With a job like mine that takes you around the world, you get the chance to meet a lot of people. Smart people, wealthy people, super-wealthy people, famous people, and also some wise guys and an arrogant jerk or two... Basically, all sorts of people and a whole lot of folks.
I was lucky to meet a lot of top level drivers when they were still in their “karting days”, like Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Robert Kubica, Lewis Hamilton, and Paul Di Resta, just to name some. I’m still in touch with some them. I’m as people-friendly as a bear in hibernation, but somehow I got to meet a lot of famous guys over the years, in motorsports and beyond.
For instance, I traveled to Australia to visit 5-time world motorcycle champion Mick Doohan: he’s a really nice guy, very down to earth. We spent the whole day flying in his helicopter and I got to see whales swim in the ocean and the gorgeous city of Gold Coast and then he took me back to his house where he has this great collection of motorcycles and career memorabilia. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Deep were shooting a new movie and they were actually staying with him and were supposed to join us for dinner. Thank goodness they didn’t! Who’d believed me?
Another VIP I got to meet is Jo Ramirez, the legendary McLaren Team Principal back in the days of Senna, Hakkinen, and so on. When Lewis Hamilton was racing for Top Kart I used go to McLaren every month to report about his progress. Ron Dennis was all the rage back then and he’s not the warmest guy on earth. Instead, Jo was a whole other deal: Mexican born, very well mannered, real nice, he’s always ready to tell you a story or some fun anecdote. He moved to Europe with the Rodriguez brothers in the 1960s and worked for several teams before landing in McLaren. Life has often brought us back together, when we lest expected it. Like when I accidentally ran into him at the Los Angeles airport and we spent the whole flight from LA to London talking up a storm. He’d just retired and was spending his days between his home in southern France and Spain. We ran into each other again at the Thousand Miles. I found him sitting a couple of cars behind my Austin Healey on grid, at the wheel of a 1954 Jaguar; so for the following 4 days we met up after track time and spent every meal together. Another time, on a flight from Milan Malpensa to Buenos Aires I met Luciano Benetton. He still owned Team Benetton at the time. He was sitting next to me, on the other side of the hallway. You’d think a guy like this would travel on his private jet or something like that, instead he was with his wife and another couple like regular folks. He started talking to me when he saw me read Autosprint. At one point, in the middle of our excited conversation, I mentioned that I dealt with go karts. So he asked his wife to trade places with me. We ended up talking shop for 12 hours. He was super informed about his team, but also about the young drivers who were ready to step into F1. We actually talked a lot about rugby too: I’m a huge fan and he was sponsor for the Rugby Treviso team.