The changing face of the Formula One Paddock

This is the first in a series of planned articles on Formula One written by our intrepid reporter that will hopefully sustain or even ignite your interest in this fascinating and exciting sport. Formula 1 has changed immeasurably over the past few decades with masses of information about drivers like Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, David Coulthard and top teams like Ferrari, McLaren, Renault, Honda, etc, available to the general public, in others ways it has become far more exclusive. Take the Formula One Paddock for example, these days you either need to be a team member, a famous celebrity, very wealthy, a corporate hospitality guest or just plain lucky to even stand a chance of visiting this most exclusive corner of the hidden world of Formula 1. You can however increase your chances of a visit to Formula One's inner sanctum, and later in this article we will explain how.

Back in the 1960's, 1970's and even 1980's things were far different. The Formula One Teams, Drivers and the Formula 1 Pits were much more 'race fan friendly', with little thought as to who could go where. For practice sessions almost anyone could go to the F1 paddock, see the mechanics working on their favourite cars and seek out their driver heroes like Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark, Jack Brabham, Chris Amon, Bruce McLaren et al to sign their autograph books. On race day providing you had paid for your Formula 1 Paddock pass you were guaranteed a close up view of the action in the racing pits.. The contemporary Formula One scene is a totally different story with strict visitor criteria and hordes of personnel staffing today's Formula One Paddock. On occasion even the F1 team personnel have had problems causing them great consternation, especially if they have forgotten their coveted passes. There is a lighter side to this however, take Eddie Jordan as a case in example, on a milestone birthday the Jordan team owner headed for the F1 Paddock Club, (another highly exclusive arena) on his special day, presented his F1 pass, only to be greeted by the electronic message 'Too Old'. This was  a prank apparently organised by no less than F1 impresario Bernie Ecclestone , who despite his reputation as a hard nosed businessman, clearly does has a good sense of humour.

Light years seem to have passed when you compare the Formula One cars, equipment and facilities available to the F1 teams and racing drivers of today, with those of heroes such as Jack Brabham, Graham Hill, Jochen Rindt, and Jackie Stewart etc. Back then they were lucky to have a transporter with an awning on a gravel surfaced area in a crowded F1 paddock, with piece of rope untidily strung around the area to keep back the eager racing fans. Today the visitor to the Formula One Paddock would be amazed by the sheer scale of the operation, from the truly massive and classy facilities the teams bring along to house their drivers, personnel and guests, to the clinically clean permanent garages that today's mechanics work in. You simply cannot compare the teams hospitality HQ's at the circuits these days with the motor homes of old. Red Bull for example, have a facility that is six trucks wide and three stories high, with a covered balcony at the top!. McLaren is close behind with a fantastic media centre at it's disposal. Ferrari even brings along a mobile gymnasium for use by its drivers at testing sessions and race weekends. Today's racing drivers such as Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso, David Coulthard, Jenson Button and their peers appear to lead a charmed life, with everything prepared for them and every last minute detail catered for. The drivers do however live live at a hectic pace both on and off the track, with ever increasing demands on their time. There are the post test and race debriefings, press interviews, photographs, autographs and the demands of the teams sponsors VIP corporate guests, all of whom want their slice of the Formula 1 star's time to make their experience complete.

Jumping back to the early days, drivers like Jochen Rindt could be seen hurriedly sticking tape on their visors before races, to protect from sunlight or rain. There were definitely no gymnasiums or plush motor homes anywhere in sight, in fact quite often the drivers could be seen sitting on a spare wheel in the pits to grab a quick nap. Back to today, another impressive sight in the Formula 1 paddock is the team transporter. These trucks are superb, and in keeping with the modern day image of the sport they are always absolutely immaculate in every detail. Just seeing the truckies manouvering them into place is a sight to behold. Each team has a specific paddock position, and garages allocated dependent upon their finishing order in last years Formula 1 constructors championship, and the trucks are positioned and aligned to the nearest millimetre. Two of the pioneers for these developments and for the emergence of the corporate sponsor in F1, are the late great Lotus boss Colin Chapman and Bernie Ecclestone himself. Back in the 70's the ever enterprising Chapman introduced the Formula One scene to a sea change by bringing cigarette sponsorship into the sport, and naming his team 'Gold Leaf Team Lotus, and later painting his cars black and gold, and calling them John Player Specials. For some fans the disappearance of the traditional British racing green cars with yellow stripes was regarded as sacrilege. From here on in the floodgates opened and the money poured into the sport, paving the way for today's luxurious excesses. We saw the likes of Yardley Team BRM, Brooke Bond Oxo team Surtees, and even Ferrari was forced to yield some of its legendary scarlet space to the likes of Marlboro, Agip etc. Formula One had changed forever, but was it for the better?. We will come back to this in a later article.

Earlier in this article, we said we would give you a few tips on how to visit the Formula 1 Paddock area and if you are very lucky the F1 Paddock Club, and what follows will help, but not guarantee you success. Today's F1 operations are huge and the teams employ large numbers of personnel, and have lots of sponsors and suppliers. During your meetings with friends, family and business contacts you will invariably come into contact with some of these individuals or with someone who knows one. You need to leverage these contacts, as they will undoubtably be able to obtain passes into F1's exclusive inner circle. It is always best to try to attend F1 test sessions in the first instance, as things are generally a little more relaxed. The other bonus of attending a test session is that admission to the circuit is normally free. If you are lucky enough to work for a company that is a significant sponsor or supplier of a Formula One team, you may be able to benefit from the corporate hospitality provided by the team itself, and this is a fantastic experience. You will be invited into the F1 pits and garages, drink champagne, experience great food and with a bit of luck you may also get to meet Schumacher, Raikkonen or Fernando Alonso. in person. Something else worth considering is to join one of the F1 team official supporters clubs. Quite often the Formula One teams arrange for club members to attend F1 test sessions and visit the garages. Other than that you will have to take your chances and use your own ingenuity to get closer to your motor racing heroes, remember it's often not what you know, but who you know that counts. We hope you like this article and plan to follow it up in the near future with more insight into this fascinating sport. If you have enjoyed it please help us to promote the site by telling a friend about us!.

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