When Peter Collins looks back on the incredible decade he spent criss-crossing the globe covering F1 and Team Jordan for RTÉ, many unbelieveable moments stand out. He brushed shoulders with a Beatle. He scrapped with Michael Schumacher after his first title win.
But the most surreal moment of all must have been being on the receiving end of a headlock from Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols at the US Grand Prix.
With the rock star a guest of Jordan at Indianapolis, Collins chanced his arm at 'doorstepping' Rotten for a quick soundbite - "That ended up with me in a headlock with him."
Rotten was not the only big name in the paddock that Collins got up close and personal with, as he led RTÉ's coverage during what was perhaps the sport's pinnacle of popularity. The rock 'n' roll personalities present at the races only adding to the frenzy of the on-track action.
It was a whirlwind time for F1 in Ireland as well, defined by the success of Eddie Jordan's eponymous team - as well as Irish and Northern Irish drivers achieving varying degrees of success.
With the 2023 season set to get underway in Bahrain this Sunday, we sat down with Collins to look back to a time when F1 was appointment viewing in Ireland - and he, along with the RTÉ crew, had pitlane access and front row seats.
"You like that Formula 1 rubbish, don't you?"
It's hard to picture RTÉ doing anything on the scale of their '90s Formula 1 operation nowadays but, remarkably, presenter and commentator Peter Collins travelled to every single race for a decade, covering the championship alongside David Kennedy and Declan Quigley.
Collins still remembers how he found out he would be anchoring RTÉ's coverage of Formula 1. Soon after making the move from the sports news desk to the sports department, he was paid a visit by Tim O'Connor - the man who put together the iconic Giles, Brady, Dunphy football punditry team.
Collins was known around RTÉ circles as the 'F1 guy', saying he often pushed for the sport to be included on sports news bulletins.
He said to me, 'you like that Formula 1 rubbish, don't you?
'We're trying to do a deal for it, so you could quite possibly be working on it.'
Off the back of the success of the Irish Jordan team, F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone sought to make a splash with a TV deal in Ireland, and RTÉ - as Collins remembers, the "only" station in Ireland at the time - were the benefactors. The first few years were to prove a baptism of fire.
Luckily for Collins, his first race weekend went well because, otherwise, the situation could have been entirely different:
We set off for Brazil, the first race, in 1995. When we arrived back in to RTÉ, there were tickets for Argentina [the second race] on my desk. I said to our boss, 'really, we should have just gone from Brazil to Argentina.'
He said, 'yeah, under normal circumstances that's exactly what you would have done -but had you messed up on that first race, you were never going to do another one. A live-on-air audition!
The race in Brazil, as far as I remember, was rain affected and we had something like a 45-minute fill to do. Because it was our first race and both of us had prepared to within an inch of our lives, luckily we got through it and it was well received.
What may prove surprising to many younger readers is that RTÉ did not cover F1 from their Donnybrook headquarters, as they do many major sporting events - instead, Collins was sent to each and every race, travelling from the Far East to South America with stops in Dublin between every race:
At one point, the season used to start with Australia-Malaysia-Brazil. They were the first three races. I used to come back from each race, as opposed to going out to Australia, hopping to Malaysia. I'd come back, usually for about four days, then back out to Malaysia, then back to Dublin, then off to Brazil.
By the time you got to Brazil, because of the jetlag, with time zones that great...your head was on backwards. It took around four days to acclimatise a little bit - by the time Sunday came around, you're thinking "this is great!" - next thing you're headed back and here we go again.
It was a small RTÉ team, with only three on-screen personnel making up part of a handful of crew members following the F1 circus around the globe.
Collins was joined on commentary by former F1 driver David Kennedy, with Declan Quigley - and later Gary Anderson - reporting from the pitlane. The small team would carry all of their equipment with them from race-to-race - Collins says that the flight cases would have nearly filled the small office room in which our interview is conducted.
Irish F1 fans of a certain vintage will remember the name Peter Collins as RTE's main F1 commentator...
Genuine enthusiasm ever lap of every race pic.twitter.com/Hs667nLuQo
— Tom (@theTShock) November 6, 2022
Few clips survive of the RTÉ F1 broadcasts on the internet, but what does remain showcases an engaging and well-presented broadcast - aided by bangin' theme tunes such as 'Firestarter' and Fatboy Slim's 'Right Here, Right Now'.
The whirlwind of Jordan F1
The main reason for the state broadcaster's involvement in Formula 1 was the steady success of the Jordan team, founded by Dubliner Eddie Jordan in 1991. Collins remembers the immortal 191 - their very first car, which infamously gave Michael Schumacher his Formula 1 debut.
That very first car carried a 7Up sponsorship, giving it its famous dark green and blue livery, still widely renowned as one of the finest in F1 history. But, as Collins remembers, the Jordan cars didn't just look good - they were fast too, fighting to fifth place in the championship in their very first season.
25 years ago #OnThisDay, the Jordan #F1 team makes its debut at the 1991 #USGP in Phoenix pic.twitter.com/AOF4zBOB1P
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 10, 2016
As RTÉ entered in 1995, the team continued to steadily cement their place in Formula 1, before the late 90s brought an explosion of success. They would win their first race in 1998, before finishing a remarkable third in 1999. The concept of an independent team finishing in the top three of the championship nowadays is unthinkable - even at the time, Collins felt the magnitude of Jordan's achievement went underappreciated.
When the rumours started, 'Eddie Jordan's trying to get a team into Formula 1.' It was viewed with a certain amount of scepticism.
