Since becoming publisher of Motor Sport I’ve been asked on numerous occasions ‘do you have a strong knowledge of motor racing?’ The answer is no – that’s what the editorial team is for, surely? – although I do have a strong interest, passion and love of the sport.
Growing up through the 1970s and ’80s in a household with a father and brother that followed motor racing avidly, I either had to take an interest or opt out! My father worked in the tobacco industry and his employers were active sponsors of Formula 1 and other racing formulae, so we had many opportunities to attend races and visit circuits.
Most weekends in the late ’70s and early ’80s were spent at Donington Park, but until last weekend my only experience of a Grand Prix had been the 1987 British GP at Silverstone, where I saw Nigel Mansell overtake Nelson Piquet to win the race and then have to hitch a lift on a policeman’s motorbike on the slowing-down lap. A British win at a British circuit raised many emotions and a swell of support in the crowds saw us all clambering out of our seats, across the barriers and running behind Mansell back to the pits.
Fast-forward a frightening 23 years to my second trip to Silverstone, and last Friday I was invited by Virgin Racing to join the team in the paddock for practice – and what a fantastic day I had.
My first jaw-dropping moment came as I walked with my host through the gathering crowds at the entrance of the F1 paddock and turned right into an ‘avenue’ of team motorhomes – something akin to a Manhattan skyline, each block towering above me, shiny and bright, all perfectly aligned. How different from my previous GP visit when team trailers were literally that – Winnebago-style with picket fences to mark the boundaries, patio tables and chairs defining team territory.
On arrival at Virgin Racing’s motorhome, I met some key members of the team and their two drivers, Timo Glock and Lucas di Grassi. All were very welcoming, putting me at ease straight away. This was to set the tone for the rest of the day.
I was given a tour of the garage, a visit to the pitwall and a review of the new GPS systems, and was shown the new nosecones that the team were to use in practise. As 10am drew nearer the tension in the garage rose – the swarm of mechanics dressed in black and red busied themselves around their respective cars, waiting for the OK to get them started.
I was given a pair of ear defenders and permitted to stay in the garage throughout the practice session – and I was rooted to the spot. It turned out that the ear defenders were linked to the team radios, providing a fabulous first-hand opportunity to witness the team dialogues and dynamics. I stood, watched and listened as two crews worked in synch on all aspects of preparing the cars and drivers for practice. When Glock’s car encountered problems and had to be stripped right back and seemingly re-built before he could sample the new-look Silverstone circuit the mechanics all worked together, keeping their cool, to ensure they maximised the time Glock had left in the first session. After lunch, I returned to the garage to watch the team at work – the relationships between chief mechanic, chief engineer, driver and the pitwall – an enlightening experience. Even the levels of cleanliness, the constant polishing of the garage floor and sweeping each time the cars were out was interesting to see – a new sponsorship opportunity for Mr Sheen maybe?
After a day out I often ask my daughter ‘which was your favourite bit?’ and she often replies ‘it was all so good, no bit was better than any other!’ Well, I will borrow her sentiments – it was a fantastic day. Thank you to Virgin Racing for their invitation and a wonderful opportunity to view the behind-the-scenes work of an F1 team.
Dafina Keys, Motor Sport‘s publisher and very good tea maker