The four preliminary fly-away Grands Prix of the 2013 Formula 1 season have now made their indelible way into the sport’s digital history books, and all 11 teams’ transporters are now lined-up in inch-perfect echelon at the Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, ready for today’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Some team personnel are hopeful of victory; some would be happy with a podium; others would be satisfied with a points finish. Astonishingly, perhaps, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes finds itself in the latter category.
Tonight, as soon as the flag drops, feverish de-rigging activity will commence – ‘de-rigging’ being Formula 1’s term du jour for the process of disassembling the teams’ mobile paddock edifices (still often anachronistically known as ‘motorhomes’, despite the fact that they’re freighted into European Grand Prix paddocks on fleets of identically liveried transporters, 15 of the things in the case of the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Brand Centre), paddock club structures, garage infrastructures, etc.
Meanwhile, drivers, engineers, marketers and managers will head for Barcelona El-Prat Airport, ready for the short but sweaty flight home to Blighty in most cases, and to Italy and Switzerland for Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Sauber.
In the early 1970s, by contrast, when I was working away as a muttering rotter (motoring writer – geddit?) for the British newspaper Motoring News (now Motorsport News, but, now as then, universally referred to by Formula 1 insiders as MN), things were rather different. Then, as now, however, the sense of eager anticipation during the countdown to the start of the season never failed, even though the life of a Formula 1 insider was a bit less swanky.
At the outset of McLaren’s first ever World Championship year, 1974, for example, I was promoted to cover Formula 1 for the first time, and duly dragged my over-packed suitcase up the staircase and on to the Aerolíneas Argentinas Boeing 707 that would vibrate and lurch its way from Heathrow to Buenos Aires in a little over 14 hours, stopping in Madrid (Spain) and Recife (Brazil) en route, as I recall, for fuel top-ups. In those distant days, it is easy to forget that flying was quite an audacious and exciting method by which to travel the world.
Back in 1962 my parents took me on a summer holiday trip to Montreal (Canada) to visit some of my cousins. Flying was deemed a far too costly means of crossing the Atlantic. Moreover, Cunard and Canadian Pacific liners still plied their way from Southampton up the St Lawrence river past Quebec City to Montreal. So, with a mind not to dip too deeply into my parents’ building society savings accounts, we travelled by sea.
As we left Southampton, our tiny Cunard liner, the Saxonia, was dwarfed as it drew alongside the giant Queen Mary. Little did I know that the next time I would see that stately liner would be 14 years later, in 1976, the year of the inaugural United States Grand Prix West, by which time it had been permanently moored at Long Beach harbour, repurposed as an (apparently haunted) hotel.
I stayed there in 1976, at MN’s expense, when ‘Old Man Tee’ (as we used to call MN’s irascible proprietor and the grandfather of present-day Formula 1 photographer Steven Tee [a very fine lensman, by the way]) decided to send me to California to write a race report on what we all felt would be a historic motor race. So, too, did Rob Walker, once the old-money privateer entrant of Formula 1 cars driven by aces such as Stirling Moss and Jo Siffert, who was by 1976 the Formula 1 correspondent for the august American magazine Road & Track.
I was with Rob when he marched up to the check-in desk and smiled at the elderly receptionist behind it. He said nothing. He didn’t have to – for she greeted him with, “Delighted to have you with us again, Mr Walker. We’ve allocated you your usual cabin. Oh, and would you please return a telephone call from Mrs Ginger Rogers?” Rob had sailed in the Queen Mary frequently in its North Atlantic heyday, you see, and he’d often rubbed shoulders with the very brightest stars of stage and screen when so doing.
Rob had his priorities very well-ordered. After each day’s on-track action, instead of retiring to a grotty press room for a stale sandwich with the rest of us, Rob and his wife Betty would always dine in the best restaurant in town, whichever corner of the globe we found ourselves in. Equally, after the race itself, Rob would write out his race report in his elegant copperplate, post it to Road & Track’s editorial office in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then dress for dinner yet again.
For the rest of us, it was a case of high-tailing it to a down-at-heel airport in a usually crummy hire car (Fiat 127s were common, I seem to recall) to catch the Sunday night Boeing 707 back to Heathrow. On board, I used to try my best not to disturb the person beside me as I tap-tap-tapped my way through my report on my then-nifty Olivetti portable.
When I’d arrive at Heathrow, it was my task to drive hell-for-leather the 55 miles to Chelmsford, Essex, to deliver my copy to MN’s printers.
It was a different world. Nowadays, after the race, Formula 1 journalists remain inside cavernous, air-conditioned, luxuriously appointed media centres – no such humdrum term as ‘press room’ suffices for such cathedrals to motorsport journalism – and, when they’ve finished and spell-checked their reports, they merely press ‘send’.
Which is what I’ll do with this blog now, I think. Yes, that just about covers what I want to say this weekend. So, yes, I’ll press ‘send’ now. See you next weekend.