Old friends, wild escapades and sweet revenge

Hockenheim I always associate with old friends. There are always unexpected friendly faces, which appear, take a look at F1 and point out that nobody looks happy.

Christian Danner turned up this year, and talked with missionary fervor about life after F1.

"You know," he said in his Cockney/German accent, "I actually like driving racing cars again. I'm not bruised and battered. And when I get out I find people enjoying themselves."

Emanuele Pirro was there too, darker than an African from excessive sunshine. He still wants to get back to F1.

You may have seen a mention in last week's magazine that Pirro's Bicycle had been stolen. An odd story, but this was no ordinary velocipede. 'EP' had bought it in 1988 and it had been stationed at the President Hotel in Tokyo ever since - for the use of any foreign racing driver who cared to risk life and limb on it.

Many people have stories about Pirro's Bicycle - but one stands out. It was the day Emanuele crashed his bike into a bus queue - live on national television.

It was an autumn day and he hit some soggy leaves, skidded and mowed down the bus queue. Emanuele was always unlucky and - as Pirro luck would have it - a television news team was filming at that very moment. Everyone picked themselves up and Emanuele found a microphone being pushed at him. He hid his face, pretended to speak German, and cycled away. The accident, I am told, appeared on the TV news, but no-one recognized the rider.

Danner and Pirro were both BMW factory drivers in the early 1980s, part of a gang of lunatics who toured Europe, crashing cars, falling in swimming pools, having food fights and, occasionally, competing in ETC races.

I remember once in Sweden, having arrived at a hotel in the middle of the night and overslept in the morning asking reception how to find the Anderstorp race track.

"Follow the skid marks," said the hotel owner. We did, and it worked...

Another occasion provided me with the race of my life. It involved a mad up-and-coming Austrian called Gerhard Berger, who drove a BMW 325i - Number plate S for Salzburg 14611.

We had many adventures in S14611. The most memorable was the Spa 24 Hours, in which Gerhard was sharing a Schnitzer BMW 635CSis with Roberto Ravaglia and the late Manfred Winkelhock.

Qualifying at Spa was tedious, lasting deep into the night. It was 9pm, I was standing in the pitlane - as dusk fell - waiting for final qualifying.

'In 10 minutes you are going to Holland,' said an Austrian voice.

'No I'm not.' I replied.

'There is something better in Holland.'

'Like what?'

'I'm doing my first F1 test,' said Gerhard.

'So what.'


How could one refuse? We would be back, he said, for the start of the 24 Hours. The following afternoon, after we had waited around all day, S14611 nosed out of the pits.

'To begin with,' said Gerhard. 'We go very slow.'

I remember thinking as we came steaming out of the final corner - Bos Uit - that I was glad we had finished. Then I heard Gerhard mutter 'now we go a little quicker'. We made it to Bos Uit again - and I relaxed.

'Now we try going fast,' said the madman beside me. As we arrived at Schlievlak, the diving right-hander out among the dunes with the tires screeching and the chassis twisting. My only consolation was that one day it would make a good story.

The next morning Gerhard climbed into the turbocharged ATS-BMW with all the enthusiasm of Lolita in a lollipop factory.

'You cannot believe the power,' he said bug-eyed.

It was three o'clock when I realized that we should think of Spa. I thrust a watch in front of Gerhard's helmet. He nodded and drove out of the pits. Then I noticed that Winkelhock (also an ATS driver) was still there. Ravaglia was going to have a busy evening.

Finally the ATS broke down and we ran through the paddock to S14611. In full racing overalls Gerhard climbed in. Initially I was steering and he was working the pedals as he tried to get his overalls off his shoulders. The man in the fish and chip stand we almost hit probably still has very wide eyes.

For the next two hours the highway codes of Holland and Belgium were shockingly violated. We went straight through red lights and overtook cars on the grass between the fast lane and the central reservation. Once - and I don't remember why - we stopped at a traffic light alongside a local petrolhead in a souped-up something-or-other. He looked across and revved his engine. I smiled and sat back so he could see the driver was wearing racing overalls. The man's jaw dropped. At the same moment the lights changed. We did not see him again.

As we approached Spa it started to rain and life became infinitely more interesting as we got lost in the lanes around the track. Several handbrake turns later, we slithered to a soggy halt in the paddock. Gerhard ran off, yelling 'Park the car!' Minutes later he was out on the track in the Schnitzer 635CSi.

Three months later S14611 claimed her revenge, driving off a cliff with Gerhard at the wheel. She didn't get mad, she got even.

At Hockenheim Ron Dennis did the same to me. A year ago at the German GP I wrote that Germany was 'a nation which has been led to believe by its fashion designers that wearing pyjamas in public is totally normal'. I then went on to point out that Hugo Boss - whoever he was - clearly had a sense of humour because he enjoyed making people look stupid - while making them believe they were 'the coolest dudes this side of the Rhine.'

I thought it was funny. Ron (who is sponsored by Hugo Boss) did not. Nor did they. I was, therefore, somewhat surprised to be invited to the annual Boss dinner at Hockenheim. I had this sneaking feeling that something was going to be done. Ron duly took the microphone and after an incoherent pre-amble presented me with two pairs of garish pyjamas.

What goes around comes around.

Keep that in mind Ron...

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