Paddock mourns Minardi's "John Boy"

Pitlane Diary
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The Independent Online

Saturday: A shadow is cast over the Silverstone paddock by the news that Minardi sporting director John Walton, 47, known with great affection as "John Boy", passed away peacefully the previous night.

Wednesday: "I had that Felipe Massa in the back of my cab." Doubtless the hackney carriage operator regaling friends with that story will omit to tell them that he delivered the fuchsia-loving Brazilian to the Carlton Towers in Knightsbridge by mistake, instead of to a function at Cabot Square in Docklands.

Thursday: Sir Jackie Stewart, escorting the Duke of Kent around Silverstone, attacks Bernie Ecclestone, accusing him of using the "F1 comes to Regent Street" demonstration as a blackmail tool against the circuit, as Ecclestone puts out a press statement (rarer than F1 cars in the capital) denying that a deal has been done with Silverstone beyond 2004.

Friday: A phone call from Alex Zanardi, who is to race-driver heroism what Douglas Bader was to fighter pilots. The English-language version of his best-selling life story is to be published by Haynes in September. He writes as elegantly as he drives, and his charisma shines through every sentence. This is the best driver autobiography I have ever read, a fascinating, poignant yet hilarious story of a racer who became an even bigger man after losing his legs. It's an affirmation of everything uplifting about the human spirit. Read it, and weep.

Bernie Ecclestone allegedly threatens to "wrap Stewart's kilt round his head". Best line on the BCE v BRDC celebrity boxing match comes from the grandprix.com website: "At this time of year threats against the British Grand Prix are as predictable as the massive hype that precedes the departure from Wimbledon of local hero Tim Henman."

Yesterday: While Regent Street was en fête for its F1 demonstration on Tuesday, ITV's Louise Goodman held a vigil at St Thomas's Hospital after partner John Walton, 47, suffered three serious heart attacks. A shadow is cast over the Silverstone paddock by the news that Walton, known with great affection as "John Boy", passed away peacefully the previous night. He was the first member of Eddie Jordan's team, Ayrton Senna's mechanic at Toleman in 1984 and, since 2002, Minardi's sporting director.

Speculation continues about whether there could be two grands prix in England, one at Silverstone, one in London. West End councillor Ian Wilding is adamant funding won't be a problem for the latter. "There are three factors: money; congestion; and safety. We have 75 per cent of all the five-star hotel bedrooms in the UK here, we want tourists to come and spend like demons. If we get a grand prix in the West End, you can add far north of £1bn of revenue. We have the potential to make the biggest city-centre sporting event in the world."

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum, of Dubai's ruling family, says he is in talks to buy and run a Formula One team to be based in the Gulf emirate, triggering speculation that Silverstone-based Eddie Jordan is about to sell up. That explains why a week ago on the grid in Magny-Cours Jordan denied point-blank any potential deal with Bahraini investors.

Today: Celebrities will abound on race day. Among those listed to visit are actors Angelina Jolie, Rupert Grint (Harry Potter), Tamzin Outhwaite, Nick Moran and Liam Cunningham; from football, Dennis Bergkamp, Sami Hyypia and manager David O'Leary; from entertainment The Beach Boys, Dannii Minogue, Jodie Kidd, Vernon Kay and Tess Daly, Jennifer Ellison, Kerry MacFadden, Emma Noble, Jordan and Emma B; and politicians John Prescott, Geoff Hoon, Richard Caborn and Peter Hain. Racing faces include former F1 stars Derek Warwick and Cliff Allison.

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