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Old 13th June 2004, 11:30   #1
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Working in a place where common sense is often in short supply and egos are perpetually pampered can be frustrating. Add outside commercial pressures and internal power politics to the equation and it can be one of the unfriendliest, most unsettling and dissatisfying places to work. Comparing motorbike events to Formula One, even the commentator Murray Walker admits: “The bike crowd are still a lot more friendly than those in Formula One.”
Formula One has more than its fair share of unpleasant characters, and many hold positions of power.

“I’m just sick of all these sleazy men,” said one young woman who resigned from her post as a team PR manager. “I’ve got to get out.” Another former employee described working “for two weeks, seven until midnight, living on Red Bull”. She saw one male colleague “reduced to tears” several times because of the “hostility within the team. Senior employees would talk to us like dirt. They would try to make us fail so that they would look good”.

The hours, the travelling and the unpleasant people take a terrible toll. At a candlelit dinner in one team’s motorhome — with their drivers, the team boss and several other influential figures — I noticed that one of the waitresses looked especially tired and on the verge of tears. I asked if she was okay, only to be told that she’d had a miscarriage at the previous race.

“But I told her,” said the team boss when the waitress had returned to the kitchen, “there’s a reason for these things. I believe it’s the body’s mechanism of getting rid of a child that’s not right.”

It didn’t look as though his words of consolation had hit quite the right note as she lay our desserts before us with tears in her eyes.

The drivers

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Formula One showcases the 20 best drivers in the world — it doesn’t.

In 2001 Justin Wilson became the most successful Formula 3000 champion of all time. Excelling in this feeder league ought to have guaranteed him at least a test driver position in Formula One. But the cheerful lad with the 6ft 3in frame spent a year looking around for a welcoming team and found none. They all dismissed him as too tall to fit into their cars. By the middle of 2003 it became obvious this was just an excuse. Wilson just didn’t have enough money.

He was eventually hired by Minardi’s Paul Stoddart at the start of the season, but only after he had taken the drastic step of turning himself into a limited company to raise a cheque for 1.2m, payable to Minardi. Wilson’s story reminds us that these days many drivers have to buy their seat on the team, often at the expense of much better rivals and the quality of the sport itself.

For 2003 Jos Verstappen returned to Minardi to partner Wilson and few would question his experience. But he brought more than that to the table. He arrived with a 5m package from Dutch backers keen to see a fellow countryman in the championship. Previously Minardi had welcomed Alex Yoong to the fold because the good-looking Malaysian would cause a whole nation to switch on and thereby encourage Asian backers. Inevitably his record was dire and he was dropped in 2002 after failing to qualify within 107% of the pole-setter’s time.

Back in 1995 a Japanese driver named Taki Inoue joined the Footwork Hart team at an estimated personal cost of $4.5m. The season did not go well. At Monaco he was hit by the safety car and at Hungary by the marshal’s car, breaking his leg.

The avaricious manner in which drivers are selected only goes to show how the drivers have been marginalised. Technology is normally cited as the main threat to an F1 driver’s relevance, but that is increasingly matched by the undermining power of commercial politics.

In fact I was often surprised at how little power drivers have in Formula One. They aren’t even allowed grandstand tickets for their families on race day. They can lunch them as guests of the team, but they must watch the race on a silent screen in the motorhome.

After the 2003 season Kimi Raikkonen told journalist Bill Borrows: “I love to drive, but hate all that other s*** that goes with it. There’s so much bullshit around Formula One.”

The PR machine

Like Roman charioteers, F1 drivers are “slaves”. They are beholden to team orders, the sponsors and media commitments, and the business has made PR as important as the racing.

For example the Jaguar driver Mark Webber’s run-up to the Australian Grand Prix began the moment he stepped off the plane from London. Launching the new Jaguar XJ at a motor show was followed by a flight to Canberra and several phone interviews with local radio stations. The next day I arrived to spend the day filming him with his family.

That evening he flew to Sydney for a question and answer session at a Jaguar cocktail party, but the late night was followed by an early morning as he appeared on a breakfast TV show at 7am. An 11am press conference, photo-call, lunch at the Chamber of Commerce, a flight to Melbourne, a charity dinner and a late-night TV show appearance completed his commitments.

