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By Ian Hughes 26/07 Updated: 31/07 09:50
SMUGGLING the late great Ayrton Senna to a Belgian chip shop is not something many can claim to have undertaken as part of their working lives.
But then the working life of Di and Stuart Spires has been far from the nine to five of most people.
The couple have for the past 30 years spent much of their time travelling the world with a succession of different F1 teams running the team motorhomes and looking after the drivers.
And Di has now penned a book titled I Just Made the Tea telling the story of Formula 1 from a unique viewpoint.
Working for Lotus in the Senna era, and Benetton in the Schumacher years, Di witnessed first-hand the antics and tragic events of motor racing at the highest level.
Di and Stuart, an unassuming couple from Alcester, became ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ to generations of F1 drivers, team owners, mechanics and entertainment superstar fans.
Di explained how it all began.
"Both myself and Stuart were motor racing fans, who used to go to Silverstone and Brands Hatch with family and friends.
"Stuart then turned a Volkswagen van into a caravanette and we went to Grand Prix in Belgium, Germany and France.
"We knew someone who worked for one of the teams, and were invited into the paddock, which was a lot easier to do then, where we saw people doing a barbecue for Team Lotus.
The couple thought they could do the same and put an advert in a motor racing magazine offering their services.
They were hired by the team of the late John Suertes in 1978 and never looked back. Di gave up her job as a civil servant, and Stuart his working as an inspector of generators.
They started working in Europe, before being invited over to America and Canada, and later to the likes of Australia, Japan and Brazil.
And Di has seen some major changes in the eating habits of drivers.
"The drivers never really bothered what they ate when we started. They just ate what the mechanics and other team members ate.
"Then the era of pasta started, but the big change came when Michael Schumacher was advised to have a dietitian and a trainer. It was chaos. I had his dietitian in the kitchen trying to cook lentils and other pulses.
"Now all the drivers watch what they eat."
Not so three times world champion Senna while in Belgium one year. Not wanting to attend a sponsor's function, he said he was too tired, and instead asked Di and Stuart if he could go along with them to the local chip shop in Spa. Di insisted he change his distinctive Team Lotus jacket and put a cap on so as not to be recognised, and the three of them slipped out of the circuit under a gate, and sat on the pavement eating chips in the town centre.
F1 attracts many superstar fans, and Di has met many a famous face, and remembers the first one well..
"We were in Monte Carlo for our first Grand Prix, and in walked George Harrison. I was a massive Beatles fan and it was difficult to stay calm, but I managed it, and served him some cakes."
There has been much laughter along the way, but also sorrow, most notably the tragic deaths of drivers Elio de Angelis and their close friend Senna.
She recalls the weekend of Senna's death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.
"There was an eeriness about the whole weekend. Something did not feel right. I still cannot explain it."
The world of hospitality in FI has been transformed during the time Di and Stuart have been involved. It has gone from small vans and barbecues to self-assembly buildings transported around by 30 lorries.
During their career the couple have also worked in the rally world and more recently at motorbike grand prix.
Di and Stuart have moved with the times, and while semi-retired, they still own a hospitality articulated vehicle, ready to hit the road when the call comes.
And it's hard to image the couple saying no should that call come.
The book features forewards by legendary F1 commentator Murray Walker and Michael Schumacher.
* Di will be signing copies of I Just Made the Tea, published by Haynes, at Waterstones in Stratford on Saturday (July 28) from 11am to 4pm, and for those that have bought the book on Amazon or from other bookshops, at Nino’s Lavinotec in Alcester on Wednesday (August 1), from 5.30pm to 8pm. She will also have copies available for people to buy on the evening.
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