It is with great sadness that I have to announce that F1 Journalist Alan Henry sadly passed away last weekend at the age of 69 years old. The best way to celebrate his life and his achievements is to discuss them and look back on one of the greatest journalists the sport has ever seen.
Alan Henry’s first break in motorsport journalism came after writing a letter to Autosport to complain about the quality of a race report from Brands Hatch in 1968.
“One day I was moved to write to Simon Taylor, then club editor of Autosport, advising that I had been to Brands Hatch the previous weekend and that their magazine’s report was rubbish,” wrote Henry in his autobiography Last Train From Yokkaihci.
“Simon wrote back briskly and said ‘if you think you can do better, write a dummy report’. I did, and the next thing I knew was that my mother’s eight-year-old Morris Minor Convertible was heading for Snetterton.”
The letter Henry wrote then laid the foundation for an illustrious career. At the time of that first chance, Henry was still working for Barclays International, but it was when he was offered the job as reporter for Motoring News in June 1970 that his career really gained momentum.
It also pitched him in opposition to Autosport, at one stage part of an escalating war with Ian Phillips to include the most arcane information in F2 coverage. This culminated in Henry’s victory thanks to “printing a carefully prepared list of the top gears being used by the fastest cars and supplementing these with engine rev limits in third, fourth and fifth at the end of free practice”.
After covering his first grand prix which was at Silverstone in 1973, Henry was soon covering Formula 1 full-time and continued to do so until the 2009 Japanese GP. By his own count, he covered close to 650 grands prix.
Henry was famed for his ability to see the big picture in grand prix racing, weaving together the narrative threads and avoiding getting too bogged down in irrelevant detail even though he knew the detail very well.
Those skills made his coverage in Motoring News a must read, and also entertained and informed readers through a plethora of motorsport books. He cited Brabham: The Grand Prix Cars, published in 1985, as his finest but he also wrote on Ferrari, Niki Lauda, Damon Hill, Jenson Button, Ronnie Peterson and Ayrton Senna among his 50-plus books.
He was also known for his close relationship with some big names of the 1970s, including Tom Pryce and Ronnie Peterson and took their deaths very close when it happened.
Henry was editor of Motoring News from 1976-1979 and became a freelancer in 1988. He was subsequently F1 correspondent for The Guardian, grand prix editor for Autocar from 1994-2012, editor of Autocourse and editor-at-large of F1 Racing.
He was very well-liked by his peers and retained a sharp sense of humour throughout his career. The stories of his antics are legion and always brilliantly recounted by old friends and colleagues such as Maurice Hamilton and Nigel Roebuck.
What stood out about Henry to a F1 fan and aspiring writer like myself was that his enthusiasm for the sport seemed to remain undimmed even after more than three decades following the circus ; even if some of the more recent changes to grand prix racing did not meet his approval and even ours.
That was a characteristic of his career, during which he was never afraid to criticise when he felt that was justified. And when he did, he always had a logical reason to back up his ideas.
All I can say is that I grew up reading Henry’s work and I always felt like he knew his stuff and always explained it in language that many could understand and relate to. I have all of his books on my shelf and I have enjoyed each one and we will as a community miss him and everything he brought to F1.
Jones on F1 sends its condolences to Henry’s many friends and colleagues in motorsport and to his family.