Australian Formula 1 legend Alan Jones has revealed in a new autobiography that he was paid to feign illness and miss the controversial 1985 South African Grand Prix in order to avoid sparking outrage with a team backer.

The 1985 race at Kyalami was held in the height of apartheid in South Africa during P. W. Botha’s state of emergency, prompting teams such as Renault and Ligier to withdraw in boycott.

Jones raced for the Haas-Lola team that was partly bankrolled by Beatrice Foods, a large American company that could not be seen to condone apartheid.

In an extract of his autobiography published by news.com.au, Jones reveals the plan that was formulated with F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone in order to avoid sparking controversy.

“During the Friday I was summoned to see Bernie Ecclestone in his penthouse. Not sure what I had done this time, I fronted up,” Jones wrote.

“As I went in the door Bernie said, ‘How do you feel?’ Standard greeting, although he had a look in his eye, I gave him a standard reply, ‘Pretty good, thanks.’

“‘What do you think your chances are of winning the race tomorrow?’ he asked.

“Again, I felt no need to be subtle: ‘Bernie, I think you know the answer to that question. If I start now, probably pretty good.’

“‘Well, I’ve got a bit of an idea. If you pull up sick and can’t run again this weekend, we’ll give you first-place prize money. Go home and visit Australia.’

“Beatrice car raced in South Africa he was going to get all of the black workers - thousands of them - at Beatrice around the US to go on strike. Beatrice couldn’t be seen to be backing down to an individual like him, but if they didn’t back down there was a chance of the strike.

“So Bernie came up with an idea. ‘If the driver falls crook and can’t drive, then the Beatrice car doesn’t race. It’s a force majeure. Jesse Jackson can’t get on his soapbox and say, ‘I forced that company to withdraw,’ and he also couldn’t call a strike because the car didn’t race.’

“The idea was that I would wait until Saturday morning when everyone went to the circuit. I would quietly check out, and jump on a plane to Harare to get home (because Qantas wouldn’t fly to South Africa).

“And so, on the Saturday morning I was gone. I just didn’t turn up. They had the car out ready to go, when they were told, ‘AJ’s been struck down by a virus and we are not racing.’

“I made a miraculous recovery for the Australian Grand Prix, which was just as well.”

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment