Where have all the GP party animals gone?
? In days gone by, the Grand Prix paddock was a global village of motorhomes and camper vans, beers and barbecues. But not anymore, so what happened?
For generations the Grand Prix paddock was home to a bunch of crazy characters, working their way around Europe, racing every weekend, then moving to the next event, hence the championship’s original nickname, the Continental Circus. Throughout this time the paddock had a village atmosphere: mums and girlfriends having a chat, laundry hanging on washing lines, barbecues and beers in the evenings. But a few years ago all this changed.
What was so great about the paddock village? In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, riders and their crews slept in tents or, if they were lucky, on mattresses in the back of their vans. By the 1980s the richer riders resided in vast, palatial motorhomes, while the lesser lights lived in humble campers.
The paddock always had a wonderful, bustling atmosphere, all the way from the millionaires’ row of shiny motorhomes to the rusting trucks and tatty awnings of the sidecar crews.
Of course, some of rich kids took paddock luxury to the next level. When wild Aussie Anthony Gobert turned up in the 1990s to ride for Lucky Strike Suzuki he kept a huge blow-up swimming pool outside his motorhome.
Usually, there was a great sense of camaraderie between all the riders, from the millionaires to the racing paupers. But not always. Fisticuffs and smashed windows weren’t unknown – usually the result of one rider catching his girlfriend in flagrante delicto with another rider. In other words, just like any normal village: lots of fun, with the occasional bust-up.
Aren’t you over-romanticising it? Possibly. Back in the early days, conditions in most race paddocks were appalling: disgusting toilets, inadequate water and electricity and so on. Indeed the race from one paddock to the next – often from one end of Europe to the other – was just as important as the races themselves, because the canny teams knew they had to arrive early if they were to get any facilities. Things did improve from the 1980s, when most circuit owners reacted to increasing pressure from riders, teams and factories.
So what’s happened now? At the end of 2011, Dorna declared that only Motogp riders would be allowed to live in the paddock. All Moto2 and Moto3 riders would be banned from using motorhomes or campers.
Why on earth would they do that? Space. The demand for space for sponsor and team hospitality units had grown and grown, due partly due to a transformation in the sponsorship model. Sponsors don’t merely want to put their brand names on the sides of bikes, they want to bring 50 corporate guests to each GP, so they need somewhere to wine and dine them. Push came to shove and the Moto2 and Moto3 riders got elbowed out. This was one reason why Casey Stoner decided to retire – he didn’t like the way the sport was going. “We wouldn’t be where we are today if we couldn’t have had a camper in the paddock,” he said at the time.
So what’s the paddock like now? It has entirely lost its village atmosphere. In place of camper vans and barbecues is an avenue or two of mega hospitality units, some two or three storeys high. The paddock feels more like a shopping mall, dominated by vast corporate edifices, so the oldschool community is no more.
It canõt be all bad, surely? You’re right. All these hospitality units serve free food and drink to guests, so if you’re name’s on the door, you’ll have a fine time. They also serve as team dining rooms.
So where do all the Moto2 and Moto3 riders stay? Most stay in hotels with their teams, so at the busier races they have to get up at dawn if they want to be sure to get to the track in time for first practice or race-day warm-up. Some stay in one of several portable paddock hotels, which feature smart but small rooms built into converted juggernauts.
And where does Rossi stay? He has one of those vast motorhomes that expands out on either side. But you’ll be lucky to get close to it. It’s all a long way from the tiny camper he used during his first few seasons.
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‘Corporate’ and ‘entertainment’ don’t really belong in the same sentence The great Jim Redman cruises through the paddock at Spa in the 1960s Kiwi racer Graeme Crosby enjoys a pint on the least stylish bicycle in history