I have long believed that Grand Prix mechanics are the only real professionals in the sport. If you think about it, most of their lives have been dedicated to the sport and you cannot say that about the drivers, nor most of the team owners. Mechanics are the real pros.
The concept behind the Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust [of which JYS is chairman] is to help these pros as they grow older, sometimes because of illness and sometimes because there is hardship within their families.
The Trust now has counsellors working with it to help mechanics find ways of getting things done that otherwise they might not have known existed, or were available to them.
You have to remember that most of these mechanics were not very well paid and the hours they worked were simply colossal. Now there are regulations preventing them from working on the cars all night whereas in my day they did more all-nighters than you can imagine. But it’s a better world for them as a result of the new rules – in the old days they lived through a time when motor racing was very tough.
Without my mechanics, the guys who looked after me, I wouldn’t be here today. The standard and level of their preparation was down to the people who prepared the cars for me to race.
I’ve always thought that the top mechanics were better at what they did than I was at what I did. That was certainly true of my mechanics at Tyrrell. They were artists. Of course the drivers get all the glory but these people are so skilled. The reason that I won races was because I finished them – and I had such good reliability because of impeccable attention to detail. You had such confidence in the preparation of the car, that every element was being so carefully looked after. This is as true today as it was back in the 1960s and ’70s when I was racing. You must remember that in racing anything can go wrong and, when there is a mechanical failure, the driver is no longer in control. Again, it’s the same today as it was back then, you’re talking about the same breed of man. Mechanics all have the same spirit, the same mentality, no matter which era.
The work of the Trust will become more expensive in the long term because in the old days you only had maybe six, or seven, mechanics working on a car. Now there are at least 40 travelling with a team, meaning the numbers of people for us to sustain and support in times of difficulty will only increase over the years.
Mechanics are still the unsung heroes of our sport. Yes, we do see a lot more of them on television, in photographs and in magazines but when the Trust was established I don’t think they had any proper recognition at all. But they all did an absolutely wonderful job, and I’m extremely happy to say that’s still the case.
When Ken Tyrrell and I created the Trust it was to make provision for some of the most skilled, trustworthy and dedicated people in our business, people whose names and faces were unknown to the public but who supported drivers like me and team owners like Ken. And remember, these are people who often worked well beyond the call of duty. These guys were, and still are, the true professionals in Grand Prix racing.
The Trust was created in February 1987 – when I was campaigning for higher standards of safety in the sport. We recognised the potential dangers of working in the pitlane and we were aware that a great many mechanics did not have the benefit of insurance, pensions or sound financial backing in the event of a crippling or fatal accident resulting in hardship for them and their families. I had tremendous support from Ken Tyrrell and that’s how it all began. Now, our trustees include some well known motor racing people such as Professor Sid Watkins, Martin Brundle, Patrick Head, Norbert Haug and Jo Ramirez, who, of course, started his career as a mechanic.
The Trust does not only help those in trouble or hardship. For example, Cranfield University runs a Masters degree in Motor Sport Engineering and Management. Since the government grant money available to students was stopped the university saw a sharp drop in the quality and the quantity of applicants for the course. Patrick Head recognised this could have a detrimental effect on the calibre of engineers joining the industry so he raised his concern with our trustees. We now offer a bursary to selected applicants who would otherwise not be able to afford the course. The applicants are proposed and vetted by the course director and in the last two years we have awarded four bursaries, with a value of £15,000, to support young engineers.
We now have more than 160 mechanics on our register and every year we hold a reunion, the most recent being our 20th anniversary party at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands – a wonderful gathering, so many great stories being told.
The funds we have mean that we can continue to provide support for the foreseeable future. The type of help may vary, and the risks they face may differ over time, but the Trust intends to help former, and current, Grand Prix mechanics for years to come.