I had a lovely chat with Peter Windsor in Jerez and took this rare opportunity to ask him a few questions. Here’s the end result.
Q: What’s your best memory of the Portuguese Grand Prix?
Peter Windsor: My best memory of the Portuguese Grand Prix is not one that I think most people associate with Nigel Mansell – but for me, it was the 1985 event, pouring rain… I’m sure everybody remembers it as the day Ayrton Senna won for Lotus Renault for the first time, but for me, just as good a drive that day, if not better, was Nigel Mansell’s drive into what I think was 5th place from the pit lane in a car that Keke Rosberg – an acknowledged rain master – described as completely undriveable due to the total inability of the car to get any feel through the throttle; it was basically an on/off switch – the thottle – in those days with terrible throttle lag on the Honda turbos as well.
Nigel went off in the warm-up lap, that’s why he started in the pit lane after a few hasty repairs and just drove brilliantly to finish fifth in the wet.
I asked him after the race how he was able to pass so many cars, and he said something I’d never forgotten which was: “I would just pull up behind the car in front on the straight, wait for the engine note to change, which meant the guy in front was breaking, and then move to the right.”
That’s what he did and that’s why he passed a lot of cars! I’ve always been a big supporter of Nigel right from the early days, 1978 onwards, but 1985 Portugal was the day when for me Nigel was more than just a guy with a talent to win the world championship – he was gonna win the world championship one day, no doubt at all in my mind after that race.
When Nigel went to Ferrari, he got involved in a property project in the Algarve, which he put his name to and his payment was a villa. I remember he convinced John Barnard, the Ferrari engineer at the time, to also buy a villa. I remember going there for the opening of this thing, so there was the Barnard villa and there was the Mansell villa, although I don’t think either of them own them (villas) any more. That was quite funny as well.
I’ve got one frightening memory which goes back to Riccardo Patrese having a big accident and hitting the entry to the pit lane, the guard rail. It was a horrendous accident.
But in general, I love Portugal and that part of Europe. It was always nice flying into Lisbon airport and finding your way to the hotel, staying near the track.
The one thing I never did in Portugal was partake of any of the shellfish, even though everybody said: “Oh, you gotta have it!” This is because I learned very early in my Formula 1 life, thanks to my friend Carlos Reutemann actually, never to eat shellfish when you’re on the road, especially during the season. Carlos said: “I remember Jean-Pierre Jarier eat shellfish in Jarama and he is still sick in Monaco two weeks later! Never eat shellfish!” And so I never did, even when I got to Portugal I never did either.
But I really enjoyed the times in Portugal, the evenings. 1985 aside, it was always usually beautiful weather there as well. Very sad not to have a Portuguese Grand Prix and I think it’s a reflection on so-called “progress”, because how can it be progress when we don’t have a French Grand Prix, or indeed, a Portuguese Grand Prix on the calendar – that’s not progress. Progress is taking heritage and the past into account and moving forward as well.
Q: What about Portimão (circuit), have you been there?
PW: No, I haven’t really but it looks like one of those incredibly nice modern circuits; in any case, I’m glad that it’s there!
I feel sad in a way that a beautiful circuit is built and immediately it doesn’t stage a Grand Prix. Why? Think back to any period of Formula 1 history: if a country or a group within a country built a nice race track, Formula 1 raced there. Now they just ignore these circuits, so why aren’t we racing there? For sure, it’s capable of staging a race; again, I think it reflects rather badly on the sport as it is at the moment, it’s become so money driven that we’re not racing at a circuit that’s quite clearly capable of it and has the correct standards of operation.
Q: Have you got any other memories of Portugal?
PW: I’ve a lot of very fond memories of Ayrton Senna in Portugal, particularly actually hanging out with him in his villa in Sintra and having dinner with him, basically chilling out. If I think of Ayrton, I really think of Portugal and that part of the world, he loved it and I grew to love it as well.
I love Portugal as well because it has a great history in the sport and I think that’s very important – the continuity with the past, whether we’re thinking 1958, 1959, 1960… There’s a lot of history there: Monsanto and Oporto. I’m privileged to say that I know Stirling Moss very well now, he is, for sure, one of the greatest Grand Prix drivers of all time, certainly in my top 5. What Stirling did in Portugal in 1958 will stand the test of time I think in terms of sportsmanship and general approach to life, it sums up Stirling’s approach to motor racing.
The 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix… As a kid, I grew up as a Jim Clark fan. I was always impressed that Jimmy had that big accident in practise for the 1960 Portuguese Grand Prix at Oporto and Team Lotus mechanics – bless them! – basically rebuilt this car and it was put together with tank tape. He then brought it home and did a very good job. That was a learning experience for Jimmy and he refers to it in his book as one of the pivotal moments of knowing when to take risks, when not to and when to deliver having made a mistake, which he certainly did that day.
If you read Jack Brabham’s autobiography, he was not impressed with his incident with Mário Cabral in the 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix and again that’s something that stood the test of time in terms of Jack’s career because he didn’t have bigger accidents than that and the only accident he ultimately had that was bigger than that probably was his shunt at Goodwood when he was taken out by Jackie Oliver, but good old Jack is still going strong.
Q: Are there any young Portuguese drivers that you like?
PW: António Félix da Costa, he’s very good, isn’t he? Extremely good. By the way, I follow Tiago Monteiro on Twitter and he’s a great guy, very good bloke and I wish him all the best in everything he does.
Let’s hope Félix has the backing he needs to get to where he deserves to be, he’s obviously very talented. It would’ve been wonderful to have a Portuguese driver again in Formula 1, the first since Tiago.
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