Behind the Grand Prix scene - transporters

WITHOUT exception all the teams currently active in Formula One use articulated lorry transport for conveying their cars and material about Europe, and the majority of the tractor units are turbo-charged diesel powered. Three Formula One cars and all the spares such as engines, gearboxes, wheels, suspension pans, bodywork pieces and all the tools of the trade can be carried in a well planned articulated lorry. The usual arrangement is to have a system of ramps constructed in the bodywork so that two cars can be carried on the upper deck, the forward one in the space above the articulation pivot, and the third car on the lower deck, leaving bench space and storage cupboards ahead of it. Low down in the van body, in the space ahead of the rear wheels are lockers that will comfortably take a Cosworth V8 engine, for instance.

Most of the van bodies have power-operated tail-gate lifts so that loading a car on to the upper deck is almost a single-handed job. Problems arise when cars are crashed and are un-wheelable, then a mechanic's ingenuity and expertise with a trolley-jack is well worth watching.

Most of the vans are fitted out with work-benches and small power tools such as a grinding wheel, vertical drill, air-compressor unit and a small lathe in some cases, power coming form a built-in generator set. A tubular structure that carries an awning is usually attachable to the side of the van to form a totally covered-in work space in the paddock to accommodate three cars, and it is usually here that total rebuilds are earned out after a practice crash. These awnings have zip-fastened sides and end pieces so that if need be the whole thing can be buttoned up tight to isolate the occupants from the outside world, lighting coming from the generator set. This facility is very useful if time is short and interruptions are unwelcome, or for an all-night job or when the wind and rain are passing horizontally through the paddock.

These vast 30-40 ton transporters seldom carry more than ten or fifteen tons of material, so they perform pretty well on the open road. Some teams have a full-time driver who is totally responsible for the transporter, and while the rest of the team might be working away on the racing cars you will see him washing the transporter, or servicing its fluids, or generally keeping the whole thing ship-shape. Other teams appoint one or other of the regular mechanics to drive the transporter, seven in the case of a full-time driver he will usually take a mechanic along as relief driver. They all have to conform to the EEC transport rules of a limit of eight hours at the wheel and they carry tachograph equipment like any commercial vehicle. With the present day system of Motorways throughout Europe this eight hour limit is no great problem, especially as most of the transporters can cruise at 65-70 m.p.h. For those teams based in England, the Channel crossing from Southampton to Le Havre is a popular route as it allows the crew to get some sleep on the night crossing and it is then Motorway right through to Italy or the South of France. Some of the regular drivers have been driving racing transport for many years, beginning with a small F3 or F2 team and working their way up to the F1 "juggernauts" by which time they have a pretty good knowledge of European roads. Consequently routes and time schedules are left to them, they are merely given the time they should be in the paddock at Imola, Paul Ricard or Jarama, and it is up to them to get the job done. This freedom is one of the appeals of racing transport driving, though it is a very responsible job, and not given to any Tom, Dick or Harry. It is no good phoning the team manager to say that the whole lot is upside down in a ditch, but you are all right. He would not be sympathetic or amused. Equally it is no good arriving a day late with the excuse that you missed a Ferry or lost the way. Naturally there is a lot of paperwork to carry with the transporter, with customs documents for cars and spares for crossing frontiers, fuel documents, financial accounting and so on. The driver has his brief case full of vital paperwork, just like the team-manager or team-owner.

To watch these big transporters arriving in a paddock and parking in their allotted spaces is a fascinating business, and more so to watch them leave after a race, especially if one team has had a lot of racing car trouble and needs to get away early. A really skilled driver of a big articulated lorry is an artist to watch as he backs the whole thing through a gap with inches to spare, doing it all on tick-over and using only his mirrors for rearward vision. Some of them don't even bother to open the cab window, so confident are they. And then you will see them edge forward in a sinuous "ess", with the tractor unit covering ground and the rear wheels of the van hardly moving as they turn the whole lot through a right-angle. Occasionally I get the chance to sit at a road-side cafe with a glass of wine and watch all the transporters set off for home, the Ferrari and Alfa Romeo "links" turning south, Lotus, Williams, Brabham and others turning north and Renault and Talbot heading west. It is a fine sight to see the "circus" on the move.

Naturally, some teams like Renault, use transporters from their two factories, the RE3013 cars being carried in a model called "Le Centaure" R360 powered by a turbo-charged V8 diesel engine. Ferrari use a Fiat Turbo 190H38, carrying the Iveco plate of the European commercial vehicle consortium. The Alfa Romeo 182 cars are carried in a Fiat 190F 26, but it has a large "Alfa Romeo" across the radiator grille. The Osella team use a Renault Turbo carrying lots of advertising for Denim, their sponsors, and the Toleman team use a very special Ford unit, purpose-built for them and powered by a turbo-charged Cummins 6-cylinder diesel engine. It has a very smooth profile, all the gaps being filled by panelling and its driver will proudly tell you its the best in the game. "She will out-perform the Renault truck any time, especially on long hills". The ATS team use a Ford Transcontinental, a transporter that is highly thought of and the Michelin tyre people use a Berliet Turbo TR280.

No commercial vehicle manufacturer hats monopoly on Formula One transport and the variety is remarkable, examples of Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Leyland, DAF and Scania-Vabis also being used. Overall the quality of transport is very impressive and it has to be good, for present-day Grand Prix racing does not allow for inefficiency and there is too much at stake financially to skimp on the transporter and its equipment. With the advent of the 30 or 40 ton articulated commercial vehicle capable of 70-75 m.p.h. and big enough to carry everything a team may require, the paddock scene has undergone a vast change. Paddock area has had to multiply four-fold and no longer do teams use local garages or workshops. Everything is done in the paddock at their self-contained canvas or nylon tents and this has eliminated local interest. At one time you found the Alfa Romeo team in the local Alfa agents premises. Renault in the local Renault garage, another team in the Central Garage, another in the Station Garage and so on, each one surrounded by interested onlookers, especially if an engine was started up or a car tried out up the main street. Now it is all in the paddock, tents side-by-side or cars in lock-up garages forming the pits. It is all very practical and efficient, but somehow not so much fun as it used to be, and close scrutiny of work in progress is restricted to a privileged few. When I enquired of Renault why such a big firm only brought one spare car to a meeting, especially when both drivers needed it, as has often happened, Jean Sage explained that it was a simple question of transport. The biggest Renault "arctic" will not carry four cars, so to bring a second spare car would mean another transporter, albeit smaller, which would mean second driver and assistant, it would double-up the paperwork, need more paddock space and so on. The three-car transporter is so well organised and so self-contained that they have got its workings down to a fine art. The complication and work and organisation needed to add another vehicle was not worthwhile.

The growth of Grand Prix transport has grown with the expansion and growth of the commercial world and if helicopter "containers" become viable you can be sure the top teams will soon start using them. A top team needs to spend time and thought on its transport just as much as on its racing cars. It's no good having an aerodynamic five-hundred horsepower Grand Prix car and expect to take it to the race in a second-hand London Bus or a solid-tyred Albion. — D.S. J.