If you enjoy Formula 1, I highly recommend you take a break from whatever gossip inevitably crops up today and go read one anonymous mechanic’s account on Motorsport.com about how life for crews in the sport has gotten increasingly untenable, particularly over the last 12 months.
The mechanic’s identity is shielded for obvious reasons. If one thing’s clear from his thoughts, he’s hardly alone. The confluence of F1 repeatedly breaking records for longest-ever seasons year-over-year and the global pandemic has created a situation where teams are railroading the very crews their success or failure depends on. It’s nothing new, as this individual says, but it does appear to be getting worse. It’s also rarely spoken about, though that’s slowly changing.
I don’t want to spoil the piece, because it really should be read in its entirety. Some tidbits are especially alarming though, especially in terms of how COVID has exacerbated already shitty treatment.
Some teams don’t want you to test too early in case that puts you out for qualifying or the race. Instead they prefer for you to wait until as late as you can for your pre-return PCR.
But if there is a problem and the test result doesn’t come back for any reason, then it’s the mechanic who suffers as he has to stay away from home for yet another day to go and get retested.
Also, this part about how, until recently, most teams booked shared rooms for personnel to save money. The so-called pinnacle of motor racing, the big show everyone strives for, forcing the people they need to shave hundredths of seconds off pit stops to bunk together all year long.
On hotel rooms, we did used to have to share rooms, but now a lot of teams have realised that giving everyone single rooms doesn’t really affect their budget too much. And the positive reaction they’re getting from the people due to that is is very beneficial for the teams.
It’s reaching a tipping point, according to this mechanic, as a growing number of people in his position are questioning why they should risk quality of life and even divorce on the road in F1, while other forms of racing present a far more fair balance.
There is a weird scenario where we are almost better off going to work in Formula 2, Formula E or WEC for slightly less money, but do almost half the number of races and not have to put up with all the hassles of a 23-race schedule. It should not be like that.
Surely some will say — and have said in the comments of the article on Motorsport.com — that being an F1 mechanic is a “privilege” that justifies generally awful working conditions. As it happens, AlphaTauri’s Franz Tost has already said as much.
Others will point to the cost cap and shrug, as if teams and the FIA can’t work out a middle ground where engines are limited but employee well-being isn’t sacrificed. In fact, the existing structure of the cost cap already makes provisions for such matters, as F1 itself proudly highlights:
Further changes have been made since, such as excluding salary costs for staff on maternity and paternity leave as well as sick leave, plus the costs of medical benefits provided to team employees. This is to ensure teams are not motivated to cut costs in these areas to stay within the cap.
Drivers have their own union, and crews deserve protection too. Liberty Media has displayed absolutely no consideration for a reasonable length to the season as drivers and many fans have vocalized; there’s even been talks of a third race in the U.S., something I’m sure shareholders are foaming at the mouth for. More races, in a sport in which half of them are snoozers anyway when unpredictable weather, track-blocking crashes or controversial officiating don’t play factors.
F1 is reaching a global peak it hasn’t experienced in decades, and is very good at presenting a slick production to the masses that distracts from how badly it’s failing its traveling crews. Hopefully individuals like this mechanic continue to speak out until teams and the sport as a whole can’t distract any longer.