It is often forgotten that Formula One is a circus, comprised of countless man hours in setting up, taking down, and moving the event around the globe. What most people do not realise is that F1 also comprises a community, one where rivalries amongst drivers and animosity between teams are set aside.
During the 1990s, Formula One faced a transitional period – cars changed, regulations changed, the sport farewelled legends, but also greeted new ones. In eyes of the world, the sport was as attractive as ever; but to those involved in the community, it was their everyday job.
Charles Deluca and Tim Clark were two such people, working for Mclaren-contracted company Connexion to set up the team’s motorhome before each race.
Currently based in South Australia as Sales Manager at the prestigious Solitaire Audi, Charles fondly remembers the days after he joined the paddock in 1989.
“It’s a 4 day set up. After the Grand Prix finishes, all the expensive stuff gets put in a truck for security reasons, and the next morning you do exactly what you did in reverse from the build-up,” he told F1Hub.
“Within a day or two you’d be out of there, and you’d either fly back to where you came from. Or when the borders opened up [in Europe], I used to have a car and four blokes would jump in it and we’d drive to the next one.”
Charles also remained in the team’s hospitality unit in case of any electronic failures within the motorhome, all the while gathering a rare insight into the team’s functioning.
“We used to see people like [Ron Dennis] but they only want to see you if they want something, but basically I was working for him.
“In Europe, especially in Hockenheim, Portugal, Hungary, Magny Cours, Spa-Francochamps, they have big setups there where you have 100 VIP guests in there that are McLaren sponsors. And before the race, the driver does a ‘thanks all for coming’ and ‘this is our strategy.’
“Ron Dennis will come in there and thank all the sponsors from Siemens, Tag watches or Hugo Boss clothing.”
Fellow South Australian Tim Clark also joined Connexion in 1991, having previously worked with tent company Roder at the Australian Grand Prix. For Tim, it was an opportunity to travel the world after completing secondary school.
Working in and around the Mclaren garage maintaining equipment such as televisions, Tim got valuable perception into the inner workings of the team.
“[Ron Dennis is] the type of guy that would’ve checked every screw in the motorhome to make sure none were loose. He was a control freak. He had to be in charge of everything. But that’s why Mclaren were so good in the ‘90s – because of the image.
“Their spending was so much more, but that’s because they had the Saudi prince that was a major sponsor, Tag Heuer, and they had a lot more money.”
Working alongside Ron Dennis, Tim also had the opportunity to spend time with racing royalty.
“My girlfriend was Ayrton Senna’s cook. So every night after the race I would go hang out in the motorhome with her, and drink coffee with Ayrton Senna and his brother, and Gerhard Berger.
“[Senna] kept to himself, he wasn’t known to be going out that much. I did see him getting very drunk one night in Portugal, and that was about the only time I saw him be human. He got carried out of the nightclub, he was so drunk.
“When you’re that famous and you’ve got groupies and people wanting to talk to you, you hide. You run back to the motorhome and lock yourself in your office.
“That’s what he used to do.”
In contrast to Senna’s introverted personality, Clark also spent time with Gerhard Berger, who had forged a reputation as a playboy.
“[Berger] had a private chef/nutritionist/girl hunter and masseur. So this guy’s job was to find the girls for Gerhard after the race.
“We’d all be on the roof of the motorhome having a beer, and all the girls would hang outside the motorhome. He would [point down] and go ‘that one and that one’ and bring them up into the motorhome.”
Being granted an all access pass to each race weekend, Tim watched from the sidelines as Berger crashed at the 1992 Belgian Grand Prix qualifying. On a torrentially pouring circuit, Berger spun on the dip into Eau Rouge, decimating the Mclaren which also caught fire. Berger was fortunately unhurt.
“Until you see the angle of the [Eau Rouge] hill you can’t imagine how crazy it is. That is the most crazy corner hill you’ll see.
