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The Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust

September 15, 2012

A little over a week ago, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend a reunion of the Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust, to help celebrate 25 years since it’s inception.

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If you’ve never worked for a team in Formula One, you’d be forgiven for perhaps never having heard of the organisation, but for those of us who have, it’s something we should all be truly grateful for.
A quarter of a century ago, 1987, the now Sir, Jackie Stewart felt it unfair and unjust that the unsung heroes of the pitlane, as he calls them, weren’t supported by their teams in times of bad health or financial hardship. With Formula One being a far more dangerous place back then than it is today, Sir Jackie took it upon himself to launch the trust to help the people who he says he owes his life to.

The reunion event last week was the first time I’ve been able to attend one of the trust’s functions and I came away feeling somewhat humbled and incredibly proud.
The venue was the Williams Formula One Team Conference Centre where over 100 current and former mechanics gathered for lunch, drinks and a fascinating trip down memory lane.
When I walk down the pitlane today at F1 Grand Prix, I’m disappointed to say I feel a little aged at a mere 35 years old. When I walked into Williams HQ on Wednesday, I came over decidedly spritely at the realisation I appeared to be probably the youngest member of the group by at least some 30 years. Although the trust has many members active in today’s pitlane, most were in Italy preparing for the GP and so were unable to attend this time around, which left it mainly therefore to the mechanics of yester-year to hold the fort.
Daunting though the prospect of lunch in an old peoples home initially appeared, I embraced the situation and after introducing myself to the rest of my table, spent the following hours being amazed and enthralled by the stories relayed by some incredible people working in the sport 40 years before I did.
I’ve always felt I’ve got some good old tales locked away in my head from times spent in motor racing, but they pale into insignificance after spending an afternoon in the company of mechanics of the 1960’s and 70’s. I was promptly put in my place and assured that mechanics of today have life easy compared to ‘the good old days’ and being almost the sole representative from my era, I wasn’t really brave enough to argue. To be honest, after listening to them reminisce for five minutes or so, I’m not sure I really could.

F1’s a very different place today, mechanics are many more in number and generally well paid and looked after by their teams, the trust however, is there for anyone who needs it. Sir Jackie’s vision has grown into a well established charity helping the people of the sport from his own era, who may be suffering in their later days, to the guys and girls we watch braking pitstop records on our tv’s today. Only recently, following the horrific fire in Williams’ garage at Barcelona, did the trust play an important role in getting injured personnel back home to the UK and offering support where needed.
The trust’s work is done primarily in the background and as a result, we don’t know the extent or the specific nature of any individual cases. Recipients remain anonymous as do many of the donors to the fund, but for those who’ve given up, and still do give up, their lives to prepare cars for the worlds best racing drivers, it’s a real comfort to know that someone’s there for them should they need it one day.

The thing that struck me most about the day at Williams, was listening to the way the sports’ former stars spoke passionately and graciously about their mechanics. In a discussion hosted by trustee James Allen, former drivers John Watson and Derek Warwick amongst others, talked of their complete trust in their mechanics, of the bond they had with the people creating and assembling their cars in which they would risk their lives on track. David Coulthard, whom I was lucky enough to work with, and Martin Brundle, both also trustees, spoke via video from Monza and the most humbling words of all came from Sir Jackie himself in a powerful speech to open the event. He talked about his racing days, when it was tragically the norm to lose at least one colleague every couple of races or so. He said through a combination of luck on his part, but poignantly the skill, dedication and professionalism of his mechanics, he’d managed to avoid serious injury during his career. Most noticeably, he went on to declare the mechanics “the only really true professionals in the sport”.
For a former F1 mechanic, even one of more recent times, to hear words like this spoken by one of the sports true greats, felt very special. Formula One’s a sport where hundreds of people from each team compete in the championship. Some through pitstops, even have a direct impact on the race outcome, yet come the chequered flag, only one man stands on the top step of the podium and gets to spray champagne in front of the world. That man’s the hero to millions and is rewarded accordingly with a fairytale salary, but the hundreds stood below that podium or watching at home who all played a part, are the one’s Sir Jackie wanted to help when he set up the trust.
As the generations of mechanics grow old, now or in the future, and are no longer supported by their multi million dollar teams, The Grand Prix Mechanics Trust will be there in times of need. It’s something, as potential beneficiaries, we all hope we’ll never need, but something we should all be truly grateful to Sir Jackie and his fellow trustees for setting up. A truly selfless act in an otherwise often selfish world of Formula One.

Thank you.

You can learn more about the Grand Prix Mechanics Charitable Trust, or donate, here.

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