x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The other drivers of the F1 bandwagon

They might not drive at speeds in excess of 300kph, but the truckers that transport the cars and equipment are just as important as Vettel and co.

Minutes after the German Grand Prix, the teams packed up and headed to Hungary, above, to prepare for the next race.
Minutes after the German Grand Prix, the teams packed up and headed to Hungary, above, to prepare for the next race.

They might not drive at speeds in excess of 300kph, but the truckers that transport the cars and equipment are just as important as Vettel and co, Gary Meenaghan writes

Moments after Lewis Hamilton had stepped off the podium following his German Grand Prix win at the Nurburgring last Sunday, he and the rest of his McLaren-Mercedes team, as tradition now dictates, changed into red T-shirts to mark the success.

As the Briton celebrated, Tony Fernandes, the Team Lotus principal, could also be seen wearing eye-catching attire: a fluorescent bib.

The sun had yet to set, yet Fernandes was helping pack up the Formula One circus and by 10pm the convoy of trucks had left, bound for Budapest.

Steve Hershell and Ross Pick, a pair of typically wisecracking Englishmen, were charged with driving one of the six Lotus trucks 895km cross-country to the Hungaroring.

It took them 20 hours, in which period they had plenty time to talk about things close to their hearts: racing, football and women.

They broke up the conversation - much to Pick's dismay - with some of Hershell's favourite trance music.

"We're double manned on the back-to-back races, so we did the trip in shifts of four-and-a-half hours," Pick said.

"That way we're not breaking any laws and can get a sleep - although usually we're still buzzing so don't bother. It's generally a good laugh."

Over at Force India, Derek Garrard fills his truck's airwaves with The Eagles, Celine Dion or Florence and the Machine.

A white-haired Englishman, he has been driving transporters for years, but specifically with F1 since 2006.

Each season, while heading from Germany to Hungary, he often opts for different routes to freshen things up.

This year he went through Austria, coordinating with the rest of the fleet so they could all stop at the same service station for breakfast on Monday, where they enjoyed ham and eggs.

Garrard chooses not to use satellite navigation to help him on his way. "No, I don't use GPS," he said. "The boys will laugh, but I've had one in the car for four years and it's still in its wrapping. I don't need it.

"Even a map, I've only carried one this year because someone left it in there. I know those roads like the back of my hand."

The sight of a hulking and branded F1 truck trundling through the European countryside understandably attracts a lot of attention.

Children travelling in the back seats of saloon cars invite drivers to honk their horns, while the truck gets flocked by intrigued motorists whenever it stops for petrol.

According to Garrard, it costs roughly €800 (Dh4,203) to fill a transporter's tank.

"You wouldn't believe the number of people hanging out their car windows with their mobile phones," Hershell said. "You're like: 'Watch the road, you maniac'!"

Garrard said such attention is part and parcel of the job, adding: "The truck is obviously branded and we are promoting that brand and the sport.

"A lot of people can't afford to go to a grand prix so the only way they can get close to it, is the trucks. If people want to stop and have their pictures taken next to the truck, that's fine with me.

"If there's a little kid, we'll get him up in the cab. That's all part of it, isn't it?"

Not all the attention is welcomed, however.

One group of fans are particularly persistent in their pursuit of the F1 circus.

"The police," Pick said. "You know you are going to get pulled over when you come into Hungary, because they are after caps and other stuff. About an hour away from the circuit, I got stopped twice. I rolled the window down and was like, 'Yeah, there you go'.

"Then you think, maybe that's a bribe, but that's what they want. And you get to go on, so it's all good."

The inclusion of back-to-back races in Formula One is not new, but experience does not make it any easier for teams, or evidently, the FIA, the sport's world governing body.

Earlier this year, commitments for the Monaco Grand Prix were due to get underway less than 60 hours after the Spanish Grand Prix wrapped up, yet following a fire near the paddock, several media sessions were delayed.

The disorder led to calls for an extended break between the two races. Yesterday, such was the struggle to get everything in place so quickly after Germany's race, many Formula One access passes failed to arrive on time leaving journalists locked out of the paddock.

Jenson Button, Hamilton's teammate at McLaren, said for the drivers back-to-back racing is not an issue, "but for the teams it's a lot busier. They don't get a break between the two races like we do and they are flat out."

Hershell and Pick agree. While they are rewarded with a day off today and plan to see some of he sights of the Hungarian capital, many of the engineers and mechanics will have to work right through until Monday.

"Our job's a little bit easier than some of the other lads, who are working flat out this weekend," Hershell said, before Pick added: "But saying that, when we come in, pack down and then do the hard driving, they are sitting on a plane somewhere, so I guess we all do our fair share."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae


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