On Tuesday 24th February 1998 I called into Silverstone to watch the Formula 1
testing on my way home from work. This was my normal procedure during testing
days, arriving at approximately 4:30 pm and joining in the excitement with the usual
Formula 1 Gang. On this occasion Ralf Schumacher was testing with Jordan along
with the usual 3 or 4 other teams. We all enjoyed the Formula 1 atmosphere; the
speed, noise and smell of the Formula 1 cars, until the red lights came on at exactly
five o'clock to end the session. The drivers finished the final lap with a burst of extra
speed knowing that they would not end the testing session early if they spun off the
track. The marshals weaved there way back to the paddock and all the gang strolled
back to the main gate to wait for the drivers to escape the circuit after their de-briefing.
Most drivers hurry out of the circuit and home if their testing week is complete. Other
drivers take their time over de-briefing, especially if their week's testing is to continue
and they need to return the next day for another session.
One of the drivers sped through the main gate in a top of the range bright pink Volvo,
we all shouted 'It's Ralf'. He didn't stop, we all watched him leave the circuit in a hurry.
We all waited for another driver to brave the anoraks with their autograph albums
and photographs. But it was getting dark and cold. My enthusiasm had waned, I
waved to the gang and phoned the wife so my tea would be on the table when I got
home. I left the circuit and joined the inevitable queue of cars on the lane leading
from the main gate to the busy A43 main road. I noticed that the car behind was
leaving a big gap between us, most unusual. I reached for my map and pondered
my route home. I was winding down after the excitement of the cars, the drivers and
the gang. I was suddenly jolted into the present by a thud from behind. By instinct
I braked to prevent my car from hitting the car in front. I was the result of an small
accident. I jumped out of the car and looked behind to see a pink Volvo pressed
against the rear of my company car. Who got out of the driver's seat, yes, you've
guessed, Ralf Schumacher.
Without hesitation I shook his hand and say 'Pleased to meet you'. The occupants
of the Volvo were still laughing. Ralf's manager joined us from the passenger seat
and apologised. He explained that there was no problems, Jordan would pay for the
damage. We tried to close the rear door of the estate but it would not catch. Ralf
suggested that we left the queue of traffic and pulled over to the verge. By this time
the queue have moved on so we were causing a hazard. We pulled over to the verge
and exchanged details. Ralf explained that he was in a hurry to catch a plane from
Heathrow to Germany. We shook hands again and continued on our separate ways.
I phoned the boss, my excitement was overflowing, but I could sensed that he doubted
my explanation. No one believed me at work until I signed the paperwork, 'Name and
Address of other Party', 'Ralf Schmacher of Germany - Formula 1 Racing Driver'.
The next morning I apprehensively phoned Jordan to explain the situation. I didn't
need to worry at all; they were fully informed and pleasant about the whole affair,
explaining that Jordan would pay the bills in full, with no problems.
After a few days I rang Jordan again and explained that the whole incident occurred
so quickly that I didn't ask Ralf for his autograph. Jordan agreed to make the
necessary arrangements. I was contacted again almost immediately and Jordan
asked me if I would like to visit the Jordan factory and meet Ralf Schumacher at
one of Silverstone testing sessions. I agreed without hesitation.
On Thursday 15th October 1998 I arrived at Jordan's Silverstone Factory with my
Formula One fanatical daughters, Jackie, Tracey and Clare. They were and still are
David Coulthard and Jean Alesi fans, but were more than willing to visit Jordan and
meet Ralf. I introduced myself at Reception and asked for Jim Vale the Racing Team
Manager. Jim was to take us all around the factory, the Silverstone Garage, Pits and
Paddock. Not forgetting, most important, a meeting with Ralf for myself and the
daughters. Jim took us on a comprehensive tour of the factory explaining all the small
details. He soon described his role within the Jordan Formula 1 Team and explained
that his main job was the 'Lollypop Man' on race days. We saw all the departments,
some rather quickly, including the design area, test areas and the workshops. We
even photographed ourselves with the actual cars that were shortly going to be boxed
and transported to Japan for the final race of the season. We actually touched Damon
Hill's Jordan Mugan Honda 198 car.
Soon it was time to visit the Silverstone Circuit and meet Ralf. We drove over to the
Paddock and parked near the Jordan Garage for the day. We entered the rear of the
garage and saw Ralf with his car. He was obviously very busy, testing alongside the
Jordan Test Driver, Pedro de la Rosa and his car. We were asked to stop to the edge
of the garage and wait for Ralf to meet us at 5:00pm, the end of the testing session.
It was all happening right in front of our eyes. Ralf and Pedro were in and out like yo
yos. A small adjustment here and there to the cars before they were on the track
again. At one stage we stood in the pit lane, nothing else in sight, except Ralf's
Jordan returning to the garage for another adjustment. Raft sped straight towards
us, only to turn and stop at the last split second, ready for the crew to push the car
back into the garage. Was the pit speed limiter on? We will never know. All too
quickly the test session had ended and Ralf came over to us. He wouldn't shake
my hand until he had been introduced to the daughters. The girls asked Ralf if he
remembered me and he said he did. Then, catastrophe, my camera locked, I could
not take any more photos, what timing, how annoying, to put it politely. Ralf said
goodbye and off he went for his day's be-briefing. We thanked Ralf and Jordan for
our 'Formula 1 Fan's Perfect Day'. Now it is all a memory, just the photos to remind
us of an unexpected heavenly day with Ralf and Jordan.
Thank you, to Eddie Jordan, Ralf and Jim from Derek, Jackie, Tracey and Clare.