“I was standing just opposite on the start of the rise. And he came down, lost it and went up and went hard left, and had a huge crash into the barrier.”
Both Charles and Tim also had the unfortunate experience of being present at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, which saw the double fatalities of Roland Ratzenberger and Ayrton Senna. The memory of that fateful weekend does not escape Charles.
“The worst memory was when Senna died, I was at Imola then.
“Normally at the end of a race everyone is pretty happy, there’s a bit of alcohol around and you have a few drinks, but that day there was silence. It was obviously a very grim day.”
Tim was also present, remembering the confusion in the paddock towards the tragic events.
“Everyone was still in shock because of Ratzenberger beforehand. It was always the same thing, ‘they should cancel it.’
“If we all knew what had happened at the time, everyone would have packed up and gone home. But that day was just people walking around in shock, dumbfounded.”
For all the tragic incidents Tim witnessed during his decade involved, he also got exclusive insight into the behind the scenes of the sport. Built in 1991, the Circuit Catalunya near Barcelona ran its first Spanish Grand Prix, though the track was not yet completed.
“They went around with a couple thousand litres of green paint, and they sprayed everything around the track, all the dirt – everything green so that from the helicopter shots looked nice.
“Whole paddocks were sprayed with green paint because it was just one big building site.”
Formula One has long been subject to rumours of espionage and tension within the paddock, but both Charles and Tim tell stories of an inside circle of people that just wanted to enjoy themselves. Tim fondly remembers putting on a party for the entire paddock following a Portugal race.
“We asked the powers-to-be for the VIP paddock area for all the major sponsors, and we asked if we could put on a show/party. We got 3 Moët Chandon from the Moët guy, [he] gave us like 10 boxes. We got as much Fosters as we could drink from the Fosters guy… And we invited every mechanic, every caterer, [and every cook.]
“Me, Charles, and two other guys invited the whole Formula One paddock… Everyone knew us.”
“These days everything’s gotten so much more serious, but back then we could go anywhere, do anything, go in any motorhome.
“I used to meet the manager of the Ferrari motorhome on the end of the weekend and he used to meet me with a garbage bag full of Hugo Boss team uniforms and polo shirts. We’d do deals, we’d be swapping things, beer for Ferrari tops.”
Tim and other workers like himself also had open access to each race track during the whole week of setting up.
“So every night we’d jump in our hire cars or Volvo wagons and have our own private races. Monaco was the only one that was an open road, but we’d still race around that at 9 o’clock at night.”
“[In Hockenheim] we used to go for hikes through the forest and come out through the scrub on the side of the track where they’re going flat out, and be like half a metre away from the cars.
“No one goes in there, no ones allowed in there. But we used to do it all the time.”
With both Charles and Tim parting ways with the sport in 2000, the climate of F1 was already changing. The death of Ayrton had resulted in rapid safety measures, and the job became more complex for hospitality workers such as Charles.
“In the beginning we’d be able to lean over a barrier and there was no security, but towards the end of it, it all got a bit hard work. They were very particular where you could park your trucks and things like that.
“Like anything, when you start there, it’s great. After doing it for 8 years it’s like any other job. You sit there in the hotel room, watch bad tv and start in the morning again.”
Tim also recognises that memories do not reflect the current world, where society has changed with the increase of technology.
“There were no digital cameras or mobile phones. Now if you saw Ayrton Senna you would’ve put it on your phone and there would’ve been 5 thousand people there taking photos a minute later.
“You didn’t have all that back then. You’d be in a bar and you’d see a driver, and you’d talk to him.
“You wouldn’t try to take a selfie and put it on Facebook.”
Both now reside in their hometown of Adelaide, the city where their whole Grand Prix adventure started. Charles is involved in local rally racing with his own team ‘Fatboy Racing,’ whilst Tim still fondly recollects the days of playboy drivers, giant parties and epic racing. Both insist that while their Grand Prix years were enjoyable, they don’t plan on returning to the paddock in the future.