Wednesday 25 April 2018

Irish F1 driver: I should have run Rosberg's dad off track

GRUDGE: Tommy Byrne
GRUDGE: Tommy Byrne
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Last weekend, Tommy Byrne watched Nico Rosberg become Formula One's newest world champion. If things had gone differently, it could have been a title held by the Dundalk man.

During Byrne's only season in Formula One in 1982, Rosberg's father, Keke, won the championship. He is the reason Byrne did not want to see Rosberg Junior win last week.

After 34 years, Byrne still holds a grudge against the championship-winning family and admitted he considered deliberately crashing into the senior Rosberg during the 1980s.

"Once he hit me across the head while shouting at me to stay out of his way,'' he said.

"He was another f***ing guy who, I don't know if he was annoyed that I got into Formula One too quick - and I didn't seem to get in his way too much, but he was always giving me the finger out on the track.

"I didn't want to see his kid win the World Championship because of that.

"He was a d*** to me for no reason. In the last race of the year Keke Rosberg was going to win the championship in Vegas.

"He was coming up behind me and I looked in the mirror and thought, 'this might be a good time to f***ing take him out. Just when he came up beside me I thought I better not do that. I let him go and he came by and waved."

There is no doubt Byrne had the talent and speed to grace the top step of the podium and dice with motorsport's best.

Eddie Jordan is adamant he was better than Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, who between them hold 10 world titles.

It was Byrne's refusal to conform to the politics of the sport and an inability to buy his way into the big teams with a bevy of wealthy sponsors that hindered his progress.

All Byrne wanted to do is drive. "I learned my craft on the Irish roads when I was young, just riding around with my friends going back and forth,'' he said.

"There were jumps we used to do over bumps in the road at more than 60mph and the car would take off."

Much has been written about his exploits away from the track. After F1, he went to Mexico via a stint in America against Jordan's advice and earned some big pay days. However, he also ended up mixing with some suspicious characters, including a Mexican drug lord who went on to shoot at Byrne before drowning in a swimming pool and leaving more than $40m to his wife.

"He would give my team money. I would let him know what we needed and he would go and get it because he liked me a lot,'' Byrne added.

"I would always try and get friendly with people to try and get sponsorship, but then he became a friend.

"That is how it was for all of my career.

''You go and use them and then get friendly.

"I snorted cocaine, I did crystal meth, I tried everything except heroin. I did smoke pot a lot because I liked it."

Now in his 50s, he is a grandfather forging a career as a racing instructor.

He would never want to see his sons follow him into racing but insists he has no regrets.

His life story has been immortalised in a movie, Crash and Burn, which premiered in Dundalk and Dublin last week.

He thinks things could have been very different, saying: "There is no money in racing so I would never advise it to my kids or grandkids.

"When I was racing I didn't think I was the best driver in the world, I knew I was the best.

"If you don't make it, nobody gives a s***. That's how I feel now."

Sunday Independent

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