The next day involved an HSBC photo-call, an autograph session and a magazine dinner. But even though first qualifying was just 24 hours away he still had a corporate lunch to endure before the tyre meetings and team briefings began. Then on the eve of qualifying Webber had to attend a Jaguar dealership drinks party and HSBC cocktail party, a visit to the Mark Webber supporters club party and a phone interview with UK radio and another with a journalist.

On Friday, after a day of paddock-club appearances, it was time to attend the grand prix ball. A flurry of cocktail parties might not sound especially exhausting, but no other sport would dream of placing such demands on its participants so close to competition.

Lack of passion

Others might consider it a sport, but for the 213 sponsors involved in Formula One it is definitely a business. As Sir Frank Williams is fond of saying: “Between the hours of two o’clock and four o’clock most Sunday afternoons at grand prix races, it is a sport . . . The rest of the time it is a business.” But when business considerations affect every detail of the sport, from the car to the driver, this sentiment rings hollow.

Most drivers despise the corporate responsibilities, but most F1 teams feel they must prioritise grabbing column inches over driver preparation, because many of them never actually expect to win a race — a curious situation for any “sport”. Often they don’t even expect to complete the race. No other sport is founded on such defeatism and for this reason the raw emotion that lies at the heart of any sport is a rarity in Formula One.


At the Silverstone Ball in 2002 I was with a group of men who hold significant positions in F1. The Foster’s Girls were in attendance, a troupe of young women who appear at grands prix wearing blue micro-minis and tight Lycra tops. They are led around the circuit in line, stopping from time to time to have their picture taken. On this night, they were handing out bottles of Foster’s to men who were groping their bottoms.

“I can’t believe that a global sport still has women like this on display,” I said to my dinner companion. “I know,” he replied. “They’re pigs . . . You’d think they could find some attractive ones.”

It was a hot, dreary day at the Brazilian Grand Prix and I was chatting to friends in the makeshift paddock. Irish driver Eddie Irvine was sitting at an adjoining table and the conversation turned to a mutual friend of ours, a German television presenter whose contract had recently been cancelled.

“Oh, Eddie,” I said, “do you know that Nova won’t be at any more races this year?” “Oh, that’s a shame,” he replied. “It was good watching her ### walk down the paddock.”

“Hmm . . .” I said, assuming he was being sarcastic. “I’ll miss her conversation too.”

“No, I won’t miss that,” he said quite seriously. “She just looked good. That’s all any of you are here for, just to be looked at.”

There were eight other men sitting listening. Nobody said a word except for Niki Lauda. He looked at me from beneath his baseball cap and shrugged. “It’s a man’s world,” he said.

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Old 15th June 2004, 02:29   #2
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Amazing find ajmat.

What we as F-1 lovers have felt for so long was a bit too ostentatious. It just shows how commercialized the sport has become. Behind the closed doors the murky deals and talks that happen are never known to us F-1 fans. I hope all of us learn not to take things at face value (with regards to F-1 or anything) and learn to make a fair assessment. Its best to get a balanced outllook. Looks like this article really will balance my thinking and will have to make some re-assessment about F-1 and what i thought it was.

Another dream lays shattered.

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Old 29th June 2014, 12:01   #3
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Default Re: What goes on behind the scenes in F1

What an amazing read this has been. Almost 10 years after It was posted.
Those were the glorious days I think. Nostalgic moments, it's like going back in time. Reading about Webber in a jaguar, HSBC, Jos Verstrapen surely bought a smile to my face. The Michael Vs Alonso, Michael Vs Juan Pablo Montaya duels were so exiting to watch. The cars then used to look so cool with their wide tail wings, real beauties. I also used to like the 1 lap qualifying at race fuel which ensure each and every driver gets his exclusive tv footage and people watching were able to judge the drivers based on their driving styles.

Last edited by Shashidl : 29th June 2014 at 12:03. Reason: spelling mistake
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Old 30th June 2014, 08:17   #4
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Default Re: What goes on behind the scenes in F1

Came across this lovely book by Di Spires :
I Just Made The Tea - Tales from 30 years inside Formula 1

Fantastic read from the days when motorhome dining would be run by a couple.
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