If you go into the paddock at any of the European Grand Prix races the dominant feature will be the vast articulated transporters used by the various teams and the depots for the tyre companies. In the shadows of all the large vehicles you will find giant motor caravans, known in Americanese as motorhomes. Beside a team transporter they do not look all that giant, but bearing in mind that they are normal road vehicles some of them are big. Most of the more affluent teams have a motorhome for the use of the team personnel, with a big awning out from one side to make a covered space for the workers, and the basic object of the team motorhomes is to provide basic creature comforts for everyone in the team, from owner and driver down to the apprentice mechanic. These motorhomes have become the normal thing since circuits provided good workshop space and security tor the racing cars, so that if necessary a team can encompass a 24-hour day of work without leaving the circuit. With testing from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and qualifying from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. there is no time for a lunch break and what most of the teams do is to provide a proper sit-down lunch for the mechanics immediately after the qualifying hour, and then it is back to work until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. next morning, depending on what dramas have overcome the team. Most of the teams provide a large communal table under the awning attached to the side of the motorhome, at which meals are taken, while the interior of the vehicle is reserved for the team-manager, driver, sponsor and so on, who need to discuss things in peace and quiet.
It is quite an education to wander along the paddock before the workers’ lunch break and view the culinary delights being cooked up in the various motorhomes. Spaghetti and vino rosso in the Indian teams, veal and vin blanc in the French teams, steak and chips and tea in the English teams and so on. I shall always remember seeing dear old Regazzoni under the awning of the Ensign team with Silvia Nunn pouring him out a nice cup of English tea. He later insisted that he had developed quite it taste for English tea.
These team motorhomes perform a very important psychological function that helps towards the smooth running of a team, for most people are pretty fixed in their food requirements and a well-fed mechanic is a happy mechanic, especially if it is the normal food that he is used to at home and not “that foreign muck”. I used to watch Ferrari and Maserati mechanics at Silverstone with some sympathy as they poked at “pie, beans and chips”, longing for a good plate of spaghetti bolognese, and not “that foreign much”. The team motorhome not only keeps the workers happy, but eases the financial complications of everyone having to have “dinner money” and cuts down on time lost. While the initial outlay may be costly the benefits are more than worthwhile.
Now these motorhomes do not run themselves, nor are they permanent fixtures in the paddock, so each one needs a staff of two or three and it is these people I am thinking of in this article. While the majority of the motorhomes in the paddock are principally for the use of team members and friends, there are others whose main role is hospitality to selected people on behalf of a firm or sponsor involved in Formula One. Most of the big concerns like Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Renault, ELF, Marlboro and John Player have motorhomes whose role is that of hospitality unit to that section of Formula One that interests them, whether it be the Press, the Trade, other race organisers, local dignitaries, marshals, the police, the medical services or any of the other hundred and one people involved in the running of a Grand Prix event. All these motorhomes and hospitality units have to be staffed and moved from race to race, and they all have to be accommodated in the paddock if possible. The space statistics are controlled and organised by FOCA people, and every motorhome driver knows where he has to park long before he arrives at the circuit. How he gets there is his problem. This paddock layout and planning is no haphazard affair, for certain firms need to be in certain positions, while others need easy exit alter the race, some need parking tor a number of cars as well, others can be stationed in a limited area and so on.
To see what goes on in the running of a paddock motorhome I talked to Pamela and David Wilkie, who run the motorhome for the ELF petrol company. Although their brief is slightly larger than most, in that they cater for a large proportion of Press people as well as the ELF hierarchy, the operation is typical of most. They got into the business through Ken Tyrrell, when he was with the Matra team, who in turn were with ELF. As things developed and ELF decided to have a motorhome of their own and a hospitality area where the Press could gather and exchange notes, or where drivers could come to be sure of an eager audience, the Wilkies were invited to do the job. This year they will start at Imola in April and finish in September after Monza, and it is virtually a full-time occupation. During the season they co-opt assistance from Pam’s brother on occasions, or take on local help as and when it is necessary. Dave does all the driving and manual work, while Pam looks after the kitchen and housework, but needless to say there is a lot of over-lapping and they work very much as a ream, the prime object being to get the job done and done well.
