to finish on anything less than a perfect stop. They may be down the back end of the grid, but their 2.7-second final stop proves the Virgin boys are as well-drilled as any team.
I get out of the buggy in the GP2 paddock to find – surprise surprise – the dry ice woman is nowhere to be seen. Panic rushes through me… have I been set up? F1 mechanics love a wind-up and I’d heard stories of teams sending the new boy out with a Ziploc bag and asking him to collect air samples. But this seemed genuine.
I frantically search the paddock and eventually find the woman several hundred metres from her supposed location. Eight boxes are loaded onto my buggy and I rush back just before FP1 is about to begin, feeling very pleased that, thanks to me, the car can now be cooled. “Thanks for doing that, mate,” says Sheeny, another truckie. “We probably won’t need it, but you never know.”
First practice begins and I’m given several typical truckie jobs to take care of, one of which is holding the fire extinguisher whenever Jim, the man in charge of refuelling Timo Glock’s car, tops up the tank. It’s a vital, if easy job but I’m soon distracted by all the pit activity and move away. “Where’s that journalist?,” Jim booms and I shuffle quickly back to his side.
Friday 8th July, SIlverstone
A day in the life of a truckie
(Curiously, it doesn’t actually involve driving a truck at any point)
06.00 Arrive at track 06.30 Pitstop practice begins 07.00 Breakfast in motorhome with team 07.30 Fix tyre guns, make sure garage signage is clean and straight 08.00 Collect dry ice for cooling from GP2 paddock 08.30
09.00 Man the fire extinguisher and clean the car during FP1 09.30
10.30 Clean bodywork, sweep garage, organise front of garage 11.00
12.00 Lunch in back of garage with team 12.30 Man fire extinguisher as car is refuelled for FP2 13.00 Man fire extinguisher and clean car during FP2 13.30
14.30 Clean bodywork, sweep garage and organise front of garage ready for pitlane walkabout 15.00 Help to bleed brakes on Timo’s car 15.30 Help a mechanic to change rear wing actuator on Timo’s car 16.00
16.30 Work with tyre operatives to clean and prepare the tyres for the rest of the weekend 17.00
18.30 Dinner in motorhome with team 19.00 General cleaning and milling around 19.30
20.00 Work with Big Chris to check torque of tyre guns 20.30
22.00 Help out as the rest of the team work on Jérôme’s hydraulics problem 22.30
00.00 Midnight curfew
Pitstop practice starts very early at 6.30am – all the more alarming when you don’t finish until 11.50pm
Another major function performed by the truckies is ensuring the garage and cars are kept spotless, so, for my next job, I’m handed some cloths and polish. Whenever Timo returns to the garage, it’s my job to wipe the grime off the car to keep the sponsors’ logos visible. It seems fruitless knowing that in a matter of minutes he’ll go out and get it filthy again, but it’s standard practice for image-obsessed F1 teams.
First practice ends and I realise that for the first time in ages I’ve no idea who’s where in the standings and, more remarkably, I don’t really care: all that matters is sorting out our cars. It’s an indication of how blinkered you can be working for an F1 team, especially when you barely stray from the small piece of land the team occupies in the paddock. The bodywork comes off the car and I knuckle down to more polishing, followed by a spot of pre-lunch sweeping.
Second practice begins and I’m really starting to feel like part of the team as I require fewer instructions. The second session ends, the bodywork comes off the cars and I ask Big Chris if I should crack on with shining it up. “Yes mate,” comes the reply, “only this time do it properly. It looked like Ray Charles cleaned it last time.”
With the on-track running finished and the mechanics hard at work on the cars, I head out to the back of the garage to meet the two tyre operatives, Magnet and Bruce. It’s their job to clean, label and wrap each wheel and tyre ready for the next day, monotonous work that they spent over 200 days on the road doing last year.
We break for dinner at 6.30pm and I start to feel the strain of a long day. But then a hydraulic problem is found on Jérôme D’Ambrosio’s car that will have the team pushing to make the midnight curfew. As the mechanics toil into the night it’s acutely obvious that these guys work as hard, if not harder, than the teams at the other end of the pitlane; the only difference is that, through no fault of their own, their car is slower. D’Ambrosio’s car is finally finished at 11.50pm and I head off to bed.
The next day Big Chris and the boys will be back at 6am to do it all over again. I, however, will be having a lie-in. Followed by a shave.
90 F1 Racing September 2011