Getting a puncture is generally pretty annoying. But it’s even more irritating when you can’t see what’s caused it. Even Kwikfit couldn’t find why the Audi A3’s rear nearside tyre had lost pressure. But as I had some miles to cover that weekend, and the tyre wouldn’t stay inflated, I wasn’t in a position to wait for a detailed investigation. A new tyre was sourced quickly, fitted and I was on my way with the old carcass in the boot while I figure out how to work out why it went down.
It ain’t sexy… but it got me home
The puncture did enable me to discover three things. The Tyre Pressure Monitoring System fitted to the A3 does actually work and informed me something was awry before the tyre became dangerously flat. The A3’s jack and space saver spare were easy and efficient to use in my hour of need. And after ringing my local independent tyre fitter, Blackcircles.com and Kwikfit, the latter proved the cheapest more than £20 less than my local garage.
Puncture aside, the A3 is proving the perfect travelling companion. It might not have the extra room, or doors, of the Sportback but there haven’t been many complaints from the 12-year-old daughter who invariably ends up in the back. The boot has proved more than adequate too, long enough for a Christmas tree, and commodious enough for old carpet and underlay from two medium sized rooms in one go.
The A3’s 2.0 turbo diesel pulls strongly and according to the onboard computer appears to be returning economy in the late 40s. Even though I’ve engaged the Efficiency Programme which gives me ‘helpful’ (read slightly patronising) advice such as ‘Use Start/Stop’, economy remains disappointingly shy of the claimed 68.9mpg.
The winter’s extreme rain enabled me to put the automatic wipers to the test more than I would have liked and they’re the best I’ve come across so far. Unlike examples from other makers which either don’t come on as soon as you want and then remain wiping manically when the rain has stopped, the A3’s system appears to judge conditions as I would.
The winter tyres have proved themselves too. In the various cold spells, while everyone around me slithered and skidded to a stop, PJJ’s progress was serene. Even up the relatively steep hill to my house the traction control light resolutely refused to illuminate. Only being brutishly heavy footed – in the name of research obviously – caused it to wink and the front wheels to scrabble on the snow. It somehow made the extra expense of replacing the punctured winter tyre worthwhile.
When I was a kid back in the early 70s I lost a Corgi James Bond Aston Martin DB5. I remember the traumatic events well. I was on a walk with my parents. We stopped on a bench for a rest, I put down the Aston and a Jaguar D-type ‑ my two favourite toy cars ‑ and when we left, there they stayed. Of course we went back but astonishingly in that apparently deserted wood there was another toy car fan who had made off with my cars. Bugger. I’ve still got the D-type’s little white plastic driver to this day, a memento to my youthful forgetfulness.
Anyway, the point of this is that the Aston Martin is highly collectible now. If you’ve got one that’s immaculate, in its box with the spare villain to be propelled out through the sun roof via working ejector seat, you’re looking at £800. Other models of the era are similarly valuable.
Of course condition is the key. The rubber tyres apparently perish with age and models that weren’t manufactured in any great volume will always be the most valuable. As will cars that are in their boxes. And that’s where it all goes wrong. When you’re a five-year old car fan, you’re not interested in the packaging. You just want to get your hands on the treasure within and start scooting it along the kitchen floor. And let’s be honest, boxes back then could be pretty rudimentary affairs anyway. Saving the packaging was never top of the agenda.
Neither was preserving the condition. I had a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. It was in a metallic red paint. Beautiful. Until it got battered against various skirting boards. So what did I do? Repainted it of course. By hand. It looked worse than in its battered state and now it’s pretty much worthless.
Of course collectors themselves don’t have a great image. You might imagine grown men who spend too much time with their mothers. I would too, except I know a couple of collectors; one of them’s in the family. And they’re both remarkably normal. They collect because people collect things. That their collections will be worth a small fortune in the fullness of time is a happy by product. Did they collect as kids? Of course not. And that’s why their equivalents who stashed toy cars away in attics in their boxes in the 60s and 70s so they’re now in immaculate condition with their boxes were actually remarkably sensible. Even if they did live with their mums…
One of the stranger evenings I’ve had was spent with Michael Schumacher, Eddie Irvine and a model at the Dorchester Hotel. First a bit of house keeping. The model was Irvine’s girlfriend of the time (it was 1996). And we weren’t doing the sort of things footballers are famous for doing in hotel rooms. We were in a private part of the Dorchester’s Chinese restaurant.
