GLOBETROTTER

Travels of a windtunnel

It's no life being a windtunnel at Williams Grand Prix Engineering, I can tell you. You sit there and strange people called aerodynamicists mess about with models of racing cars, blowing wind through your innards and fiddling with your rolling road.

But you know the worst thing? I never get any credit. I'm the King of the Windtunnels, I am. A multiple World Champion and all I ever hear is Damon Hill this, Damon Hill that. Jacques Villeneuve. Give me a break!

Once in a while you might hear someone say: "The aerodynamic program is so much better than everyone else" but then it's Patrick Head who gets all the credit. It's never me. It's always the bloody fly boys, isn't it? The Adrian Neweys, Jock Clears and the David Browns. They go to races and appear on TV so they think they're the big stars.

I bet if I went to a race, I'd make a big impact.

I guess it's a bit like being in the Air Force - don't laugh, a lot of windtunnels are, you know. Everyone loves a fighter pilot, don't they? But how often is it the heavyweight bombers who win the day? There's a good question. And it's the same in a rugby team. Everyone loves the pretty boy fly half, don't they? But who sees the prop with the busted nose and says: "What a star!"?

That's how I feel. I want to be famous. The aerodynamicists don't understand. They speak a different language to the rest of the world. Boffin Talk. I get more sense out of the cleaning ladies. Aerodynamicists are a strange lot. Most of them look like startled rabbits who just emerged from a dark tunnel underground. They blink and stare and look a bit lost. They always have hair which flies in all directions. They have nicknames like "Windy" and "Blower" and they wear different colored socks. They'd never get a job at a smart team like McLaren, that's for sure.

There might be a moral in that somewhere.

Anyway, they may all be very clever and have lots of letters after their names - but they don't have a lot of common sense I can tell you. I bet they get into their baths with their socks on. Mind you, commonsense is not something I associate with motor racing people. I mean they are daft, aren't they? They spend all their time lying under these piddly little cars being squirted with oil.

I didn't ask to be put on a racing team. But once I discovered my lot in life, did I complain? No. I did my job. I turned in a string of World Championships and what did I get for it? Nothing but the satisfaction of knowing that I could beat the rest of them. And what is that worth when you go shopping? Not that windtunnels do go shopping of course. Anyway, after five years of hard work I thought I might have deserved a rest and you can imagine how pleased I was in January last year when Frank Williams announced that he was moving the whole team - all 250 of us - to a new factory eight miles away in a place called Grove. It was getting a bit crowded on our 6.5-acres in Basil Hill Road in the shadow of the cooling towers of Didcot Power Station. I guess that was not surprising when you consider that Williams had been here since the start of 1984. Whatever the case, I thought: "Thank God. I might get some peace and a little recognition when they flog me to someone else. Maybe I could design a space rocket or a missile of something!" I was happy to pass on the F1 torch to a new generation of windtunnels and be put out to grass in my comfortable little spot.

All the boffins were really excited about the new place at Grove. Frank and Patrick bought the whole site - all 28 acres of it - from some people called Janssen Pharmaceutical Ltd., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. I bet they got a really good price. They like to wheel and deal. The place is far too big of course. They've got more empty offices than the Civil Service on a Friday afternoon.

Anyway. I was looking forward to my retirement when suddenly one day they all started talking about how to transfer me to Grove. I'm a bloody windtunnel, for goodness sake. We're not supposed to move. I'm Research & Development. We're delicate. I'm not some gipsy caravan like the Race Team, packing up my tents every other weekend. I've got a sprightly 165 tons to my name, I'll have you know. I'm not the transitory type. I've put down roots. I've got five miles of cable.

They didn't listen. They tried to sweet-talk me, telling me about a fancy new three-storey research and development building at Grove, purpose-built for me. In the end of course I didn't get a choice. They've cut me into bits - like some magic act - and are going to move me in the dead of night at the end of April. And then, I suppose, with a few showers of sparks as they weld me together again, I will become one windtunnel again. Just like that!

I must admit I'm not keen on the idea. The people who built me - the Aiolos Engineering Corporation of Toronto, Canada - have moved a few windtunnels in their day but they haven't ever cut one up before. It's taken them seven months to plan. I'm being reduced to three main sections - although I think I'm actually going to be 13 bits in total. They are going to use a large crane to load us (I use the royal "we" not because I want to be like Nigel Mansell but rather because there will be 13 of me in a week or two) onto four heavy goods vehicle "low-loaders". The police say we are "abnormal loads" but I object to that. I'm a totally normal - if rather superior - windtunnel. There's nothing abnormal about me.

Once we all loaded up we are simply going to drive the eight miles to Grove. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, it isn't. For a start we have to do it at a most unsociable hour - 01:30 on a Sunday. They are going to shut down the roads and the four low-loaders are going to chug on down towards the A34.

I am rather proud of the fact that "we" are sufficiently important to close down the A34. Let me tell you the A34 is a major road. It goes from Southampton all the way to Manchester, right up the spine of England. It's not exactly a motorway but there's lots of dual-carriageway. Anyway, they have to close it down and take out the barriers in the middle because "we" will be too tall to go underneath. And that's not all. After that "we" are going through the villages of Steventon and East Hanney, which will involve the disconnection of electric power and phone lines along the route. Hundreds of houses are going to be cut off for a while. Never mind. The nice telephone people have organized that everyone can have a mobile phone for the weekend while their lines are disconnected to allow us to pass.

They were trying to think up ways of avoiding all this. They even considered flying "us" by helicopter with one of those really big sky crane Chinook things. I must say I don't think I'd like flying much. If the Great Engineer in the Sky had wanted windtunnels to fly he would have given us wings, wouldn't he?

Thankfully the police said: "Hello, hello, hello. You cannot go flying windtunnels around England, you know."

The police had investigated the possibility and deduced that anyone driving home from the pub on Saturday night and seeing a windtunnel flying by would, likely as not, crash into something solid in surprise. And so they said that if the windtunnel flies, then the roads must be closed...

The only good thing about all this is that I am sure all the disruption will attract lots of media interest - not before time either. I'm trying to get them to put out press releases saying that I'm a very exclusive windtunnel but apparently I have lots of secrets and they don't want TV cameras gawping at my bits.

It is, I admit, rather nice to be so exclusive but being the King of Windtunnels can be pretty lonely. There are only two tunnels like me in the whole world. I keep in touch with them. We exchange boffins from time to time.

I have to say that I'm not very taken by the Swift windtunnel in California. He thinks he's a real glamorous bastard just because he's in the sunshine in Californ-I-A. Now that Swift has signed a deal with Newman Haas Racing, the windtunnel is going to be unbearable. He'll be crowing on about mixing with Hollywood stars like Paul Newman. Yuk! I hate name-droppers.

The Ferrari tunnel at Filton in Bristol is a much less pretentious but, between you and me, he cannot be that good because the Italians are building another half-scale facility at Maranello. It seems they need two identical tunnels to compete with the great Williams super-tunnel!

I suppose it proves I am worth something.

But you know what? Three months from now - when they have reinstalled and recommissioned me - all this excitement will be forgotten. I will have had a rest and it will be back to work. And then all we will ever hear is Damon Hill this and Damon Hill that.

Not a word about the poor long-suffering windtunnel...

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