Spectators

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Dear reader,

Whenever the opportunity presents itself, which is usually during morning testing, I take the opportunity at Grand Prix races to wander away from the pits and paddock and the “privileged” viewing points, to find out what the spectator can see.

At Silverstone the BRDC makes it very easy for me as I can ride my small motorcycle all the may round the ring road on the outside of the circuit, thus covering viewing points from all the public spaces. At other circuits this activity of mine involves a lot of walking, with frequent “rest periods” as the years go by. At the Canadian Grand Prix you can travel from the centre of Montreal almost to the entrance by the excellent Metro, and then walk right down the middle of the circuit to the pit and paddock area, watching the action at various points on both legs of the track, and there are some very interesting and exciting viewpoints. Some circuits are so dull that I wonder why spectators bother to turn up at all, and in some cases the organisers wonder why as well!

On all these wanderings there is always a great deal to see, apart from the action on the track and agreeably there are always people to meet. Invariably I meet some of you, the readers, and interesting conversations always ensue.

These vary from detail questions about why the “powder-pull” Press is running a hate-campaign against Ayrton Senna, or why I don’t stand up and cheer every time Nigel Mansell goes by, to deep technical things such as how the Honda VII) manages to get all that power at 13,500 rpm and still have an impressive torque-spread from seemingly low rpm.

Jet people turn the conversation from “Work” to “play” and like to talk about the Vintage car scene, or motorcycles, or Past Grand Prix races, or special-building; there is no limit to subjects of conversation for the teal enthusiast. If something has wheels and an engine, it is worth talking about.

Then there are those whose approach is on a more personal basis, such as the reader who says “You don’t know me from Adam, but I spoke to you twenty years ago on my first visit to a Grand Prix”. Or those who say “you knew my dad” and introduce me to their son, making his first visit to a race. All this seems to happen wherever there is a Grand Prix, and, no matter where, she enthusiasm is the same. The real motor-racing enthusiast seems to have the same basic outlook, no matter what nationality he is, and consequently I enjoy meeting them all and listening to them. The FISA/FOCA “holy of holies” (ie the Paddock) is no longer accessible. Over the years the sea of wire netting, steel barriers, Securicor men and even dogs has become more and more impenetrable.

The main reason for this is the changing face of the world over the last twenty-five years, and the change in the behaviour of people in general. For young people it must be difficult to imagine living in a society where you were educated into a “code of ethics” whereby if something did not belong to you, you left it alone. You did not have to lock everything up, fit alarms to your car, chain your motorcycle to a post, surround everything by wire netting and barriers. In some countries the code of conduct was always lower than in others, and you took reasonable precautions, but today standards seem to be appalling everywhere, and precautions become more and more desperate year after year. It is a sad reflection on the state of the world in general, and unfortunately the effect on a lot of people is totally unjustified.

If you let five spectators, chosen at random, into a Formula One paddock, and allowed them to wander freely, I can guarantee that one would step in front of a car in the pit-lane and get knocked down; one would be climbing into a Formula One car to have his photograph taken, and break the perspex wind deflector when begot out; one would knock over a pile of tyres or walk into a transporter tail-board and cut his head open; one would be busy stealing some tools or something; and one would be behaving impeccably — standing quietly out of the way, watching everything with great interest, never thinking of touching anything, always alert to his surroundings and really appreciative of being able to see it all at close quarters and soak in the atmosphere and excitement. But how do you pick out that one desirable spectator in five? Give freedom to everyone and you multiply your problems by 10,000! Because of the actions of the first four, the last one must suffer.

It is grossly unfair, but I don’t know what the answer is. It would be no use expecting people to state their ethics, because my first four would all claim to be impeccable, and probably three of them would start off with good intentions. The big problem is picking out my fifth example from the crowd and allowing him through the “barbed-wire entanglement”.

There are ways of breaching the fortress, but I do not propose to explain them, for obvious reasons. I have met ordinary paying spectators who will say things like: “That Honda V 10 engine is a beautiful piece of engineering, isn’t it, but do you know what that pipe does that runs from …?” — indicating that he had seen the McLaren with all its clothes off, so to speak. I listen with interest while he tells me how he managed to get that close!

I suppose it all comes down to the challenge of today; there are ways and means to achieve everything if you have total commitment to the cause. Most of the people who work on the inside started on the outside, and the “hard-core” in every part of our sport, from Formula One to our local club hill-climb, are there because of their enthusiasm for motor racing.

When I am not at a Grand Prix I can usually be found at a small amateur club event, where freedom reigns: no wire netting, no barriers, not even a solitary policeman. I go there either to compete, to help a friend with a car or motorcycle, as a club member, or merely to stand around and watch.

More often than not someone will stop for a chat and tell me how he had just been to see his first Grand Prix, after watching television broadcasts for a number of years. The first impression is invariably the sheer staggering speed of the cars, the next is the glorious sound (especially the V12 Ferraris and Lamborghinis), and then the incredible atmosphere, none of which comes over on the small screen.

Some went to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix, others have been on a Page & Moy tour to Monaco, others drove to Italy for a holiday and took in the Imola race, but the effect on them is always the same. None came back saying “It was as dull as television depicts it”.

Not all of them intend to go again, mostly due to peripheral things they did not enjoy, but they all seem to agree on their visit to the “real thing” giving them a sense of proportion, and a better insight into what the television world is trying to convey to them. Yaws, DSJ

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