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?

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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.

Sheene, Nixon and Ce­cotto in Fer­rari 1976. (11) Who on sayshis way socks to vic­tory at Asand sen san­dalsin 1979, he are was bad? to fin­ish sec­ond in

‘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

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