Peter Windsor : « Writing about motor sport, it’s a sweat ! »

I had the opportunity to ask some question to the most fascinating racing journalist of his time. So here is an interview with Peter Windsor about journalism and Formula 1…

DB : First, let’s talk about you. How did you become a journalist and who gave you your first chance to write about racing ?

PW : I began writing race reports for my local racing club newsletter when I was about 13. Geoffrey Sykes, who ran Aintree for the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC), designed the new Warwick Farm circuit in Sydney, Australia, where I was raised. During school holidays, I used to help out at the Australian Automobile Racing Club (AARC) offices and Geoff encouraged me to write and to read as much as possible. I was 15 when I had my first article published in a newspaper (“Australian Motoring News”). It was about a local driver and an interesting car he had built.

DB : Are you sometimes nostalgic of some passed eras or do you still enjoy the whole circus nowadays ? What about the job : is it easier or harder to work in the paddock and why ?

PW : I’m not nostalgic but I’m very aware of the debt we owe to those who came before us. Without history, there is no future. I think the biggest problem in motor sport is to know actually what is going on. The teams and drivers don’t know the whole picture – why one car or driver is quicker than another – and so the public doesn’t, either. The biggest difference between now and then is that drivers like Jackie Stewart, Francois Cevert, Peter Revson, Ronnie Peterson, Gilles Villeneuve, Jacky Ickx and a whole lot more wanted journalists like me to know and to understand as much as possible, reasoning that that the more I knew, the better the job I would do for the sport. Today, it is the opposite. Generally speaking, the teams (and thus their drivers) see it as a minor victory if they can conduct an interview without giving away anything important. As a result, I constantly feel that I don’t know enough about what it happening. I can’t speak for other journalists, but today I feel that at any given moment I only really know about 20 per cent of what is happening – and why it is happening. Back then, I probably saw about 40 per cent of the picture.

DB : Do you think it was easier in the 70’s than today to start writing on racing as a professional ? Which advice would you give to a young person who’d like to work as a sport reporter in 2011 ?

PW : I don’t think it’s changed. Writing about motor sport is all about passion, commitment and hard work. Very hard work. It makes no difference whether you’re writing longhand, into a typewriter or Telex machine, or into a laptop. It’s a sweat. You have to use your brain when you least feel like using it – after a motor race.

DB : Who are your favourite fellows in the paddock ?

PW : The paddock is always full of great people. No matter how long I’m there, I never have enough time to talk to all the people on my list…

DB : I remember you already tested some F1 cars including an old Lotus from Jimmy Clark (for F1 Racing IIRC). Tell me if I’m wrong but how was that ? Did you ever try to race some times in the past ?

PW : “Test” isn’t the right word. I’m very fortunate to have driven the following : 1982 Renault F1 turbo car, 1961 Lotus 21 F1 car, 1963 Brabham BT6 Tasman car, 1960 Lotus 18 FJ car, 1969 Ferrari Dino Tasman car, 2006 Toyota F1 car and 1967 Lotus 49 F1 car. I’ve also raced plenty of touring and sports cars. I finished second at Macau once and had podium finishes at Silverstone and Lydden Hill.

DB : Now some words about Nigel Mansell as I’m a big fan of the 1992 World Champion. I know you first met him back in his F3 days. What was his driving like ? Then, how (and when) did you start working with him ?

PW : Actually, not many people did rate Nigel in the early days – by which I mean right through to mid-1985. I first saw him at the back end of his Formula Ford career. I watched him at Thruxton and Silverstone and after half an hour of examining the way he drove I was convinced that he had the talent to win an F1 World Championship. I then devoted every spare minute of the next eight years raising money for Nigel and convincing the right people that he deserved a chance. I persuaded Pace Petroleum to sponsor him; I arranged his Ralt F2 drive; I got him his Lotus test deal and race drive and I persuaded Frank Williams to hire him. I was Williams Sponsorship Manager from 1985-88 and then Team Manager in 1991/92. We were friends and colleagues in those periods and it was a pleasure to help him to win the World Championship.

DB : Since you lived the whole thing from the inside, how do you rate Nigel compared to guys like Senna, Prost or Piquet ?

PW : I think Nigel was as good as Senna and faster than Prost and Piquet.

DB : Plus, what’s your opinion about his last racing experiences (BTCC, GP Masters and Le Mans) ? Are you still close to him and do you give him some advices ?

PW : I think Nigel made a mistake to race at all after 1993. He won the F1 Championship; he won in the US. At that point he should have stopped for good. Continuing for another year in the US achieved nothing and returning to F1 was not clever. Anything since then has been rather embarrassing. I haven’t seen Nigel for a while.

Peter Windsor’s highly-acclaimed online TV show, The Flying Lap, can be seen on every Wednesday at 18:00 UK time.