I remember, at the 1969 British Grand Prix, standing by the Shell Bridge and offering a pound for a paddock transfer from those returning from the infield. I was lucky with the first person I approached, a note changed hands and both parties were delighted. I got to the paddock for a quid instead of 30 bob and the unknown vendor had his view for a nett 10 shillings. Thinking about it now, I should have offered less, but what price can one put on what I experienced a few minutes later? There was Pedro Rodriguez standing by his V12 Ferrari while a mechanic warmed it up. I was so close as to be able to touch the exhaust pipes and the noise was music.
Times have changed and nowadays the paddock area is not for the ordinary fan. They are now visited by invitation only which means journalists, showbiz personalities and guests of the teams or their sponsors. The fan who faithfully supports racing throughout the yea now only has a chance of being part of a throng stealing glimpses of cars at a distance on a “pits walkabout”.
This is a statement of fact and there is no implied criticism, for Formula One is now big business and the paddock at Brands Hatch, for example, could not physically cope with the crowd. Some enthusiasts bemoan the fact that they do not see the drivers and cars close up, but then Cup Final fans do not go into the dressing rooms at Wembley. The difference is that the dressing room doors have always been closed while, until recently it was possible for the ordinary guy to buy a ticket and wander about an F1 paddock. The average enthusiast has therefore lost something.
It was with this thought in mind that I spent much of my three days at the European Grand Prix in the paddock with my camera and notebook. My aim was not to record a specific meeting but those things which are common to all Grands Prix and which remain largely unseen. M.L.
Many fans now complain that they do not meet the drivers but few wonder how drivers must sometimes feel. Above, Alain Prost conducts press interviews. You don’t see Prost? That’s the point. The regular journalists are highly professional but some of the part-timers can be lacking. My favourite is the man who, after Alan Jones won the 1980 British GP asked the Ultimate Question: “Are you pleased with the result, Alan?” To Jones’ eternal credit he answered with a straight face, “No, I’m disappointed, I had hoped to come last.” The questioner was satisfied. He’d asked a question and received an answer. He hadn’t of course listened to the answer but when Alan Jones’ lips stopped moving he followed with. “Is Beverley (Jones) pleased with the result?”