At the time I knew Eddie pretty well. I was ghost writing a magazine column for him and he was in London for a Ferrari sponsor do. He asked me if I wanted to meet for a drink and after we’d had a couple he casually mentioned Michael was joining us. And that’s how I found myself having dinner with the reigning F1 world champion of the time. I found Schumacher quiet, a bit shy and quite serious but with remarkable humility. He didn’t appear over burdened with charisma but in the company of Irvine that was unsurprising.
The next time I met him was a couple of years later. I’d gone to Monza in Italy where he was testing to interview him. My plane was late departing so I was late arriving at the track. Schumacher however knew I was coming and altered his schedule to fit me in. After we’d done the interview, we carried on talking about life; the pain of delayed planes, sleepless nights as a dad of young kids and road cars, something he’s fascinated with.
For those reasons I’ve always had a soft spot for Schumacher. And unlike the rest of the world I’ve enjoyed his comeback. This year he’s had the better of Nico Rosberg in qualifying and when his car hasn’t broken he’s proved there’s plenty of fight left in him. And at 43 he’s a man.
Without wishing to get all homo erotic about this, when I got into F1 the drivers were all men. James Hunt won his title aged 29. In 1978, the top three in the championship, Mario Andretti, Ronnie Peterson and Carlos Reutemann, were 38, 34 and 36 respectively. Now most drivers still have spots and are generally viewed as past it when they get to 33. For us older geezers, 43-year-old Schumi is driving proof that age doesn’t have to count against you.
When double Paralympic gold medallist Alex Zanardi first featured on my radar it was 1991 and he was driving for an Italian team called Il Barone Rampante (The Rampant Baron). Colleagues close to the team alleged that rather than driver debriefs, its motorhome was used mainly for the rampant snorting of white powder. It was an ‘interesting’ environment, not least for Zanardi who unassisted by the devil’s dandruff was attempting to win a major motor racing championship.
I met him first eight years later on his second coming to Formula One. I interviewed him two thirds of the way through the year. Things weren’t going well. He hadn’t scored a point and as it turned out wasn’t going to. But he was punctual, polite and gave full attention to my questions about how he could turn his season around. Some of his erstwhile fellows – stand up please Ralf Schumacher – managed to hide those qualities remarkably well.
Three years later I spoke to a very different Alex Zanardi. His Formula One career had ended and racing an IndyCar he’d lost his legs in a horrific crash. Yet the same competitive instinct and trade mark good humour was present.
Asked if he wanted to give son Niccolo a sibiling, he laughed: “No, (wife) Daniela is happy with one. I would like more, and believe me I could! I might have lost my legs but I’m still capable. All the blood that was in my legs has to go somewhere!” And you couldn’t keep that grin away. You might have wondered if Ralf Schumacher, his one-time Williams team mate, had been in touch after Zanardi’s life-changing crash. Again, that broad grin: “That’s a ridiculous question! Ralf can drive a car quickly but not much more. Of course he hasn’t called me.”
Rather than wallow in self-pity, the overriding impression he gave was of a man determined to continue enjoying life. He’d designed his own prosthetic legs after growing frustrated with the ones he’d been given. And one of the other memorable quotes in the interview was when he said: “I have so much in my life.” Now of course he has even more: two Olympic gold medals and the promise that a US team will provide a car for the legendary Indy 500 oval race. Don’t bet against it happening.
Why does it seem to be the law that the BBC has to have pundits that can’t speak English?
I spend a lot of time at weekends listening to Radio 5 Live. One of their football pundits (I’d name him if I could remember his name) seems to have real problems with his verb tenses. Sorry mate but: “He’s came into the box” isn’t English. Neither is: “He’s went and done that.”
But at least I know what he’s getting at. Listen to the F1 coverage and you have the slick skills of James Allen on the one hand. And then there’s Jaime Algersuari. His English is an awful lot better than my Spanish. And he’s obviously a much better driver than me. Shame his English isn’t good enough to convey that.
You can almost hear his brain whirring as he translates from his native language before adding his pearls of wisdom. Which actually don’t bring any kind of wisdom at all. As far as I can see his only function is to give Allen the chance to have a rest and a mouthful of water. The result is you could have just about any F1 fan sitting in the pundit’s seat and they’d probably bring more value to the show.
Then on the BBC there’s Eddie Jordan, another commentator for whom English is a second language. Trouble is, he’s got an ego too. The result is complete gibberish most of the time. As Eddie Irvine recently said: “He waffles and waffles and doesn’t say anything. He goes round and round and hopes that by the end you’ll have forgotten what the question was because he sure has.” To the point as ever.