They usually arrive at the circuit on Tuesday evening, or Wednesday morning at the latest, and once they have found their pitch and set the motorhome at rest the first thing they do is to give it a good wash and polish, to remove travel stains, for if Mr. ELF arrived and found a scruffy-looking motorhome in the paddock he would not be too impressed. As the motorhome is a large comfortable affair, geared to accommodate six or eight people, with all mod con such as its own heating, lighting, refrigeration, air conditioning, shower and toilet facilities, it is no great hardship for them to live in it for the next five days, though, of course, privacy is a bit restricted. Wednesday is spent getting organised locally, which means finding the local market for meat, fruit and vegetables, finding the best sort of supermarket and stocking up with food and drink. A small hire-car is essential for local running, for once parked the motorhome does not move, and if Pam cannot pick up a Hertz or Avis car on the way to the circuit, someone in the paddock will run her into town during the day. As can well be imagined all the motorhome staffs have the same problems so they all help each other out at all times. I well remember chatting to Pam in the kitchen one day when a girl came in to borrow “some flour and a cup of sugar”. On enquiring who she was, Pam said “oh that’s Sarah, from the such-and-such team, she’s always running short of things, poor dear, it’s her first season.”
Over the years in their travels about Europe the Wilkies have got to know the best places to buy certain things so they stock up on their way. You don’t pass through France without stocking up with good cheeses, or go along the Mediterranean coast without gathering up some fish. While Pam is doing the shopping Dave has more than enough to do, checking the generator that runs the lights, refrigeration, air-conditioning and water heating. Servicing the Calor gas equipment, looking after the tables, chairs, awnings, and other “camping” equipment, looking over the mechanics of the motorhome itself, unpacking everything and generally getting ready to look after as many as 100 people on race-day, The general run of friends and visitors are dealt with by an outside buffet, which in itself involves tables, chairs, cutlery, plates, glasses, cups and so on, while inside the motorhome plans have to be made to feed Mr. ELF and a few of his selected staff or guests, and this involves a sit-down luncheon for eight or ten people.
It is all too easy to arrive at the ELF motorhome at lunchtime to find an enormous table of buffet-type food available, without giving a thought to how it got there. The truth is that much of it was prepared the night before inside the van, Pam and Dave usually being up until 11 p.m. or midnight preparing food, from peeling vegetables to cooking joints for a cold collation. At Monza last year I had a pleasant evening meal with A.H. during which we put the world of motor racing to rights, and at about 11 p.m. we wandered back to our hotel for a nightcap, and I was forced to say “Think of Pam and Dave, they are probably even now just finishing peeling spuds, carrots, onions, and so on, the ham is nicely cooked and all they have to do before going to bed is all that washing up”. And for Pam and Dave you can say the same for a dozen or more staffs of big motorhomes, for they all have to be ready for the first day of practice, then again for the second day of practice and finally for race-day. And when it is all over and the crowds have gone, they have to pack everything up, stow it all over the motorhome and on Monday morning set off for the next race, which may be 800 miles away.
With a vehicle as big as the average motorhome you need to stick to motorways where possible, so journeys have to be planned in detail, though experience helps here, but occasionally a new venue is used and then they take some searching out. It is no good arriving late at a circuit, for apart from invoking the wrath of the owner, team, or firm, for whom you are working, you would never get into your allotted spot in the paddock, even were it still available. One advantage of travelling about Europe in such a large and well-stocked vehicle is that there is no need for hotels or campsites, you are totally self-contained, which saves a lot of time on journeys. The luck of the draw is when races are close together on the map, so that you can have a day or two off, but even so the motorhome and its contents is always your responsibility and if you are careless and let it suffer from vandalism or thieves you are not going to be popular with the firm’s insurance company.
Going on a camping holiday in a motor-caravan is a lot of fun for some people and they probably visualise a holiday in a moving block of flats, which some motorhomes represent, to be the ultimate. Running a motorhome in the Formula One paddock is far from being a holiday, it is sheer hard work, and if you didn’t like motor racing and motor racing people it would soon drive you mad, and what is more it goes on for the whole season. Apart front the incessant noise of practice days and race day there is always the likelihood of being woken up in the night, especially the one before the race, by mechanics on an all-night work session firing up a Matra V12 or Cosworth V8. It is a way of life, and a very interesting one if you are so inclined, but it is also a job to which you have to be dedicated and from which you have to obtain satisfaction from serving others. It would not interest me as I like to be served. — D.S.J.