As a Formula One fan, you’ve probably spent many a time dreaming of getting a job in the paddock that enabled you to travel the world with the sport, attending every race and being able to work alongside various drivers and team-members. Chances are you’re not even too fussy about exactly what that job is, either.
Well Di and Stuart Spires were exactly the same as you, and I Just Made the Tea is Di’s collection of stories from within the paddock (and outside it) from 30 years in the sport. Having broken in during the early days of hospitality with Surtees, the couple learnt on the job and worked for Tyrrell, Lotus and Benetton among others as they became known as Mum and Dad to the Formula One fraternity.
Don’t let the cartoon-style front cover put you off; just take a look at the photograph on the back of Spires with Ayrton Senna and Elio de Angelis if you need any convincing about how popular she was with the drivers. That the foreword is provided by Michael Schumacher also displays the insight you should expect, with Schumacher saying: “I very quickly got used to calling Di ‘Mum’ without any embarrassment. Not only because I understood that nearly everybody in the paddock called her this, but more so because she and Stuart were caring for me so much during my Benetton time that I really saw them as parents, somehow.”
In their roles both Di and Stuart were obviously privy to a lot of conversations and confidential information, to such an extent that in Murray Walker’s foreword he says: “No one knew the Formula 1 and World Rally scenes better than Di, but if she is really going to tell us everything she knows about us I hope she’s got a good lawyer!”
The stories are wide-ranging and stir various emotions. One minute you’re smiling at the idea of the Benetton lung-testing device that covers the unwitting participant in black paint powder, the next you’re touched by the description of de Angelis’ last moments; Di and Stuart were present at Paul Ricard on the day of his fatal crash in 1986 and had got close to de Angelis during their time together at Lotus.
Don’t expect excessive technical detail, this is one woman’s memoirs which are told from the perspective of a fan as much as an employee. However, that means it’s a good read for motorsport fans in general too. The experiences are relatable, and the latter chapters even include a spell away from Formula One with Ford in the World Rally Championship and two years of Le Mans before ending their Formula One time at Bridgestone.
Such a varied background and mix of championships results in recollections that are located in every corner of the world – “We have travelled enough to fulfil two lifetimes, all due to following a
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