by Joanna Cardwell-Fox

I didn't intend to have a motor racing hero; the death of Gilles Villeneuve upset me too much. But over the years Riccardo Patrese seems to have worked his way under my skin, some would say to the point of obsession! As a driver he is fast, exciting, a brilliant teammate and what a bonus when television let us get closer to the participants I discovered he is handsome and charming as well!! I never expected to meet him, people like me don't meet heroes.

1995's New Year's resolution was "Go for it!" so I posted a letter I had been writing for about 3 years but had never had the courage to send. It was over 12 year's passionate support condensed onto one side of A4 paper. In the meantime he had agreed to approve and sign covers for Brooklands and we were to communicate by fax. His fax and a reply to my letter arrived within 24 hours of each other - CONTACT!!

I had a brilliant illustration ready which he didn't like!!!! So we spent the summer exchanging faxes. In the end he liked the new illustration so much he asked if he could have it.

We were going to Monza, and a visit to the Ferrari museum meant we would be within 60 miles of Riccardo's home. So, keeping in mind my resolution, I suggested to Riccardo that I take the covers and illustration and arrange to meet him. He didn't reply for ages then I got a fax apologising, and suggesting a time and place to meet. It must be said that at this point I lost my cool, efficient control of the situation and behaved like a 15 year old at a Take That concert!

On the Monday, whilst everyone else went to Minardi, me and my trusty moral support went to meet Riccardo. We were late (for a change) and Steve nearly bumped into him before we saw him; so all my nerves disappeared as I started this meeting with my customary greeting, "Sorry we're late!"

Riccardo's opening phrase was, "I thought you weren't coming (as if!!), is it OK if we go back to my house?" (if we must!!) So we went to Riccardo's house. He looked well and happy and was taller than me!! He signed all the covers with a Williams pen and then a couple of things for me. He loved the illustration and the F1 Club T-shirt I gave him. He was absolutely charming, his dog and twin daughters were whisked away, so we had his undivided attention. We were given coffee, allowed to take photographs and Riccardo spent two hours discussing Formula 1 and Touring Cars.

Far from being distanced from Formula one after two years away he still watches the races with interest and gave us some wonderfully honest opinions of the current drivers and team situations. His English is now perfect, including some very colourful language!! I found myself actually talking properly to him and I didn't faint once! We were even arguing. He discussed the technical aspects of setting up a car with Steve (girls don't know about this!!) and approved my choice of next year's hero. I assured myself that he had left Formula 1 by his choice and that he wasn't bitter. Now I can support someone else without regrets.

All too soon it was time to leave, as we went to the door Riccardo said "last photograph" and put his arm around me and Steve was ready with the camera. For once I didn't pull a stupid face and I can still feel the texture of his shirt and the muscles underneath where my hand was around his waist!

Joanna's article first appeared in the "Formula One Club" newsletter