Inside the Grand Prix Paddock With the Lucky Few

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Inside the Grand Prix Paddock With the Lucky Few

Postby Fred_C_Dobbs »

Inside the Grand Prix Paddock With the Lucky Few

Published: September 23, 2011

One reason why Formula One became a successful worldwide business, an elite sport that arouses the curiosity of fans and sponsors like few others, is because it was designed to be one of the most exclusive sports in terms of public access.

There are several layers of access, most of which are governed by how much money one is willing to pay for it. This ranges from the cheapest seats in the grandstands to the Paddock Club, with a difference in ticket prices of thousands of dollars. But the one area to which access cannot be bought is the most exclusive of all: the team paddock area, where the drivers and staff work over a race weekend. So exclusive and controlled is this area that even Formula One drivers are allotted only enough passes for their wives or girlfriends and managers.

This innermost ring is controlled by Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One promoter, and the International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body. They distribute passes to the teams, media and occasional guests. Each team has an allotted number of passes for its most exclusive guests; accredited media has full access.

Enter a rare breed of “superfans,” who defy all convention and make it into this inner circle. A disparate group, they all pay their own travel to the races, often attending a majority of the season’s 19 races. They hobnob with the teams, drivers and media in a way that even many of the sponsors cannot do. Some have been doing it for years, others have just started, some do it once and stop.

Last year, Alex Snell, a British fan, traveled to all 19 races and wrote a blog about it. He was spotted by team marketing executives and invited inside the paddock, and his exploits were reported in various Formula One media.

One of the most exceptional stories is that of Charaf Ait Taleb, 28, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin. Ait Taleb, who works as a physiotherapist in Paris, has been blind since the age of 18. This season, he has attended every race — except Canada — since the Turkish Grand Prix in May, for a total of nine races. He usually travels alone and camps outside the track. He got into the paddock at the invitation of teams that spotted him, and he was even given hotel accommodation by the Red Bull team for a couple of races.

Ait Taleb said that thanks to vocal software, he can listen to the lap times of a race spoken by the computer. He spends the four days of the race weekend in the paddock and has met the drivers, team directors and other paddock personnel and was even interviewed on Belgian television during the Belgian Grand Prix last month.

“I was always a big fan of racing, but when I lost my eyesight, I really began to be an even bigger fan, becoming almost like an alcoholic for the series,” Ait Taleb said. He said that he had been going to the team testing in Spain and elsewhere since 2005 and over the winter got to know the drivers and others who helped him with his accreditation.

One superfan who has been around a lot longer is Moko, who is a native of Senegal but lives in France. Moko works at the Chrome Hearts jewelry company, which serves stars like Cher, Lenny Kravitz and Madonna. He originally made it into the paddock thanks to a pass provided by Jean Todt, who was head of the Ferrari team at the time and who is now the president of the F.I.A. Moko said he would attend all but a couple of races this season.

“In life you have to have a passion, my passion is a Formula One racing car,” he said. “Some people like to collect art, but that is something I can’t explain. For me Formula One is a pure art. The moment Picasso and Matisse get the canvas and put something on the canvas and the canvas costs $100 million, I don’t know what is going on in their heads. But as far as I’m concerned, the moment the driver, the human being, goes into a machine and the machine goes more than 370 k.p.h., and you drive like that and come back, if that is not art, I do not know what art is. And that keeps my passion alive.”

Some superfans once had a professional connection and then kept returning for the atmosphere and friends. Marcelo da Silva, the uncle of the late driver Ayrton Senna, has attended more than 700 races since 1965. He had helped organize the Brazilian Grand Prix many years ago and is today confined to a wheelchair.

Bob Lobell is a retired media relations director of Goodyear, which supplied tires to the series until 1997. He missed the paddock life, and so since 2001 he has come to a majority of the races. Lobell keeps active professionally by informing sponsors about news from the paddock.

“Meeting people was the most incredible spin-off, and I’m still meeting people,” he said. “And it is a calling card, a very good calling card. And people have dreams of you living the high life with girls and booze — and it’s not true, of course.”
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Re: Inside the Grand Prix Paddock With the Lucky Few

Postby LewEngBridewell »

Wow. If only I had the money to attend every single Grand Prix! :eek:

Interesting point when it comes to the fans and attending Grands Prix. In the BBC F1 Forum after the race at Marina Bay, Eddie Jordan made his way to some of the crowds of fans near to where the podium ceremony had taken place. The majority of whom were British.

The beating heart of F1, along with the passion and love of the fans, has always been resounding mainly from Europe and this continues. I wonder how many of the attendees at Singapore actually lived in / came from Singapore? They'll need an F1 star of their own before they start making a big noise themselves.

Thankfully, Singapore does well, because of the buzz of the city. It's a great location for a Grand Prix.
Race wins:181Drivers' titles:12Constructors' titles:8
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