Working with Gerhard was a joy, as he not only is a virtual encyclopedia of F1 knowledge, and to say that he has friends in the industry is an understatement. Leigh and I were graciously invited to a dinner with Peter Windsor while we were in Montreal. Joining us were Colin and Susan Bach (Colin was kind enough to introduce Gerhard to HOD), and April and John Sullivan, current SCCA racers and HOD folks too, who had met Peter in Turkey a couple of years ago.
First, Peter is the ultimate Formula One enthusiast, resource, historian, and story teller, so this was an opportunity for us to listen, learn and enjoy. He held court most of the evening, as you might imagine us enthusiasts would simply point him in a direction and sit back. The charm you have seen him display on camera, in interviews, in offering commentary, is truly genuine. This is a really nice man – dressed very casually for a dinner with friends – with no pretenses. He looks you in the eye, while displaying a twinkle in his own. He is an enthusiast for racing and for life. After one casual dinner, Leigh and I consider Peter a friend, and we have emailed several times since. For this we consider ourselves very lucky. Without going on, I thought I’d report a few topics that were discussed with Peter’s take summarized as carefully as I can.
First – what happened with USF1? This was a monumental undertaking, with major obstacles on every side. To start a new team from scratch is extremely difficult, but they almost pulled it off. What was the final problem? Lack of time. Because these guys wanted to do a proper, American-built F1 car, it meant that they of course had to design and build the car in-house in North Carolina. Given all the in-fighting in F1 in 2009, they effectively had only four months to design and build a factory, design and build an F1 car, put together a new team and generate the running costs necessary. F1 politics would not allow them to have a website and they weren’t able to begin any work until they were signed in to the Concorde Agreement. They were ready to go in March, 2009 but, due to all the in-fighting, they weren’t able to pull the trigger until early September. That was too much to ask. Everyone worked 24/7, as racers would – but, ultimately, with all the stringent crash test regulations in place these days, the mountain was too steep. None of the other three new teams had the same problem as they used outside companies to design and build the car from up-and-running facilities. This isn’t strictly in the spirit of F1 and was certainly not a route that our guys wanted to take.
Formula One in Austin, TX? Peter hopes that it will happen but, like everyone in F1, knows very little about it. He also has very clear memories of the 1984 Dallas Grand Prix – a race that had to be held at 11:00 am because of the heat in Texas at that time of year!
How close were the F1 Team Owners (FOTA) to breaking away and forming their own race series for 2010? Peter says, “Quite close.” The group had already begun the business side of the effort, developing business plans, financing, forming an accounting department, and making logistics decisions. In the end, a compromise was reached for the good of the sport. The upside, he feels, is that F1’s future is to a large extent now in the hands of some very capable people. “There are some very good brains out there,” he says…
Peter, what is your take of TV coverage for Formula One? Peter feels that there are many more F1 fans in the US than the TV ratings suggest. Part of the problem is the time zone – it’s difficult for the US fans to watch most of the races live – and part of the problem is the popularity and importance of NASCAR in the US. Nothing wrong with that – but, in order to compete with NASCAR, F1 should up its game. The Speed TV commentary team, he thinks, is at least the equal if not better than any English-language team on the planet, so the problem is not ultimately with the network. F1 needs to go to Hi-Def and it needs to be more inter-active. “No sport lends itself more to inter-active TV than motor racing,” said Peter. “F1 is a global sport and even now we should be looking at entire continents being able to watch ‘their’ drivers from Thursday afternoon right through to Sunday night – on the trip the driver in question takes to the race track in the morning, on every lap he drives in the race car and then in the team meetings afterwards. Can you imagine the impact of something like this in China or India – let alone the US?”
One guest asked Peter to recount the sad experience of Frank Williams’ road accident in March, 1986. Peter was in the passenger seat of the rental Ford Sierra, with Frank driving back to the airport from the Paul Ricard circuit in France. Driving briskly, Frank lost control on a fast kink and rolled the car. Peter was ok, but Frank was pinned underneath the crushed roof. Carefully
extracting him, Peter held Frank in his arms for almost an hour waiting for an ambulance. To summarize, Frank was gravely ill for some time. Two local hospitals were inadequate in their care for him, so an emergency private plane was arranged with no notice in order that he be flown to The London Hospital in England. Twice during his trauma doctors offered the option of removing life support. Twice, Frank’s wife, Ginny, after talking with Peter, said no. Frank is alive today and a tower of inspiration for handicapped persons everywhere based on these experiences.
On a high note, Peter and Gerhard had talked about what we do at Hooked On Driving before the dinner took place. So, it was flattering and encouraging to hear Peter’s unsolicited comment on how excited he is about Hooked On Driving. As a movement to educate drivers to a higher level, and encourage folks to learn about motorsports as well, HOD is a welcome ally in the furthering of motorsports. After the dinner, Peter was kind enough to offer us a lead to an individual in the U.K. who could be a possible prospect for Hooked On Driving on the other side of the pond. No details yet, although I can report that the track involved is the self-same place where a highly-rated TV series do all their filming!
We had a delightful evening with this delightful man. A treasure of the F1 sport, we hope that he is able to pursue any opportunity that he wishes. We also look forward to his future efforts in documenting some of the lesser known stories about the early days of F1. Peter would be the perfect person to further chronicle the foundations of the Formula One world.