Feature: Vanishing Break for F1's Hidden Army

Much of Formula One has gone on holiday and the drivers, mechanics and support staff should enjoy the brief break while they can.

Feature: Vanishing Break for F1's Hidden Army

Much of Formula One has gone on holiday and the drivers, mechanics and support staff should enjoy the brief break while they can.

They are unlikely to get the chance next year.

The provisional 17-race calendar for 2003 is relentless with Grands Prix every other weekend and three in August alone - Germany, Hungary and Belgium - compared to just Hungary this year on August 18.

Some team bosses, who lobbied hard for an extra week off to give exhausted staff a break and a chance to spend time with their families, are unhappy about the crowded calendar but seem powerless to do anything.

The loss of the break may seem no big deal for the multi-millionaire drivers, handsomely rewarded for their dangerous labours with glamorous lifestyles and more exotic holidays than most ordinary mortals.

At Sunday's German Grand Prix, while fans trooped away to join motorway traffic jams in the evening, some drivers had their bags packed and helicopters waiting to whisk them towards their Mediterranean yachts.

But behind the scenes there is an army of people racking up 100 hours and more a week - mechanics, 'truckies' and support staff - and the lack of a break will hit them hard.

Little Hope

"I don't really hold much hope of it changing," said McLaren principal Ron Dennis of the 2003 calendar. "The problem is that the people who are choosing those dates are not coming to every Grand Prix and they are certainly not physically working on racing cars.

"I can comfortably say there wasn't a single Grand Prix team consulted in any shape or form when this calendar was put together. And I don't think that's particularly fair.

"Most of the management of the racing teams can comfortably cope," added Dennis. "But it is extremely tough for the people who work directly in the teams, all the mechanics and all the logistics staff."

Staff retention, in one of the most competitive and emotionally draining walks of life, is a problem and turnover can be high, even with a summer break.

"We get people that come to us towards the end of the season and say 'Look, the strain on my personal life is too much'," said Dennis. "It's not just the fact that they go away at weekends, it's that they're working very long hours when they are back."

Out of 17 races, six are currently long-haul destinations for Europe-based workers, with Australia, Malaysia and Brazil at the start of the season, the United States and Japan at the end and Canada in the middle.

China, Bahrain and other exotic venues are in the frame for races from 2004 and, with testing also thrown in, the demands are only likely to grow in future.

"These islands of a couple of weeks off are pretty big because...at the tail end of the season, going to America and then Japan, they (the staff) are away for a month," said Dennis.

Ecclestone Decides

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn agreed that the break was important, although the factory would remain busy working on next year's car and mechanics would have to prepare the cars for Hungary as well.

"I think it's a little bit of a shame that we haven't had that break. It's put in the calendar for good reasons," said the Englishman. "Obviously there are commercial reasons that have overridden that requirement but it was nice in August to be able to send everyone away for a week.

"For the race team it was good to just say to them 'go away for a week and recharge your batteries before the end of the season'. That's going to be difficult to do now."

As ever in Formula One, the key man is Bernie Ecclestone. He puts forward the calendar and controls the commercial side of the sport. According to International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley, there was little room to manoeuvre when it came to the 2003 calendar.

"What happened was that we either had a really crazy calendar with three (back-to-back) races in succession, they (the teams) gave up their holiday or we had to move Monaco from a date that we'd agreed with them," he said earlier this month.

"Monaco always used to follow Ascension Day and we said to them some time ago that this really isn't possible any more, you've got to have the same date each year.

"They were given that date and then they built everything round it and couldn't really move it. The only possible way out was the teams' holiday. Bernie proposes the calendar, Bernie did everything and he very honestly said to the World Council: 'If there is something wrong it's my fault, so I'll have to square it with the teams'," said Mosley with a smile.

"We've heard no more so presumably he's squared it - possibly in the time-honoured Bernie fashion."

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