Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, May 15, 1999
Monaco's Poor Conditions
Pit Lane for Grand Prix Is Cramped and Tough
By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
MONTE CARLO - Final preparations went along quietly but determinedly Friday, as the world's best race-car drivers took advantage of the calm before the storm, readying themselves and their machines in the makeshift work area for the 57th Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.
While the official practice to determine the pole position for the race is held Saturday, Michael Schumacher, a three-time Monaco champion, turned in the fastest time in Thursday's practice session, at 1 minute 22.718 seconds around the 3.67-kilometer (2.09-mile) track.
One of Monaco's ironies is that in the richest setting for the richest form of motor racing, the teams and drivers have the poorest, most precarious working conditions, most noticeably in the pit lane, the all-important, off-track garage area parallel to the track's starting grid. During the race, the cars stop there to refuel, change tires and undergo repairs.
Like the track itself in Monaco, the pit lane is in the city streets. In contrast to the luxurious apartment buildings above, the pit lane structure is a temporary shelter that would look more appropriate on a construction site than at one of the world's greatest motor races.
''With the lack of facilities and equipment, and in working in such a confined space, it's difficult and dangerous,'' said Mig Brown, a mechanic for the British American Racing team. ''It's quite common to have your foot run over during pit stops.''
To compound the problems of running a modern Formula One race in a style more appropriate to 1929 ‹ the year of the first Grand Prix in Monaco ‹ the paddock area behind the pit lane is no longer big enough to house all the teams. BAR and several of last year's less successful teams have their garages set up several kilometers away in the second floor of a breezy parking lot, overlooking the Mediterranean.
BAR runs car parts from that garage to the pit lane via a relay race of motor scooter drivers, handing off not batons, but pistons.
Monaco is the only race on the European leg of the series that runs through city streets rather than on a track in the country. Everywhere else, Formula One has become increasingly picky about the pits, laying down stiff specifications and insisting on quality work space. Tracks wishing to hold a Formula One race must ensure that pit facilities are up to the highest standard.
Most pit lanes have spacious garages, where mechanics work day and night protected from the rain, sun and cold. There are no garages in the Monaco the pit lane, and the work is done in tents in the paddock and in that faraway parking lot.
To avoid mishaps, the cars' pit speed is limited to 80 kilometers an hour during practice and 120 during the race. On Thursday, Giancarlo Fisichella drove his Benetton down the pit lane at 81.3 kilometers an hour and was fined $500
Cars have less than a meter of space on either side of them as they go down the pit lane. Outside that path is a constant movement of mechanics, cars, television people and track security and technical officials.
To keep tabs on safety, the pit lane is watched over by pit-lane cops ‹ security men dressed in bright yellow overalls led by a man named Bernard Bousquet.
Some say that because of its small size and its city location, the Monaco pit lane has a feeling of being more of a family affair. The race passes 50 meters from Bousquet's home. The local Monaco fire department oversees fire safety, and local doctors, acting as unpaid volunteers, look after emergency care and the general health of the pit workers.
Monaco is also a place where the pit lane is likely to offer celebrity attractions other than drivers: movie stars.
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