Formula One in my day

Formula One in my day. Having worked behind the lens for more than 30 years, Charles Briscoe-Knight picks his favourite shots from the glory days of grand prix racing. Words and Photography Charles Briscoe-Knight.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS?  Snapper Charles Briscoe-Knight dons rose-tinted specs to remember F1 past.

Duke Ellington once sang that Things ain’t what they used to be, but that could have been sung by Bernie Ecclestone every year in the many of his reign at the helm of F1. The expression has real resonance in my mind, having started photographing the sport in the ’60s and gone right through to Schumacher’s dominance. It was truly inspiring for a young kid to pay a reasonable entrance fee, watch the action unimpeded by chicken wire, visit the paddock for free and meet the drivers up close. The likes of Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham and Jackie Stewart were at the threshold when the F1 game all changed, and sponsorship became a key factor in shaping how the sport grew. At that time they were all accessible, and not just to the media: no corrals with PR managers taping their every word, but true stars interacting with genuine fans. You would never see any one of these gentlemen refusing an autograph.

Left: “James Hunt signs autographs in the pits, in 1977. To me, the proximity of the fans to the stars back in the day is what is missing from modern F1. There is no fan access, except in very controlled, time-limited walkabouts. Drivers sitting with their team mechanics after practice sessions, signing the odd autograph and talking F1 and motorsport, has all but gone. Today, sadly, barriers, ropes, ‘smart’ passes and the ‘more than my job’s worth’ attitude pervade” Below: “Newly crowned Miss World Cindy Breakspeare dances with Hunt after the ’1976 contest. James and I became friends during his F3 days and he came to several parties I held. One sticks in my mind: a rooftop bash at my north London flat at which he and mentor John Hogan (later of Marlboro sponsorship fame) caused chaos by dropping a cigarette into the box of fireworks. Panic broke out as rockets and Roman candles sent everyone scattering”
Miss World Cindy Breakspeare
Miss World Cindy Breakspeare

Right: “Ayrton Senna in conversation with Ron Dennis and Steve Nichols at the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix, a race won by Senna. I was working for Goodyear at the time and was asked by Leo Mehl – then boss of the Goodyear F1 programme – to take some pictures of him, Ron and Ayrton with the trophy in the pit after the race. All were full of smiles, but Ayrton just turned his back and walked away. A mercurial man, but always on the edge. I didn’t care much for him from that moment on”
“James Hunt signs autographs in the pits, in 1977
James Hunt signs autographs in the pits, in 1977

Wandering down the pitlane, snapping Clark, Stewart, Hunt, Senna, Andretti et al, it truly felt like a Golden Era for the sport. To settle down for lunch over the three days with a team or sponsor and be part of the Formula One family was sensational. Many drivers became friends: ‘Our Nige’ was a terrific golfer – who drove the buggy like a bat out of hell – and we often played in the days leading up to a grand prix.

Today, with the many changes in regulations and unbelievable politics, an almost clinical atmosphere prevails – especially in the paddock. It seems as if the sight of a driver out and about before, during and after a race is a phenomenon. Things ain’t what they used to be…

As a kid, just starting secondary school, the inspiration that was Jack Brabham got me to attend Brands Hatch in the holidays and seeing him slide that Cooper around the corners was magic. And just look at how Brands used to be – the informality, with officials standing virtually on the track, and the crowds were enormous. The circuit still deserves a presence on the F1 scene”
The start of the Kentish 100 in 1958
Above right: “Nigel Mansell exits the pits at Estoril in 1985, during his time with Williams. I look at this image now and see how lucky we members of the International Racing Press Association (IRPA) were. The freedom that Bernie [Ecclestone] gave us was gradually eroded, however, and we were warned by the head of the IRPA – Bernard Cahier – that all of this would change. It did, prompting my exit from the pits, corners and straights”

The start of the Kentish 100 in 1958 Above right: “This image really shows how things have changed for photographers – not even a small concrete block separates the cars from we lucky few. At the same corner today, the authorities keep the snappers back by at least 100 yards, and this on the ‘safe’ side of the track. In this shot taken at the British Grand Prix, held at Silverstone in 1971, Clay Regazzoni in his Ferrari leads Chris Amon in the Matra”

The start of the Kentish 100 in 1958 was where it all began for me
The start of the Kentish 100 in 1958 was where it all began for me


F1 Above: “Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1988. The ability to get this close was fantastic, yet simple: so long as you were accredited, you could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the stars. “Then, as now, even teammates were sworn enemies on track and this shot reflects the mind games these two played, with Senna the inquisitor and Prost the indifferent ‘professor’. What a team it was that Ron Dennis put together!”

F1 “James Hunt and Stirling Moss are on hand for the debut of the shortlived Aston Martin Nimrod in 1981. This shot contains the two most flamboyant, likeable racing stars this country has been fortunate enough to produce. Hunt was a one-off: maybe Lewis [Hamilton] modelled himself on James in his private life, and Ayrton behind the wheel”


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