Behind The Scenes at a Grand Prix

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Meet Driver Romain Grosjean and the team members who make the magic happen on and off the track

Romain Grosjean, Driver

Romain Grosjean rose through the motorsport ranks with championship wins in Formula Renault, Formula 3 and GP2. He first drove in Formula 1 in a brief spell with Renault in 2009. Since returning to the Grand Prix grid with Lotus in 2012, he has had nine podium finishes.

‘I was late into motor racing and didn’t even sit in a kart until I was 11,' he tells Boundless. 'Skiing was my big interest when I was a kid, partly because my grandfather had been a world silver medallist at it in the 1950s. But I’m banned from doing that now I‘m in F1. 

'My dad was passionate about motor racing. He first took me to the go-kart track on holiday and I liked it – then I was lucky because he bought me a kart for Christmas. I started to go around the track outside where we were living and loved it. So after three years, I asked if I could go racing and he said get some better marks at school and then you can race. So I worked harder and started from there. It’s hard to imagine how much pressure there is in the sport before you arrive in F1 – but it’s part of the job, so you have to learn how to deal with it. You need to have strong self-belief to handle the criticism – you can go from hero to zero very quickly. 

'I have won a few championships but F1 is clearly the toughest one I have been in so far. These are the 22 best drivers in the world – so it's hard to beat them. But I know that if I work hard and do everything right there is no reason that I can't win races. That's where I'm at right now: trying to improve myself every time and trying to do the best job for the team.

'Sitting on the grid before a race, there's more or less a routine. I am 100 per cent focused on what I am doing. There are a lot of procedures to take care of, so there isn't time to think about anything beyond the immediate tasks in hand.

'I’m married and have a family, but I don’t think about the risks. Once you have your helmet on and your visor closed, it’s all about you! It’s very selfish. I’m lucky; my wife was an F1 reporter for French TV, so she knows the sport and understands. When I’m sitting on the grid, I am 100 per cent focused – but it’s a narrow line between making the right and wrong decision. As a driver, you have to believe that you are quick and capable of winning. I hate to lose but, if I do have a bad race, I just move onto the next one. I’ve won titles – the GP2 Series in 2011 and the Formula 3 Euroseries in 2007 – though F1 is the toughest championship to compete in. However, I know that if I work hard and do everything right, there’s no reason why I can’t succeed. 

‘You have to keep fit – I enjoy a lot of sports, including tennis and cycling, and I also took up judo in 2012. My real passion away from F1, though, is cooking. I love it and I dream of opening a restaurant one day. We’d serve mainly French cuisine with a Swiss touch. I do all the cooking when I’m at home and I like to grab any chance to cook for friends – I think it’s about sharing and expressing love.’

Geoff Simmonds, Race Team Co-Ordinator

‘This is my 17th season in F1. Back in the 1980s, I was a civil servant, but I’ve always been a motor-racing fan; I went to my first F1 event in 1973 with my dad. I was lucky and knew the right people and got offered a job. It was hugely exciting; although I always thought I’d get ‘found out’ – thankfully, that’s not happened so far! 

‘My role can be tricky because you have to be there for everybody and cover so many areas – but I like the challenge. It helps to be a people person, too. Although there are routines – such as organising the team passes or getting to the airport – no day is the same and there is always someone with a question. I have to be organised to do my job but, in my personal life, I’m not. Ask my friends: I’m always late for everything! 

‘People think F1 is glamorous, but it’s a vocation and there are sacrifices. I miss my family and don’t get to see them much. I get stressed if I can’t fix problems immediately and I deal with it by eating chocolate! My colleagues would say that I talk too much, I am a pain in the behind and a bit annoying at times. I get teased –  ‘team unco-ordinator’ is a good one! 

'Joking aside, if we get to a race and realise we have forgotten something – a vital part for the F1 car, for example – then we just get someone onto a flight. We call them the ‘hand baggage victims’! You can’t leave things until the last minute but, if you work too far ahead, you end up changing plans five times – it’s finding a balance. And, while it can be very busy on race day, if I can snatch 20 minutes, I’ll watch the Grand Prix with a cup of tea.’

Alan Permane, Trackside Operations Director

In F1, you just want to win. I think that’s what keeps people like me wanting to do the long hours. I still get a buzz from qualifying, and certainly from the race. The atmosphere on the grid during the hour before the Grand Prix starts is fantastic. When times are tough, it’s a blasé thing for people to say that you need to work harder – you work at the same level all the time; win or lose. If you’ve enjoyed success, the motivation is to do well again. 

‘I was working on the electronics for Michael Schumacher’s Benetton car when we won the World Championship in 1994 – 95. It was absolutely brilliant and they were great times. I love working for this team and have been with them since 1989 when it was Benetton, Renault and now Lotus. I don’t feel any extra pressure because of the Lotus name. I have a huge respect for it, but the pressure really comes from the people who are pouring money into the team, as they’re the ones that enable us to race. My ultimate goal now would be to win F1 titles with Lotus. 

‘My role means that I am pretty much responsible for everything that happens at the track. I deal with the rules and regulations, liaise with the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) and make the final call on race strategy. The buck stops with me. When you are on the radio during a race, you have to remember that everyone’s listening. You can get frustrated and emotional, and sometimes 'I look back and think I could have handled things better. So far, though, I haven’t said anything too serious, although I have called a driver the wrong name a few times! 

‘One of my big interests is running. I’m fortunate coming to all these circuits as they’re ready-made running tracks – a few of us normally do two or three laps of the circuit over the weekend. We’re not talking about marathon running though – a few laps of a GP circuit is about my limit! If I wasn’t in F1, I think I might have followed in the family tradition of going into the film business; both my father, who retired recently, and my brother were movie cameramen.’

Paul Seaby, Team Manager

Though Paul’s name is not necessarily familiar to F1 fans, one picture of him almost certainly will be. In 1994 Paul survived a terrible accident at the German Grand Prix, when he became engulfed with flames after a disastrous Benetton team refuelling pit-stop.

'I’m most famous for being the guy in flames on Jos Verstappen’s F1 Benetton car in 1994. I was alight for 18 seconds, which is a long time when you’re on fire! Sparco (the racing equipment specialists) supplied my overalls and ended up keeping them as a souvenir, because it’s the longest anyone’s ever been alight. I think the picture of the event is in the all-time top 10 F1 photos. But that was just one memorable moment from that year – we won the F1 World Championship and I got married, too.

‘I’m a road mechanic by trade and started in the sport in 1989. If I wasn’t in F1, I think I’d be in the motor trade like my father. In the late 1970s, my dad was working for a Renault garage – the business used to offer Boundless members deals on new cars.

‘In the early days of F1, we were working all hours and still going out partying. We really burned the candle at both ends, but the sport has changed a lot since then. My job involves having an overview of the whole team operation, from budgets to employing team personnel. You’ve got to have the right people in place and a balance of personalities and you have to be organised – I’m already looking at what the team is doing next year. Managing our budget is a key skill; it’s not a never-ending cash pit. The more money we save on logistics, the more can be spent on honing the car’s performance.

‘You need the right kind of attitude to work in F1; you can’t muck around. If you are in two minds, then it’s best not to do it at all. It helps to have an understanding family, too; I’m lucky as I’ve been doing it for so long that my wife and kids are sympathetic. When I get back from a race, I don’t go and play golf or work on my car – my family are my hobby.’

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