They finished fifth in the world championship that first season, which was a remarkable achievement, considering they were a small operation out of Silverstone, they didn't have their big factory built at that point.
During that season, people in motorsport here in Ireland really sat up and took notice of what he was doing. It was a remarkable achievement. Not just to get in there but, in '98 and '99, to have a competitive race team in Formula One.
[The interest] probably wasn't as high as it should have been. I think, generally, people didn't fully grasp the extent of the achievements. Because there wasn't a vehicle - excuse the pun - like Drive to Survive - to promote it amongst the general public.
People who watched it on RTÉ, they were the audience. It was probably in and around the 250,000 mark was the regular audience level. I've thought since that had there been a Drive to Survive equivalent back in those days, it would have been magnificent.
One thing is for certain - if Drive to Survive had been around in the days of Jordan, their team principal would no doubt have been one of the main stars.
Eddie Jordan has to this day a reputation within the F1 paddock of being a larger-than-life character. Collins bemoans the corporate nature of most modern F1 teams, saying the personality which made Jordan such a special team is hard to imagine at the giants of the 2023 grid.
The team ran eclectic, colourful liveries, ranging from bright yellow to dark green, and would incorporate unusual designs and imagery onto their cars. Jordan himself, meanwhile, played the drums in his own band ("badly," jokes Collins), could be seen dancing down the pitlane when Jordan won their first race in '98, and rubbed shoulders with rock-and-roll royalty.
Up close with a Beatle
One unfortunate instance saw Collins miss out on the chance to meet arguably Jordan's most famous ever guest. A self-professed music lover, the RTÉ presenter says he forever bemoans his missed opportunity to meet one of the Beatles:
I remember - and it's probably one of the regrets of my life - I was speaking to Eddie just outside the Jordan garage at the back of the Melbourne paddock.
Somebody ran by, but I wasn't paying attention, I was talking to Eddie. Eddie stopped mid-sentence and said, 'did you not see who that was? That was George Harrison!'
He had run in to the Jordan garage! Obviously he was trying not to be caught talking to people - I asked Eddie if he knew him. Eddie said, 'do I know him?! Myself and George are like that! Himself and his missus come around for dinner all the time!'
Knowing Eddie, he probably exaggerated the situation.
Exaggeration or not, the presence of the likes of Harrison and Johnny Rotten is an indication of the scale of the Jordan operation in the 1990s. Eventually, in the early 2000s, the commercial demands of F1 caught up to the team, who simply could not sustain their level of performance against the established giants of the sport.
They were sold to Midland at the end of 2005 - by which stage Collins and RTÉ had already departed, to focus their attention on a six-year stint of broadcasting the MotoGP world championship.
But, for the best part of a decade, both had established themselves on the world stage, in the premier class of single-seater motorsport. It wasn't just Jordan that RTÉ got access to, either.
Going toe to toe with Michael Schumacher
Though it was tricky to wiggle their way in with the bigwigs of F1, the RTÉ team found ways to get a word in with the biggest names - including one remarkable story from the very first year of their broadcast, where Collins was at odds with Michael Schumacher on the eve of his coronation as world champion:
I remember the night before he won the world championship in Aida in Japan. It was impossible to get an interview because he was heading stratospheric. Our producer Michael O'Carroll got wind there was going to be a press conference on the Saturday night.
So we went down, first there, pulled up a chair right in front of the desk and were set up in front of 100-150 press.
Everyone else started filing in and the Japanese crew came in saying 'that's our position, we're the host broadcaster.' I said, 'we're live to Ireland' - which was a lie! - 'and we just want to ask 2-3 questions then you can come in.'
Schumacher came in, deathly silence...I was first to interview him, he started answering - gave me a brilliant answer. I was in the middle of asking the second question and I got a tap on my shoulder. It was the cameraman and he looked at me and said 'my battery's dead.' I turned around and looked at Michael Schumacher, who was glaring at me, and he said 'you call this professionalism?'
We rented our cameras from a German TV company, so I thought 'I'm not taking that, I'm not going to sully RTÉ's name in front of the world's media!' I said, 'well, Michael, it's an RTL camera, not RTÉ.'
He looked at me, and said, 'okay, 1-1!'
We quickly replaced the battery and started again, and he didn't get shirty as a result of the error, and we got Schumacher in a race buildup!
The last time Ireland had a race-winning F1 car was 2003 - the same year that Ralph Firman was the last driver to race under an Irish flag. The dwindling involvement in F1 in Ireland naturally led to RTÉ stepping back from the sport, and Collins believes that it would take a resurgence of Irish involvement for the broadcaster ever to go back.
So, it's unlikely that we'll see F1 on RTÉ again anytime soon. Just as well for Peter Collins then that, despite admitting he is awful for keeping memorabilia, he has kept one or two souvenirs from those frantic days, including a Jordan umbrella which was spotted at January's Red Bull show run in Dublin, and a front wing endplate from a damaged Damon Hill car.
Collins and the RTÉ F1 team still remain in touch and, though he has not attended any Grands Prix in quite some time, his daughter Sophie regularly travels to F1 events, and continues the Collins family legacy with her own F1 site "Straight to the Grid".
We can only hope for a return to the top of F1 for Ireland but, for now, we'll be playing 'Right Here, Right Now' on repeat to get ourselves psyched for the new F1 season. We'll dream of a world where Peter Collins and co. are broadcasting from the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain live on RTÉ on Sunday.