Over the weekend, I had two very different experiences of meeting people I’d never thought I’d get the chance to see in the flesh.
Both are part of the Formula One community and have massively important roles in the port, but when it comes to recognition, they’re in a different league.
When I was growing up, I always fancied the idea of being part of the F1 circus, following the world’s most glamorous sport around the world. The guys I thought had one of the best jobs (asides from the drivers) were the mechanics in the pit lane.
These guys are the real unsung heroes, I thought, working hard on the car for three days every other weekend and then basking in the team’s success in some exotic locations for the rest of the time. In truth, I’ve know this wasn’t the case for a very long time, but to hear just what the reality was like has rubbed off even more of the glamour for me.
I had a chance meeting with the man who operates the wheel changing gun on the front right wheel for Ferrari (one of the longest job titles in the world), although I didn’t catch his name. Expecting to hear stories of how the job was filled with glamour and success, instead it was more about faceless hotels, characterless airports and generic pit garages.
In the whole of last year, the man spent just 24 days at home – and it seems the novelty of F1 wore off a long time ago. Not surprising, really. And when you think about it, it’s quite a monotonous job with no real praise or reward for getting things right, and exposure, humiliation and ridicule if things go wrong. Just remember what happened to Felipe Massa in Singapore last year…
Feeling a bit down about the sport, the next day I headed off to the excellent Powered by Mercedes-Benz event, where I managed to find myself in the right place at the right time to be at the front of the queue to meet Lewis Hamilton. I was stood by the fence admiring the gorgeous 300SLs on my own and suddenly I was aware of a large swarm of people behind me.
To my right, Hamilton was working his way along the fence signing autographs. And then he was in front of me, gladly signing my programme and listening to me mumble something like “good luck for next year”. I was pleasantly surprised just what a decent chap he was in person, thanking everyone for their support. He was almost Hollywood in his persona, but the fans love him and he loves them back which I guess is all that matters.
In the days of the BTCC Super Tourers, I was always a bit of an autograph hunter, so buoyed by my success with getting Hamilton’s I set off to find one of my real heroes – Mika Hakkinen. I queued up and got squished against the fence, but as Mika neared that didn’t really matter anymore. Until one of his security guards pulled him away for his fans, just as he was nearing the front of my programme.
I didn't mind though - was always more a Schumacher fan anyway...