• Book review: I Just Made the Tea - Di Spires

The human side of Formula One

Chris Medland August 21, 2012
Di Spires' book is described as "Tales from 30 years inside Formula One" © ESPNF1

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 dream, and we haven't regretted one minute of it" - and not everyone is a positive story. Corrupt police in Mexico and armed robbery in Brazil are a few of the 'lowlights' when Spires even questions the morality of racing in some regions.

The Benetton chapters are the most entertaining, and with Flavio Briatore at the helm that should hardly be a surprise. The building of Di and Stuart's relationship with Schumacher and the trust placed in them by Briatore depicts how important a part of the team they felt, while Spires also reveals how the team smuggled a stripper in to the paddock and all had t-shirts made to take the mickey out of Ross Brawn.

There's a sense of looking back with rose-tinted spectacles; especially with the end of the book comparing the hospitality units of today with how Di and Stuart worked, but that's to be expected. It could probably read more smoothly -the help comes from Bernard Ferguson whose background is with Cosworth rather than publishing - but that adds to the feeling that you're receiving these stories over a lunch. While that means Spires goes off on a few tangents, the short length of the chapters - 33 in total - makes it an easy enough read to pick up and put down at will.

For the most part, each chapter is full of light-hearted anecdotes and funny pranks that took place behind the scenes, usually involving the like of Nelson Piquet, Johnny Herbert or a number of other drivers, as well as the mechanics and engineers.

Where the book excels is in its insight in to the 'normal' side of Formula One; the human touch is so evident in many chapters, not least the one titled 'The caring side of Formula 1 - yes, really!' And that's what makes it stand out, because even in this day and age of specialist Formula One channels and social networking, the day-to-day interactions between those in the paddock remain largely unseen.

Title: I Just Made the Tea
Author: Di Spires (with Bernard Ferguson)
Published by: Haynes
Price: £17.99