Thanks for the memories

Nice man that Ron Dennis. The other day we were having an argument in the TAG motorhome. Ron was being his usual immaculate self and complaining that Formula 1 journalists were a slovenly bunch. I returned fire, arguing for the need of free spirits in a world inhabited by teams dressed up like ice-cream men. Ron was relentless and finally it was too much. Time for action.

'Right,' I said with a flourish. 'If you serve Chateau Petrus here, I'll wear evening dress.'

Ron didn't even blink. 'Hungary. Friday. Midday,' he said.

'You're on!' I replied. '1961!'

Ron then said something very rude, comparing me to an F1 team boss with a habit of changing his deals after they are struck. I retreated fast.

'Any year will do.'

And so it would. Never having drunk this legendary nectar I was happy to accept whatever Mr. Dennis was willing to provide. I don't know a lot about wine. All I know is that Chateau Petrus is the best, every detail is just right to ensure the best possible wine, to such an extent that they pick the grapes in the afternoons so that morning dew does not dilute the noble juices. And that it is better to have someone very rich on hand to pay for it.

And so it was that on Friday, August 13 I tipped up at the TAG Motorhome, casually dressed in the stifling heat. Ron was as good as his word. It was a 1969, which may not appear in the wine-makers' hall of fame, but was still grand to my amateur taste buds. If it was a bad year, I can only imagine that drinking the 1961 is like rubbing baby oil all over a naked 17-year-old Lauren Bacall.

Later, as I sat savoring the wine, lifting my glass to occasional passing peasants, I enjoyed a little joke of my own. Little did Ron realize that his largesse was being used to celebrate my 10th anniversary working for AUTOSPORT. If those nice folk at the TAG motorhome caught me staring into space, it was because I was swimming back in nostalgia, remembering the first week. The magazine had Rene Arnoux's Ferrari and a yellow surround. It was the week Ayrton Senna collided with Martin Brundle at Oulton Park. And I was in Knutstorp in Sweden, reporting on a European F3 race for the princely sum of #40 quid and no expenses.

It was not a profitable weekend. I had to fly to Copenhagen in Denmark, take a train to Helsingor and a ferry to Helsingborg in Sweden. It was there that I discovered that the AUTOSPORT circuit guide had a misprint. The track wasn't 3km from town. It was 30km, so I hitchhiked, arriving at the track late at night to set up my tent.

And then I remembered that Hungary wasn't the first time I'd been to a race in a dinner jacket. Back in 1985 at Brands Hatch, I had turned up in all the gear. Somewhere there is a photo with me in a winged collar with a jersey slung casually over my shoulders to disguise the fact that I had come straight from some party. I have no memory from where I had come or what her name had been.

It's a funny thing memory, I thought raising my glass again. The other day, leafing through a file full of theatrical odds and ends. I had discovered programs from a theatre I once ran on the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival (that is another story). I found one entitled 'The Importance of Being Varnished', featuring the Fabulous Spampanotti Brothers. It had been a funny show and I had never forgotten the Spampanottis. But I had forgotten who played them. As I ran down the cast list, wondering whatever became of them all, I was shocked to discover that Renaldo Spampanotti had grown up to be comedian Rory Bremner and I never even knew I had worked with the guy.

My only consolation, apart from another sip of wine, was that everybody forgets things. Thierry Boutsen told a funny story a little while ago about locking Alain Prost on a hotel balcony back in Zandvoort in 1979, the plan being to stop him winning the European F3 race that day. Thierry said the plan had been a success, even if Alain had made it to the race. Well, Thierry, I checked. Alain did win.

And while I'm at it, I'll drink to Thierry's 10 years in F1 this weekend at Spa.

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