Highly-acclaimed F1 photographer, Charles Coates, selects his personal favourite images in this exclusive series. Charles (otherwise known as “Tootall”) has been working professionally in F1 since 1989, mainly for LAT (London Art Tech) but also as a freelance. A familiar, unmissable figure at F1 races, Toots has forged close friendships with many of the great Grand Prix drivers and team personnel over the past 30 years. He shares some of those bonds in these videos – as well as giving us an insight into life on the F1 road.
LAT is one of the largest of F1’s photographic agencies. Founded and still run by the Tee family (“Old Man” Tee; Michael Tee; Steven Tee), the massive LAT archive includes images from the 1950s through to 2021. The Tee family also founded Motoring News and Motor Sport magazine.
Shortly before he passed away in 2017 I recorded an interview with Sir John Whitmore in his Surrey, England, apartment. The subject: his friendship with Steve McQueen. Now, with Alex Rodger’s superb documentary, “Steve McQueen: The Lost Movie” being screened on Sky TV (UK) and Now TV (on-line app), I felt it was the right time to post the interview on YouTube. I initially divided it into segments so that it could be enjoyed on and around the days of Alex’s film but now here they all are, on one page, so to speak. Enjoy.
The portrait of Sir John above was painted by another close friend of Sir John’s – Brian Caldersmith. He created it without Sir John’s knowledge but then invited him along to an art gallery where it was on display. Sir John, for once, was lost for words.
A very talented Aussie, Brian also owns a period Lotus Elite – and offered the Elite for Sir John to drive at the Tasman Revival in Sydney a few years back. He also managed to re-unite Sir John with Chis Barber, of Jazz Band fame. Chris was a massive motor racing fan in the 1960s, co-owning a race team for which Sir John raced and even providing the title and background music for that epic film of the 1964 British and European GP – “Brands Hatch Beat”. Here is a pic of Brian (foreground, left), Warren King (ex-Team Lotus accountant and brother of my local vicar in Manly, Sydney, where I grew up!), Sir John and Chris. Chris isn’t too well at present, so we wish him all the best. They all met one day at Potter’s Bar in between flights/gigs/meetings/train trips.
Finally, the image below is not only my favourite of Sir John at work but also one of the most atmospheric motor racing photographs I’ve ever seen. It’s a shot of Sir John testing an Alan Mann Ford GT40 at Goodwood in early 1965. The corner is Fordwater – the very quick right-hander – and the attitude is pure, unadulterated, DSJ-spec, cold-early-morning, mist-in-the-air, four-wheel-drift. The photographer, kneeling down on the apex grass? None other than Alan Mann himself.
In both apartments in which I frequently met Sir John, chatting about racing and life, this photo hung in glory. Although he had luckily escaped uninjured from a massive GT40 testing shunt at Monza in 1964, when the throttle stuck open going into the Curva Grande, Sir John always said that “Fordwater Drift” summed-up everything he loved about driving nice racing cars on crisp, West Sussex days and balancing them on the most delicate of razor-sharp edges. About these emotions, he even composed the following poem:
Long winter shadows, afternoon chill;
Life in the meadows is dormant or still.
The cuckoo has flown, the crowd is long gone;
The driver’s alone, but still he drives on.
And so it goes on, the search for the Grail;
The circuit he’s on, it but a trail.
There’s always a race that keeps us from grace.
If only we knew, if only he knew, the quest never ends for it never begins;
Nigel Roebuck, F1’s premiere journalist/ historian, became a Moss fan from the moment he saw him race at Oulton Park in the early 1950s. In this new four-part video series he recounts personal memories of Stirl – the driver he grew to know well and whom he considers to be the best that ever lived.
I’ve known Jonathan Williams for most of his life; indeed, here’s a pic I took of him with his Dad, sister and Ralt-Honda’s Dr Jonathan Palmer at the 1983 Thruxton Easter Monday F2 meeting. (What happened to THAT race? We used to LOVE Easter Monday Thruxton. What an atmosphere!) Jonny has always been, and is today, a rock-solid racer – by which I mean that he’s never been interested in the glamour or the glitz or the money or the status but instead has loved the sport and its people and its heritage with a genuine passion. That wonderful trait may have cost him a little in terms of family politics but for my money he is an expert who can talk motor racing 24/7 if he feels so inclined. Like his Dad, he’s a stickler for detail; like his Mum, he genuinely cares about people and about what is right. And, like all true racers, he isn’t swayed by #TRENDS or #TODAY’S STARS. He makes up his own mind; he forms his opinions on what he sees and what he knows – not on what social media tells him.
Thus his respect for Jacques Villeneuve and Pastor Maldonado; thus his friendship with Juan Pablo Montoya. Thus his perception of young driving talent and team priorities when he was working closely with iSport and Supernova. So what if he flies in the face of popular opinion? Jonny has his own mind – and he uses it well.
So we were chatting the other day, as we do, and we began to talk about some of the best of Williams days. I was stunned by Jonny’s eloquence and historical recollection. I was stunned by the word-pictures he was quickly able to draft.
I decided that we should schedule another chat about the same subject – and that I should film it for posterity. Not for instant clickbait but for the people out there who love racing and racing drivers and who live in awe of what is achievable.
A big thankyou to AP Archive for their wonderful footage from Watkins Glen, 1980, and to our friends Peder Coerts and Filmcollectief for the stunning Zandvoort, 1979, paddock video shots. Very little of this footage has been seen before – whichmakes me wonder how much more 8mm there might be out there, shot by enthusiasts at the time? If you have anything pre-1981, please let us know in the comments section below.
I’d also like to thank the outstanding Peter Nygaard (right), who took many of the photographs. I counsel you to visit his Grand Prix Photo website on the GP Photo widget here and to peruse his stunning body of work. I should add that Peter is also a major Jim Clark fan 🙂 The shot on the GP Photo widget, incidentally, is from Monza, 1963, and I think that’s Geki Russo in the background. Geki, sadly, would be one of the three drivers to lose his life at Caserta in that catastrophic F3 race in 1967. And that’s the very elegant Geoffrey Charles of The Times next to Jim in the sea-island cotton long-sleeved polo shirt. Note, too, how nicely-ironed are Jim’s blue Dunlop overalls.
Anyway, moving swiftly back to today, here is the WilliamsF1 list, from ten down to one, of the races selected by Jonny: