Thursday August 2nd, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
The chequered flag has been waved and the engines silenced. Formula One has packed its bags and gone on holiday.
August has only one race this year with a ban on testing introduced for the three weeks between Hockenheim last Sunday and the Hungarian Grand Prix on August 19th, to allow hard-pressed employees a short break. But do not expect an immediate rush of mechanics and drivers to beaches around Europe. For some people, the show must go on.
Take McLaren's David Coulthard. He had a promotional day scheduled for Silverstone in England the day after Sunday's German Grand Prix and was heading for Slovakia on Friday for more of the same.
"I kind of need the break in a way to just sort of stop and re-start because the races have been just coming, coming, coming," said the Scot at Hockenheim. "But I've still got promotions really until Friday and it obviously eats into the time available. It's flights, it's travelling, all the rest of it - that is the other side of the business which is very draining. Already you've lost one week of that (break) because marketing don't look at race schedules and that sort of thing."
The break, even if only a few days for many people, will allow teams a chance to recharge their batteries in a punishing 17-race season on four continents.
"Guys in this sport work incredibly hard but they never got a chance in the past to have a summer holiday with their families or see their children," said team boss Eddie Jordan last week. "It tells on relationships and marriages and I felt we needed a break from the pressures."
British American Racing team manager Ron Meadows, happily heading to France with his family, provided an insight into what Jordan was talking about. "My average working week for a race week is 110 hours," he said at Hockenheim. "Sometimes it might be 98 or 115. The norm is we do 10 or 12 hour days on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It then gets into 18-hour days until Sunday night and you won't get back home until two in the morning on Monday."
And the work then continues unabated. The mechanics have to strip and rebuild the cars, ready to ship them out again at the end of the week to the next destination on the calendar. That is work that cannot be rushed since lives depend on the cars being built correctly. There could also be a test session, as there was at Monza in the week before Hockenheim. One big accident or problem in a test has a knock-on effect that can create mayhem with working schedules.
"The biggest problem is the testing we do," said Meadows. "We do have a testing schedule but often the engineers will say: 'We don't want to go to Monza, we want to go to Valencia. And we want to go to Mugello as well.' Staff who weren't expecting to go to a test suddenly have their lives turned upside down because they're going off to Italy for a week when they thought they were going to have a week back at the shop."
Races are not for the faint-hearted either. On a normal day it means being out of bed at 5:30am and returning to the hotel just before midnight. On a bad day the mechanics may not to get to bed at all.
"At Spa in 1999, when we wrote two cars off in qualifying, we had to stop a truck on its way to Monza and bring another two cars across and the guys didn't sleep that night," said Meadows. "They worked about 48 hours."
The mechanics are not the only ones putting up with punishing hours. Meadows said the most difficult job in a race team might well be the truck drivers. Apart from making sure the transporters and support trucks are in place at the right time, their job is only just beginning once they have parked up. "They're like paddock technicians, they've all got certain roles," said Meadows. "Two of ours look after tyres, one for each driver. That's a massive job because if you get the tyres wrong, you get kicked out of an event."
Despite the break, old habits die hard. Meadows said the ultra-competitive and compulsive nature of Formula One meant there were some who were already showing withdrawal symptoms.
"They've all been screaming for this break but ask me how many teams have a compulsory holiday," he said. "I think we are the only team in the pitlane that has insisted the guys have a week off. I do find it annoying when they're all crying for this break and they're not taking it. I've talked to lots of other team managers and they say no, no we'll come in, strip the cars and work a few days and have Friday, the weekend and Monday off."
Published at 12:54:50 GMT