Above: When cash-strapped Lotus earned a podium in 2015, they realized they had nothing with which to celebrate. A rival team saw to it that they were not empty-handed.
Engine arguments. Quit threats. Shark fin or no shark fin. Equitable distribution of revenue. The strategy group. Stewarding calls. Track limits. Reviews and appeals. Logos.
It’s easy to get caught up in the bubble of Formula 1 and to focus on the divisions that exist within one of the richest and most competitive sporting enterprises in the world. Formula 1 and politics have always coexisted. Bernie Ecclestone this week spoke of his penchant for creating the mayhem which, so often over his decades at the helm of the sport, characterized its perception and led to so many headlines.
But behind it all there exists one huge community. I’ve often described the sport as a circus, one giant show that picks itself up and plonks itself down in a different location every other weekend. The players remain the same. We are one big traveling troupe.
And for every headline you will see that screams of division and argument, there exists a hundred small acts of kindness that will never be mentioned. Far from being the divisive world many believe this paddock to be, it is a close family of people who all share the same passions, hopes and dreams.
I was reminded of this just last night, when a text message landed asking when I was leaving the track and if I could carry a team member back with me to drop them at their hotel. A family emergency had arisen and the team, without blinking, had booked them on the next flight home. Without a hesitation. Their place would be covered, their workload taken on by the team. What was most important was that this valued member could return home to be with their family.
When a member of the press corps fell ill a few years ago, it wasn’t their employer but a team boss who personally booked the journalist’s wife on the first available flight out to the race to be with him as he convalesced. First class. And nothing was ever asked in return.
When my dear friend Jason Swales caught a nerve in his neck some years ago, it was Frank Williams’ personal physician who sorted him out. Frank watched on. “You need to be careful with your neck,” he wryly grinned.
When a colleague, who worked on the picture desk at the magazine for which I used to write, was diagnosed with a severe illness, it was Prof. Sid Watkins himself who ensured he got the best possible treatment.
I’ve had medical issues over the years, notably here in Abu Dhabi four or five years ago. I was sent to the medical bay and examined. A procedure was carried out, a prescription was written, I thanked the doctors and went on my way. This happens every hour of every day.
When I ran the London Marathon, Red Bull Racing offered me the use of one of the team’s physiotherapists to ensure I actually made it to the end and fulfilled my fundraising goals. They’ve done the same for Jason as he gets over his broken ankle.
With apologies to those who sponsored me anonymously, I did promise to logo myself up on the day pic.twitter.com/k6g6DZQMSZ
— Will Buxton (@thebuxtonblog) April 23, 2017
When journalists have lost equipment or had it stolen, others chipped in to help. When photographers have had equipment stolen, others have lent them camera bodies and lenses. This, despite all of them essentially being in competition with one another to get that one key shot. When the proverbial s*** hits the fan, they’ll be there for each other.
(The F1 paddock chipped in for The Buxton Bash, an October charity event benefiting Susan G. Komen Austin)
— Will Buxton (@thebuxtonblog) October 19, 2017
When my father passed away last season, James Allen was one of the first one the phone to offer his condolences and, whilst doing so, to tell me that if I needed him to, he would fill in for me. He wanted me to be under no illusions. He did not want to take my job. He simply wanted to help.
The same, believe it or not, is true of the teams.
Millions of dollars are at stake every weekend, and despite so many parts of Formula 1 cars being bespoke, when teams are in need others will come to their aid.
When Lotus hit financial dire straights in 2015 and could no longer afford to pay their bills, they were left locked out of their paddock hospitality units. Other teams played host, cooked the team food, ordered them pizza and made sure they were fighting fit. The team was given everything that could be spared by their rivals, from consumables to nuts and bolts that would ensure the car could make it out on track. They were given fuel for their transporters so that they could get home. Teams lent them freight boxes and paid for their transportation.
And when they unexpectedly took a podium at Spa, they realized they had nothing with which to celebrate. Williams, who had expected to take the podium that day, held no ill will toward their competitors and promptly arrived at the Lotus motorhome with cases of Martini bubbles. Social media flew into a rage that Lotus should not be wasting money on prosecco and celebrations. But the truth was that their success was being celebrated and facilitated by their rivals.
The same had been done for Super Aguri when they scored points unexpectedly. The team could barely afford a sandwich, let alone boxes of champagne. But McLaren, Renault and half the paddock brought them bottles of the good stuff.
Countless are the number of times drivers have worn rivals’ boots, gloves, even fireproof underpants. Perhaps the most obvious example I can recall of drivers helping each other out was when David Coulthard ran Michael Schumacher’s helmet in the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. The Scot’s visor had been misting up and with no quick fix, the reigning champ had simply lent his rival a spare.
Felipe Massa’s guard of honor in Brazil last year was one of the most public demonstrations of the unity that exists in this paddock. When those big moments happen, it brings everyone together. It reminds us that beyond all of the negativity that can sometimes overrun the narrative of the sporting nature of this world, we are one big family and we look out for each other.
I felt that when Father passed. I have felt it these past few weeks with kind words from friends and strangers wishing me well for the future.
These are just a few recollections from the past few years. I am just one person. Of the hundreds that work within this paddock. Of the thousands that work within this sport. And they will all, to a man and woman, have stories of their own.
It is an absolute honor to have spent almost two decades working alongside so many people who have so much to give to each other and who will help you when you need them, whether they know you or not.
Next time you see a negative story, remember they’re just the ones that make the headlines. The random acts of kindness never will. But they’re what makes this paddock and this sport the best place I can imagine to be able to call one’s home.