Motor Racing: Racing's ultimate roadie

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The Independent Online
FOR a couple of hours every fortnight, Gerry Jones takes a break from a manic existence that sees him working more hours than junior hospital doctors. So how does he take it easy? By going to watch the racing cars that are the source of all his sleepless nights. 'The only chance I get to relax is when a race is on,' he says.

Jones is a fixer. His title is motor sport division manager for MSAS Cargo International, a billion-pound turnover freight company. But in the high- speed, high-octane, high-pressure world of Formula One, Jones is the boy to call on when things go wrong.

If a spare engine blows up, the replacement is in a Didcot factory and the team needs it by tonight in France, Jones will save the day. If the team lorry has forgotten the decals and the race starts later today, Jones will make sure that the car doesn't leave the grid naked. And at the race track, the teams know where to go if they need a trolley jack, extra gear ratios or a mechanic collected from the airport. Good old Gerry will sort it out.

'Okay, it's not actually part of my job, but because of my experience I've become a trouble- shooter and problem-solver for all the teams. People come to me with things that seem impossible. I love the challenge of being able to sort everything out.'

As the man responsible for moving a small town round the world by truck and plane every two weeks, Jones is on first name terms with Nigel and Ayrton and all the other drivers. Well] The chance for pit gossip] After all, his mobile office is parked in the middle of the paddock area for four days before a race.

But this quiet, unflappable man who has probably collected more air miles than all the Royal Family put together skips sideways when asked for a few scandalous anecdotes. He's got enough problems without making enemies of temperamental drivers.

To the punters, Formula One is Mansell and Prost, McLaren and Ferrari. But beneath the glam exterior is a business that would be one of the Stock Exchange's biggest if you could bottle up all the cars, the teams, research spending, advertising, stadiums and television income.

When MSAS won the Formula One Constructors' Association contract in February to transport all the British team cars, engines, spares, fuel and silly hats, it set up a specialist division. Perhaps most important, it head-hunted Gerry Jones. 'He is totally dedicated. He must work at least 100 hours a week,' says an awed UK regional director Geoff Corpe, who's obviously worried how he will tell Jones about the EC's 48-hour week.

The Formula One season lasts from March to November. But teams don't lock the garages on Guy Fawke's Night and go sunbathing in the Caribbean. This is when the unglamorous work is done: the constant testing which next season could mean an extra few nano-seconds and victory. 'It's a 365-days-a-year job,' Jones admits. 'Everything seems to happen at the last minute. I am on call 24 hours a day.'

What, you might think, is so difficult about getting a new engine out to Italy quickly, hurrying a vital widget to Brazil or even making sure that the 11,500 litres of fuel arrives safely? Plenty, says Jones, who has been in Formula One since James Hunt was winning races back in 1976.

'The trouble is, it's not a job you can do from start to finish yourself, and it's not just a matter of getting the right forms filled in or driving non-stop to Hungary. You need to know the idiosyncrasies of each country. In many you won't get across the borders unless you give them T-shirts, hats or money. We often have some cheap T-shirts printed. The writing all comes off the first time they are washed.'

He adds: 'My biggest problem is computer errors on airlines. And the teams don't understand breakdowns. They have the world's best mechanics and engineers, and their cars break down. But they can't understand it if a plane does the same.'

Jones prides himself on his ability to foresee problems, such as harassed ground crew affixing a Dublin sticker (DUB) instead of a Budapest one (BUD). But Mr Fix-It isn't perfect. His biggest embarrassment was promising to take back Mansell's trophy from the South African Grand Prix, finding it missing on arrival at Stansted. It was eventually traced to Dubai. 'It's a memory I'd like to forget,' he said.

Tomorrow: Ken Jones

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