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Jones claims he was paid to fake illness, miss 1985 South African GP

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1980 Formula 1 world champion Alan Jones has revealed in a new autobiography that he was paid to fake illness and miss the 1985 South African Grand Prix in order to avoid sparking controversy with chief sponsor Beatrice.

The 1985 grand prix at Kyalami was staged in the height of apartheid in South Africa, prompting a number of manufacturers and teams to boycott the race in protest. Jones raced for Haas Lola at the time, the team enjoying backing from American company Beatrice Foods.

“US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson had said that if a 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,” Jones wrote in an extract of his autobiography published by news.com.au.

“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.”

The solution? An idea thought up by F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone in the days leading up to the race.

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

“‘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.’

“‘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,’ [Ecclestone said].

“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.”

Minus Jones, the race went ahead with 20 races, with Nigel Mansell leading Williams to a one-two finish.

F1 did not return to South Africa until the end of apartheid, the next grand prix taking place at Kyalami in 1992.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.