Components, porn, pressure cookers and Tom & Jerry...

Jarno Trulli, Spanish GP 2001

Jarno Trulli, Spanish GP 2001 

 © The Cahier Archive

I think I am going to establish a Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Clutches. The RSPCC could be there to protect these gripping objects from abuse. But the fact is that clutches are not really gripping at all. No journalist ever wrote that Mike Hakkinen won the Patagonian Grand Prix because he was using a really good clutch. All clutches ever do in public is fail.

Being a component part of a Formula 1 car is a thankless task because you are only ever mentioned when something goes wrong. The headlines after Barcelona all told the world that it was the fault of a clutch that Mika Hakkinen blew up on the last lap. In fact it was more complicated than that because there was some kind of hydraulic leak which triggered off a chain reaction which resulted in the clutch getting the blame. Tires can sometimes be given credit for victory. Engines are sometimes put in the spotlight but all clutches can ever do to get in the papers is to transform themselves into composite muesli.

When you stop and think about it this is the story of the whole of Formula 1. The entire F1 circus is made of component parts and component people and most of them are never mentioned. The drivers are the stars. The team bosses provide the amusement off the tracks with their cartoon character behavior. But no-one ever mentions the mechanics who work day and night to prepare the cars. No-one ever talks about the people who run the motorhomes, or the signwriters. Journalists are there to be abused and sponsor-hunters are only ever mentioned when the team fails to get the money they need. There is a squadron of pilots who are only ever mentioned when a driver or a team boss is late for something. The travel agents who keep the whole circus running do not get the credit they deserve. The lonely days and nights of the F1 truck drivers are never mentioned. There is an army of television technicians who are never told that they do a wonderful job and are only ever mentioned if they miss something or if one of a million wires is not plugged in properly.

It never cease to amaze me the kind of jobs that go on in the background in Formula 1. Some teams have men who are there only to ensure that the team looks good. There are men who park Bernie Ecclestone's fleet of trucks so that they look perfect. Everything is measured to the inch. There are florists who ensure that motorhomes are always looking good. There are butchers, bakers and, probably, candlestick-makers as well. Lawyers are constantly getting their briefs in a twist. Trainers are always training the stars. Managers are managing. Nutritionists are mixing up horrible messes in the bottom of breakfast bowls. There are wives and mistresses (and sometimes both) who provide support for the stars and so it goes on.

And the one thing that everyone in this multi-layered world has in common is that no-one really understands what it is that everyone else has to put up with and how hard everyone works. Journalists do not understand how hard mechanics work but when one turns it around there is little understanding in the paddock of what the media is there for. Everyone underestimates what it takes to run a Formula 1 team. There are many sleepless nights for many people. And often it is not the star names who are doing the work. They have managers in the background who take away the strain. Grand Prix racing is a little like a swan, gliding along without any apparent effort but beneath the surface there is a vast amount of activity going on.

The other evening I was at home, playing with the satellite TV and looking at the listings one can find if you know which buttons to press. I spotted a film at five minutes past midnight called "Grand Prix". Oh, I thought, that old nugget. But the word next to it was "telefilm", which is French for a film which was made for television. It seemed odd and so I clicked on it to see if it was something other than John Frankenheimer's classic. I discovered that the full title was Grand Prix Australia and that the film had been made in 1992, was 105 minutes in length and had no star names which I recognized. There was a synopsis of the plot: "Joey, a sporting journalist, finds himself in Adelaide to cover the Formula 1 Grand Prix. Ashlyn, one of his colleagues, suggests that he stays on a boat which she is sharing with Sunny."

Well, I stayed up for the hell of it to see how my namesake's life compared to mine. I will not go into too much detail about Joey and the girls. All I can say is that clothing quickly became unnecessary and he got to know them very well (as did anyone watching the film). None of the action took place at the racing circuit. It all seemed to be happening on the houseboat. There was a long-haired man who was supposed to be a racing driver and he did much the same as Joey and there was a bloke in beret (I presume he was supposed to be French) and he did much as the others. They all seemed to be having a good time but one wonders about the levels of stress involved because there did seem to be a rather complicated tangle of relationships.

Formula 1 is all about a constantly-developing series of complex relationships. The pressure is always on. And this means that the paddock can sometimes be a little like a pressure-cooker. People lose sight of what they are trying to achieve. The team bosses knife one another one day and then 10 minutes later they are friends. I have always found this strange but, like any kid, I always loved Tom & Jerry cartoons and so I really I should understand.

I try to forgive when people tell me lies but there are some people with whom such things become impossible. You can give second chances. Sometimes you can give third or even fourth chances but eventually, unless you are stupid, you simply give up. There is one team boss with whom I have crossed swords on many occasions. Once we were friends but we fell out. Five times I have tried to build bridges and five times he has burned them. I have reached the conclusion that the man does not understand the difference between right and wrong and when you get like that you are never going to be successful because you make too many enemies along the way. He has become an irrelevance. So has his team.

There was an illustration of this recently when a number of the team bosses gathered to discuss the latest political kerfuffles. I happened to be watching all this going on and noting who was present. Only half the team owners were there. Where was Such-and-Such? I asked later.

"Oh, we don't trust him," came the reply. "He was not invited."

All one can do to avoid becoming depressed when dealing with such people is to see the good side of the sport as well. As I swept out of the paddock in a hurry on Sunday night in Barcelona I hurried past a scene which illustrated that. There was a tearful girl in Jaguar Racing garb being hugged but one of her girlfriends from Ferrari. Life is sometimes hard in F1. Behind the wheeling and the dealing and the ego-driven idiocy of the politicking, there are real people at work.

But like clutches, they never get much credit...

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