Saturday, 30 June 2018

Funny Stories from an F1 Mechanic, by Ibrar Malik

Paul West worked for Williams throughout the 1990s and is a massive contributor towards the upcoming book. This blog is therefore dedicated to him.

A very drunk Paul West giving it the thumbs up after Damon Hill's 1996 Championship victory.

Paul has many enjoyable stories from his time within F1 including how he inadvertently contributed towards the rules. "The cars were kept for an hour after the race (for scrutineering purposes), it was allowed for two guys per car to clean them but nothing else, this happened until the 1997 Japanese Grand Prix. At this race some of the guys at Benetton suspected that Ferrari had a movable front wing so they got me, like an idiot, to put some pressure with my foot to see if it moved. There were some Ferrari mechanics watching and they reported to Nigel Stepney what I'd done, he came down and spoke to Dickie Stanford our team manager who asked me if I'd done it I said yes and I think because I was honest Stepney didn't have anything done to me but from then on no personnel were allowed in parc ferme."

Schumacher's 1997 Ferrari which Benetton mechanics believed had an illegal flexible front wing.

When researching for the book, I asked Paul if he remembered any 'special' engine maps Williams Renualt used during the 1990's. "I don't recall any radio messages to the drivers to use any special settings for starting or for better traction during a race," West explained. "I do recall in 1997 we had adjustable differentials, the reason I remember is that during the 1997 Monaco race, the one where we TOTALLY stuffed up our tyre selection, during the race Heinz Harald Frentzen was on the radio to our engineer because he wanted to soften off the differential for the conditions. Back then we only had so many buttons on the steering wheel and they all performed more than one task. So Tim Preston (Frentzen's race engineer) got back to him and said something like; 'On the straight you press the yellow button three times to bring up the diff mode and then you press the red button until you get the setting you want.' Well Frentzen just goes off on the radio 'On the f@#king straight there is no F@#KING STRAIGHT !! Which button to do what?'"

"This carried on for a few laps and then Frentzen, who was on intermediates, decides he wants the heavy grooved wets because someone passed him using them. Tim then said 'no problem box...box' well there was a problem because the only set we had mounted was on the spare car at the pit entry. Frentzen comes in, we change tyres and he sees that they are the same as we've taken off. He goes ballistic on the radio, totally mental. Tim tried to calm him down but the next lap or so he stuck it in the fence - game over! Funny thing is conditions were getting better, we always suspected he binned it on purpose because he was so mad. Oh and the reason for the tyre choice at the start, since the first European race we'd brought a guy from the Meteorological Office to do weather forecasting for us. The forecast for Monaco was missing page 2 which would have given us a heads up that the rain wasn't going to clear as quickly as we thought. Very hi-tech this F1 stuff."

The car Frentzen "binned" at Monaco. His team mate, Jacques Villeneuve, hit the barrier and retired because he was trying to adjust the brake balance within the cockpit - thus rounding off a terrible day for Williams.

Paul was also questioned about the closeness of Williams' relationship with Ligier in 1993, as the former supplied the latter with gearboxes. "That question made me smile" Paul replied. "The gearbox, I think it was TG4, had a lot of pre-load which meant that until it was hot it made the car VERY hard to push. We used hot air blowers and electric heaters to assist with freeing up the box. Poor Ligier being a long way down the pit lane had to put their cars on the rear jacks to be able to get them to the scales and back. It seemed to us that every time they went past our garage they were frowning at us! The idea was to save Ligier development costs plus we had a new box for that year so they were not needed anymore. I don't remember how long the arrangement went on for, we were also doing gearbox work for Opel in the DTM at that time so the gearbox sub-assembly area was very busy."

The Ligier mechanics pushing their 1993 car along with THAT gearbox

Paul West has been an invaluable contributor towards the upcoming book, 1994 – The Untold Story of a Tragic and Controversial F1 Season. His stories of working within Williams during the 1990’s are extremely entertaining, informative, and perhaps merit a book of its own. Keep checking www.1994f1.com for more F1 blogs and the release date for the book. Alternatively, register at www.1994f1.com/contact/ to receive this automatically.

Images courtesy; of Paul West, Martin Lee and Zep via https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

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