A shop like no other

In 1977, Scotland beat England at Wembley after Kenny Dalglish bagged the winner. So ecstatic were the Scottish fans that they stormed the Wembley pitch, planting flags on the turf and bringing down the goalposts with the sheer weight of fans clambering on to them. Four hours later, my Dad saw someone dragging the nets through the train on the way back to Edinburgh.

Last May, Greater Manchester Police paid a visit to a young man to reclaim a football. This was not however any football. It was the ball booted up the park at the City of Manchester Stadium deep in injury time, causing the referee to bring the game to an end and handing Manchester City their first league title. So keen were City to have the ball back for posterity that they reviewed several hours’ of CCTV footage to track the man down, and enlisted the local law enforcement authority to aid with the retrieval of the offending pig’s bladder.

Earlier this year, cycling legend Bradley Wiggins had has Olympic team lycra stolen from a locker while he chilled out in a sauna and an exclusive country retreat the day before his big race. The shorts were never recovered.

What these three stories illustrate is the great value that artifacts from auspicious sporting occasions carry. And this is exactly the sentiment on which F1 Works trades. From an incongruous apartment block in Tokyo’s fashionable Roppongi district, Namisawa-san and Koni-san trade in the exotic, the rare and the outright bizarre things that the world’s greatest racing series jettisons in its wake. From Michael Schumacher’s suit to Taki Inoue’s coffee cup (I’ll come back to that in a minute), they pride themselves on dealing in things the official team shops wouldn’t ever sell you.

There are no pointers from the outside as to the Aladdin’s – or should that be Ayrton’s – cave that lies within. Enter the right number on the interphone and a friendly if brisk voice buzzes you in with a sharp ‘hai!’ Exit the lift at the right floor and walk along the dingy corridor, where the door (which has no sign outside) is already ajar. What you step into is not so much a shop as a converted section of someone’s flat. Indeed, with this being a Japanese house, one of the owners passes you a pair of slippers and invites you to take off your shoes.

The F1 Works emporium

A plain white table surrounded by some flimsy black chairs is the only distinguishable feature of a regular living room remaining. Where the television would normally be, there are two racks of ex-teamwear jackets, stretching from last year’s Lotus-Renault right back to a John Player coat from the late seventies. Where one might expect to find a bookshelf, there is instead a shelving unit containing stacks and stacks of baseball caps, on which such delights as the bespoke Ferrari hats commissioned for Fernando Alonso’s personal use can be found. And perhaps fittingly, where the shrine in a Japanese house usually is, there is a massive frame containing Michael Schumacher’s yellow Benetton suit from the 1993 season.

The key thing about this place is that absolutely everything comes direct from the teams themselves. In some cases, this is pretty obvious. For instance, there’s a piston from one of Schumacher’s Ferrari engines, complete with a Maranello-issued certificate to verify the fact. A certificate bearing Eddie Jordan’s pawprint sits underneath the ragged yellow fuel-filler cap that once belonged to Takuma Sato’s EJ12. And an endplate from an old Ligier rear wing leans casually against the rack of baseball caps. I have a dream of owning a motor sport-themed café in the future, and this is exactly the kind of stuff I’d have lying around if I did. Now I know where to get it.

Schumi’s suit and a range of endplates. Before Pastor Maldonado, it was common for endplates to reach the end of a race in one piece.

Alongside the big, cool, wow-factor stuff, however, there are also many much more subtle mementoes of F1’s history. Take, for example, the celebratory vial of Shell Optimax that was given out to team members and selected VIPs at the height of Ferrari’s Brawn-Todt-Schumacher dominance. Or the sheet of paper carrying a Honda/Ray-Ban visor sticker, onto the rear of which ‘JB Monza’ is scrawled in pencil. Or even two of the dark brown Mercedes leather jackets that Ron Dennis used to wear on the pit wall at the time when the likes of Coulthard, Raikkonen and Montoya were attempting to return McLaren to winning ways.

And then there’s the outright bizarre. Exhibit A: a dented and faded coffee cup, onto which some illegible words have been scrawled in permanent marker. “This is Taki Inoue’s, Taki drank from this,” Namisawa-san tells me. “Actually, we Tweeted this at him recently along with a photo of him and asked if he remembered it. He came right back and said he remembered the day very well, and also that on that day he was wearing somebody else’s jacket because his own wasn’t so fashionable.”

The albums thick with photos testify to a long history spent on the circuits. Alongside the shots of Taki signing the coffee cup, there are snaps of a youthful David Coulthard and a hirsute Gerhard Berger. “Monza, Monaco, Silverstone, I used to go everywhere,” explains Koni-san. “Collecting memorabilia like this started out as a hobby, but then I thought I might as well make it into my full-time job. Going to all the races used to be our way of getting stuff, but now that we have the internet and mobile communication the need to do that has decreased.”

Can you spot Eddie Jordan? Hint: it’s not the big head…

They still go to Suzuka though. Namisawa-san knows the price for every grandstand, the time that you can arrive and leave (it’s best to stay until 6pm apparently) and where the best corners to watch are. He even knows someone who used to bring a stepladder to the race and chain it to the fence at the start of race day in order to guarantee the best view possible. The increased popularity in Japan of Kamui Kobayashi following his successful outing at Suzuka this year also explains the lack of Kamui items in the shop, in that demand is for the first time high and everyone is keen to get a piece before he disappears from F1 forever.

So there you have it. A slice of the inside workings of the last twenty years of F1, literally from Michael Schumacher’s suit at one end of the shop to Taki Inoue’s coffee cup at the other. It’s an amazing and spectacular example of how two men’s passion has turned into a remarkable business. In fact, I reckon that with all the wheels, pistons, fuel samples, helmets and teamwear, the F1 Works guys have just about enough equipment – and certainly enough enthusiasm – to run an F1 team of their own. Now that I would love to see.

Visit F1 Works’ website at www.f1-shop.jp/, or follow them on Twitter: @F1_works

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