be really good. We started to see no more limits. Then along came the sentence and it ruined everything.

"This year there is no politics. This is a team where they all try to work towards something. There are not people justifying or covering what they just did and I can drive better because I can concentrate on my driving. They are not asking me every day how many million pounds I can bring to the team. All I hope is that it is going to stay like this and I can concentrate on my driving. Do what I am good at.

"It is a total change from what I knew before - especially last year.

"I think our car this year is vastly underrated. We only need a few things to have the whole package right and be really quick. We are knocking at the door now. There are the four big teams which are difficult to touch, Lotus is doing a fantastic job but we are right there.

"It's very disappointing that we had to stay in pre-qualifying. We have to be positive. We have an extra hour on the track to do some settings and learn the circuits. Sometimes it can turn against you: you might spin or have a fault on the car and then you are in trouble, but it isn't penalizing us too much at the moment.

"The car is excellent here, with very good downforce. The Lamborghini V12 engine is very much under-rated. We've been quick on a large variety of circuits - very different places - and it is a question of getting everything together. It can't always go wrong."

It did recently in Montreal where Bertrand collided with his own team mate Ukyo Katayama.

"It was very stupid," admits Bertrand. "It was like denting your car in the car park. I came up behind Ukyo, did a lap behind him and at the hairpin he left the door completely open. I came down the inside, next to him, and thought the move was over. I saw him go deep into the corner and I thought he was being nice and making. As I was going back on the power I saw him coming for the apex. I hit the brakes but we touched. It was really a misunderstanding. Afterwards he said he'd seen me coming and knew I was trying to overtake so he left room but in the corner he looked in the mirror and couldn't see me so turned in. I got most of the blame because I am more experienced. I accept this."

Gachot, who use to live in England, moved out after his prison sentence. Now back at the British GP, does he feel his view of the country has changed?

"English people have always been very good to me," he says. "I have an English girlfriend; half of the Venturi-Larrousse team is English. I have nothing against England. In every country things happen which are not always right - but they happened to me in England and I didn't expect that. I was disappointed by the way the police acted. I don't trust them and every week you can see now many stories come out about the police doing wrong. This is very worrying."

But despite his strong feelings Bertrand can still laugh about his time in prison.

"I met some great guys in prison," he smiles. "A lot were Nigel Mansell fans. Sometimes when I think back I realise that, actually, I had good times once I was out of Brixton. I was reading books all day, which I never had time to do before. I was learning to play chess. The guys taught me a few things.

"Sometimes I think, "I wish I could go back and spend a quiet weekend there". There was no phone, no fax.

"No, I'm only joking..."

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