Herbie Blash: the team manager (chapter two)
In the second part of our interview with former Formula 1 team manager Herbie Blash, who now works for the sport’s governing body, the FIA, as an Observer, he remembers his time working at Brabham and discusses how life in the pit lane has changed over the years…
MOVING THROUGH THE RANKS
“I wanted to go into management when I was at Lotus and I was hoping I’d become involved in the Formula 2 team, but unfortunately, that never materialised. So when I joined Bernie Ecclestone at Brabham, management was my aim. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of [former McLaren boss] Ron Dennis, who was running the works Brabham F2 team prior to Bernie. The dream was to have my own F2 team.
“When I went to Brabham in 1972, we were looking at running three F2 cars but unfortunately, we lost the BMW engine contract so that wasn’t possible. So I actually ended up going to F1 races as well as F2, and also F3 where we had production cars and semi-works team.
“I had 32 races that year, which might not sound a lot to most people but it was! The next year, I took over as team manager of the F1 team and stayed there for 15 years, winning 22 races and two drivers’ championships with Nelson Piquet.”
PICKING UP THE SKILLS
“Working as a mechanic before moving into management definitely helped me. F1 has changed since I was involved with a team but for a smaller outfit, if you’re part of team management, I think you should really try to know every aspect of the team. And working as a mechanic gives you a great insider’s view of what is going on in the team.
“That’s harder to do these days, because teams are much bigger. As a result, there are lots of different titles – there’s a team principal, team director, sporting director and team manager - but back in the old days, you only had one.”
THE SPORT HAS EVOLVED
“The role of a mechanic has changed massively since I was involved. These days you have 50-60 people going along to a race for one team. Then back in the factory, you might have 500-600 people focusing on making the car go quicker so the closeness between driver and mechanics doesn’t exist like it used to. When I was a mechanic, a team consisted of five or six people so it was easy for drivers to know every person’s name and you’d always be talking to each other.
“Today’s mechanics will specialise in one area whether it be electronics, gearbox or suspension, whereas in the old days, while the cars were very simple compared to modern day machines, you were involved in everything from manufacturing to fabrication, fibre
glass to bending pipes. You would actually build the car and then run the car.
“Nowadays, the mechanics get everything pre-assembled and they tend to just fix it on. Also, teams must abide by the curfew – which prevents mechanics working on the cars for six hours on Friday night - and the parc ferme rules - which don’t allow work on the cars between qualifying and the race - so it’s not possible to work all-nighters like in the old days.
“For European races, we had to travel in the truck and unload the cars and equipment. Nowadays, mechanics fly to events and they have a specific team who look after logistics. You have a team of drivers who will drive the trucks and set up the garage so when teams arrive, everything is set up waiting for them.
“And when they go back to the hotel after the racing, the majority of them head to the gym whereas it would be off to the bar for us. It’s definitely different world.”
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