During the summer of 1990, amid the cauldron that was the International Formula 3000 Championship, the normally affable, polite and all-round good bloke that was Phil Andrews could have been forgiven for committing some form of physical negotiation on one of his adversaries.
The reason? The series only female driver, Giovanna Amati had driven him off the road at 160mph during an innocuous weekday test session. Causing a cataclysmic accident of which Andrews was fortunate to emerge with faculties/ appendages intact, his Reynard 90D was reduced to component form against the unforgiving Oulton Park tyre barrier at Druids corner. He was, quite naturally, a little upset.
It had all started at a baking Hockenheim, a couple of weeks earlier. Andrews takes up the brooding, surreal and perplexing story.
“I was coming up to lap Giovanna during the race. Going in to the last chicane I went passed her and in so doing she had to go off line a little, no more than that. I really thought nothing more of it at all. In fact I was concentrating more on my own problem, as the drinks bag had stopped working pretty early in the race and it was really hot that year. It may even have been the hottest race I ever did.”
A relatively uneventful race harvested an 11th position classification for Andrews. Superpower, the team he was driving for were struggling. A radiator design tweak was stifling them and things had to change and in Giovanna Amati, a firebrand in every sense of the word, they had, without knowing it, their saviour. However this saviour announced herself in a way no one could have imagined.
“I remember getting out of the car in Parc Ferme after the Hockenhiem race and walking back to our temporary pit outside the F1 garages,” says Andrews. “I didn’t see or hear anything behind me but all of a sudden Colin Bennett (Amati’s team manager at CoBRa Motorsport) yelled: ‘Look out Phil’. As I swung around, I saw Amati coming for me with a bottle of water (old school glass variety) in her hand. Let’s just put it this way, she wasn’t going to offer me a drink, not from the way she was carrying it, above her head and with a demonic look on her face!”
Bennett managed to wrest the bottle from her grasp. Andrews was still completely perplexed as to what might have upset her so much. He didn’t give it a second thought. Adrenaline was still pumping; it was just a misunderstanding, right?
“So we rocked up at Oulton Park for the pre-Brands test a couple of weeks later,” says Andrews. “Things were improving for us big time. I had just put some fresh rubber on and I remember coming through the old Knickerbrook, which in 1990 was just a feather off the throttle and then some big commitment to the apex. Amati was going slowly up the hill before Druids, probably on an in-lap. I just crested the rise and she jinked to the left. I honestly couldn’t say whether or not she did it on purpose but it was odd. Whatever, it didn’t really matter at that stage because I was about to have the most terrifying accident of my life!”
Andrews watched in horror as his right front wheel touched Amati’s left rear and the car started to rise up at the front. At approximately 160mph things weren’t going to end well here.
“I can tell you that when a racing car takes off it gets your attention pretty quickly. All I remember seeing was lovely cloudless blue sky. It stayed that way long enough for me to think, ‘Bloody hell, I’m off in to trees here.’ Of course the most terrifying aspect of it was that there was absolutely nothing I could do. No brakes, no steering, just the bloody Cheshire countryside whizzing by to keep me occupied!
Fortunately the Reynard 90D came down. But now Andrews was heading straight towards the tyre barrier at Druids. And he was heading there fast.
“I do remember getting out of the car after the impact and looking backwards and seeing the debris field which was impressive. The gearbox had split more or less from the engine. The grass was on fire from the oil. I must have passed out then because the next thing I remember is being in the medical centre. Somehow, I was completely ok. Didn’t have a scratch on me but I must have cracked my head, either when I landed or more likely when my helmet hit the steering wheel as I impacted the tyres.”
If Andrews felt lucky then, it was nothing compared to what he felt later. His mechanics told him that not even the fire extinguisher was salvageable from the wreckage. The reason was that the front left suspension had punctured its way through the tub and sliced the top of it off. An inch higher and his left leg would have been a kebab!
“I can’t remember when the anger took over,” recalls Andrews. “But after I got checked out at the medical centre, I saw that Amati was waiting at the end of the pitlane for the session to restart again. I went up to the car and told her to get out. She wouldn’t.”
All of a sudden Giovanna had lost the English she had acquired from racing in the UK for a few years. She didn’t say a word, just gesticulated nervously. An embarrassed Colin Bennett stared at the ground, again. In the unenviable position of trying to defend the indefensible, Bennett was uncharacteristically quiet. But he knew. He knew that Amati was volatile and erratic behind the wheel. However, a new string to her bow had now been added. Trying to maim her fellow competitors at one of the most dangerous points of a very unforgiving circuit like Oulton Park was not a crowd pleaser, and the crowd around the verbally jousting drivers at the end of the pitlane was growing and waiting for a conclusion.
Andrews was ushered away. In the circumstances he behaved impeccably and with dignity. Meanwhile his Superpower run Reynard 90D was languishing in the skip. The team hot-footed it to Bicester to build up a new car for the Brands International F3000 race, which was four days away!
“Amati actually did me a favour,” recounts Andrews. “We hadn’t been on the pace all year for one reason or another. I changed engineers just before the Hockenheim race. Dave ‘Ned’ Kelly (RAM F1 designer) was a great guy but was replaced by Mick Ralph.
“We changed the tub and at Brands we were bang on the pace. I was 2nd in practice and I qualified 4th with Eddie Irvine on pole ahead of McNish and Damon Hill. So it was an all-British driver lock out on the front two rows, unprecedented really.”
The race was wet and Phil was holding the 4th position, looking comfortable until the pit stops, when he dropped back to 9th place. Coming back through the field and looking good for a podium he encountered Phillipe Favre coming out of the pits in his Leyton House. Phil was rudely turfed off. There was no white line rule in those days and that promise was now inert, covered in gravel at Paddock Hill Bend, the driver slumped in the cockpit, shattered by this latest cruel blow.
It was a microcosm of Andrews’ career. In comparison to his contemporaries; Hill, Irvine and McNish, his achievements may look modest on paper. However, consider occasions such as Brands Hatch in 1990 and the following season when he went toe-to-toe with Richard Dean, who himself was possibly the most underrated British drivers of the late 1980s and early 90s in clearly the most competitive British F3000 season on record. Andrews was no mug and while he himself would never suggest he could have been a Grand Prix winner, it is certain that he was a seriously capable driver in an era when F3000 genuinely had the cream of the crop, of those that were banging on the door of F1.
A major misconception of Andrews and one that this writer was also guilty in believing was that he was merely a pay driver. Yes Phil’s father, David, himself a fine racer was well connected, but there was no silver-spoon here. Andrews worked for his budgets and his sponsors and was considered one of the most professional, in terms of image and professionalism for his backers.
“The one thing I am proud is that throughout my single seater career I never entered an easy championship,” he says. “I didn’t go ‘pot hunting’. I was always up against the best in FF1600, F3 and F3000. I loved the competition and how many people can look back and say: ‘Yes, I went wheel to wheel with World Champions and Grand Prix winners and sometimes beat them.’ It gives me great pride to look back.”
And well it might.