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AUTOSPORT International – the insider’s view

Submitted by on February 5, 2010

January’s AUTOSPORT International show at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham is the ultimate Christmas/New Year hangover cure for race fans of all ages and tastes. Organised for the past 20 years by the world’s oldest weekly motorsport magazine, which celebrates its 60th year in 2010, the show is the starting point for the season ahead – but it’s also an event at which drivers get to tell stories from the past, let their hair down and reminisce about the old days. The relaxed environment, away from the pressure-cooker paddocks and service areas of international race and rally venues, allows a bit of tale-telling. And it’s always a real privilege for me to play referee on the AUTOSPORT Stage – a place where this year I got to chat to more than 80 personalities over the four-day period. Needless to say, I have my favourites every year, and this year was no exception. Fortunately for Motorsport Rretro fans, the four guests who stood out were strutting their stuff behind the wheel a good few years ago. Here are some of their more memorable soundbites…


On recalling all of his 585 races between 1948 and 1962:

“I don’t remember all of them – just the ones with brake failure or wheels coming off.”

On Le Mans:

“I didn’t enjoy Le Mans, it wasn’t like it is now – a flat-out race. You had orders and had to drop off 600 revs. That I found rather boring.”

On aiming for the top as a youngster:

“When I started, I just wanted to race. As you progress you begin to think, ‘I’d like to try this or I’d like to try that’.”

On comparing drivers’ responsibilities from different eras:

“After practice and the race I was free, I could go chasing the crumpet!”

On world champion Jenson Button not being able to do the same:

“He’s not queer, so don’t worry!”

On those insane average speeds during the 1955 Mille Miglia:

“It still amazes me actually. On the last section from Cremona to Brescia, which was 173km, we averaged 165.5mph from a standing start. Quite quick on an open road!”

On suggestions (from me) that he must have been absolutely mad:

“Well, I was. But that’s what one did. I agree with you.”

On post-race partying:

“I didn’t drink until I was 32. You can enjoy the party more without drinking. Instead of passing out, you can enjoy it more!”


On trying to win Le Mans 24 Hours again, while looking at Johnny Herbert (1991 winner):

“We could team up with Nigel [Mansell] – he’s going to Le Mans, isn’t he? We could get AUTOSPORT to sponsor it.”

On Ayrton Senna:

“Senna had a god-given talent I’ve not seen in any other driver. He had a sixth sense for where the grip was. He knew how fast he could go before he got to a corner, not half-way through it like I did. I remember a [British F3] race at Silverstone [in 1983] in the rain. I jumped into the lead, but after a few laps going down into Stowe corner, Senna went down the outside of me and I thought, ‘goodbye, see you another time’. I thought he’d gone off, but he went right round the outside and came out of Stowe – when it was a proper corner – in front of me. The race got red-flagged, and at the restart I thought I’d try Senna’s line. I hit the biggest puddle and went off – I just kept it out of the barriers and rejoined. I said to Senna on the podium after he beat me: ‘your line didn’t work in the second race’. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I didn’t try it, it was too wet!’ How did he know that?”

On the toughest event he tackled in his long career:

“The hardest thing I’ve ever done is the [world championship] Rally of Great Britain [in 1996 in a Ford Escort RS Cosworth and 1999 in a Toyota Corolla WRC]. I did manage to hit a tree both times – the tree jumped out. The track changes, you do the recce in snow or daylight, then you do the stage in the rain or at night. It’s scary beyond belief.”

On his favourite circuits:

“My favourite track is Macau, where we drove in F3. It’s part Silverstone, round a reservoir, then round all the Chinese houses. It’s just incredible. Spa, Monaco, Silverstone – the ones with the high-speed corners, they’re the ones that are going to appeal to the driver. And Le Mans – that’s a great race track. Closer to home, Cadwell Park is a wonderful racetrack. I’ll never know how Senna didn’t break his legs there [in F3]. Not that I wanted him to, but it would have helped the championship a bit.”

On British race tracks:

“The tragedy is Donington. I don’t know if we’ve lost Donington or whether it will be recovered… Thruxton: that’s a pretty scary place. Brands Grand Prix circuit: magnificent. I like Snetterton – there’s only seven corners, so you don’t make so many mistakes.”


On his Formula 1 career [41 GPs for AGS, Coloni, EuroBrun, Benetton, Jordan, Minardi and Forti Corse]:

“What Formula 1 career?!”

On frustration at failing to prequalify on a Friday morning:

“Yeah, it happened many times. With Coloni, we only pre-qualified four times in a season, and

twice with EuroBrun. It was quite a challenge for me, Formula 1. But I got there, and I got there without money. My career was difficult. I got there because of people like John Barnard – he believed in me and he wanted me to become his test driver. And because of that, I got the break at Benetton.

On his lucky break with Benetton:

“I still remember flying to England for a meeting with Herbie Blash at the Brabham factory because it was the only seat available for the following year. Herbie was very difficult to get hold of and he kept putting me off for a couple of days. Eventually I just flew to England and said: ‘I’m here at Heathrow, I came to see you’. He said: ‘Oh Roberto, you shouldn’t have come. I have this, and that, I can’t see you today. But since you’re here, come at four o’clock and I’ll give you five minutes’.

But before that I called all my friends in the book, including John Barnard [at Benetton]. And John said: ‘Roberto, come and see us after the meeting, because I need you’. So I went there, and John looked at me and said: ‘Roberto, at two o’clock this afternoon, Alessandro Nannini lost his arm in a helicopter crash. Everybody is calling to get the drive and we need to run two cars in Japan. You are the only one who called before the accident. Do you want to drive?

That’s how I got that Benetton drive. He put the phone in front of me and said: ‘Call your team and see if they will let you drive for us’. I called EuroBrun, and that same afternoon my team had decided in Switzerland not to go to the last two races. So I was free to go and race for Benetton.”

That day, Moreno finished second at Suzuka behind team-mate Nelson Piquet. Couldn’t have happened to a nice bloke…

Henry Hope-Frost

Images: HHF, Speedhunters

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