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Divorce, fire & 22-hour days… the reality of life in Formula 1

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The life of those in the Formula 1 circus can certainly appear glamorous. And, for the most part, it is – homes in Monaco, lavish parties and private jets a part of everyday life.

But for F1’s mechanics – the lesser-known faces of the paddock – life is very different. They are more likely to live in Mansfield than Monaco, while very long hours and airport queues are part and parcel of the job.

It’s a career fraught with danger. They’ve received electric shocks, taken whacks to delicate parts of their bodies and almost been run over, all in the line of duty.

Plus, it makes being in any kind of long-term relationship very tough.

Yet it can be incredibly rewarding.
‘Retired’ at 30… or divorced

With 21 races on the F1 calendar – not to mention testing – team personnel can find themselves away for almost half the year. No surprises, then, that maintaining a relationship can be difficult.

Most mechanics are in their thirties, with the majority then moving on to something that offers a better work-life balance. But among those who stick with it longer, divorces are commonplace.

Kenny Handkammer spent 25 years in Formula 1. He was front jackman when Jos Verstappen’s Benetton was famously engulfed in a fireball in 1994 and was Red Bull’s chief mechanic during Sebastian Vettel’s title-winning era. He knows better than most what it takes to survive in the job.

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“You have to have a very, very understanding partner,” he tells BBC Sport.

“If you have always done it and then meet someone and they are aware of your travelling it is a bit easier but if you are in a relationship and then decide you want to go off to F1 races it can be tougher.

“A lot of people struggle with it. To do this job you have to be so committed and focused. You can’t half do this job. You have a guy’s life in your hands and the drain on you means you need to be 100% committed.

“It is a bit better than it used to be. In the old days it was harder. You get back and you are tired and that doesn’t help any relationship. You’d also get up and not be in the best of moods, depending on the weekend you’d had.”

Travelling to Australia? Fancy a bit of sightseeing? That’s out of the question for F1 mechanics.

While many drivers are whisked to and from countries in private jets and helicopters, it is airport queues and economy class for those tasked with keeping the cars in shape.

“We see very little of the country we are in,” says Handkammer.

“On the first day you might get a little bit of time, but once you start work all you see is the circuit, the route to the circuit, and the hotel. We could be at Silverstone for every race because we pretty much don’t see anything but the circuit.”

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