The Kentish F1 Grand Prix insider who worked with world champions including Lewis Hamilton, Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and more

When a teenager Ron Pellatt dropped out of school and had trouble “riding” the motorcycle with his friends, he never dreamed that he was destined for a living touring the world with him. leading Formula 1 champions.

After getting a job as a mechanic in a workshop at the age of 16, word spread that he was quite good at repairing engines.

A young Ron at the races

From his early years working at a Ford dealership and in a tuning shop in The Brook, Chatham, his career accelerated through word of mouth in the tight-knit auto trade circles in Kent, particularly in the Brands Hatch area.

Indeed, such was his reputation, it wasn’t long before calls from Williams, Brabham and McLaren began to arrive, all eager to hone his self-taught skills.

He soon became a familiar figure as a test mechanic in pit stops from Monaco to Japan, Saudi Arabia to Moscow, earning the trust of stars such as Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen, Nelson Piquet and, more recently. , Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

It was Ron who strapped a young Hamilton in an F1 car for the first time at Silverstone, a privilege the superstar earned for winning the McLaren autosport award in 2004.

The 78-year-old, who lives with his wife Penny in Cliffe, remembers “an excited child” who was surrounded by family taking pictures and couldn’t wait to get there.

Ron Pellatt tweaks an engine
Ron Pellatt tweaks an engine

He said: “You could tell from then on that Hamilton was going to go far.”

Ron talks about the close relationship between multimillionaire drivers and backroom mechanics who play a crucial role in setting them on the path to success.

He said: “Some may think it’s a glamorous life, but we work on cars from 6am sometimes until 3am – and they appreciate that.

“They know how hard we work to make sure they’re safe enough to go up to 200 mph.

“People think when I come home that I’m on vacation because I have a tan. But it’s anything but vacation.”

Ron wins Ford Escort London-Mexico rally
Ron wins Ford Escort London-Mexico rally
John Surtees' car
John Surtees’ car

There are days when grandfathers cherish like when Hakkinen won the world championship in 1998/99 and the many triumphs of Ayrton Senna – a runner he classifies as “a true gentleman, a fantastic person, a hired pilot and a friend “.

Then there’s the car he built for the London-Mexico World Cup car rally in 1970 driven by Mike Butler and Doug Harris of Medway.

Driving a Surtees TS15 Formula 2 car for the Surtees family at the Goodwood Festival of Speed ​​was another golden moment.

And more recently, working on the famous 722 driven by Stirling Moss ahead of a film on the legend in partnership with Mercedes.

He said: “It’s probably the most famous car in the world, you couldn’t put a price on it. And it will never be driven again.”

Winning team: Lewis Hamilton and Ron Pellatt
Winning team: Lewis Hamilton and Ron Pellatt
Ron with Lewis Hamilton
Ron with Lewis Hamilton

But there are also the tragic memories when riders he approached were killed on the track.

Tom Pryce – the only Welshman to have won an F1 race – died ahead of him at the 1977 South African Grand Prix.

He knew Henry Surtees, the son of John Surtees who died in a freak accident at Brands Hatch when he was only 18 years old.

And the biggest shock of all: the death of international icon Ayrton Senna at the San Marino Grand Prix on May 1, 1994.

Ron describes the Brazilian as a friend – working with him almost every week between 1990 and 1993 when he was with McLaren.

James Hunt smiles for the camera
James Hunt smiles for the camera
Ron and the mechanics at work
Ron and the mechanics at work

He said: “It was pure tragedy. We just couldn’t believe what we were hearing. It was very moving.

“He was always joking about having a new driver’s watch, then one day he gave me his old watch as a gift.

“It was very expensive.”

Senna died in a Bologna hospital after crashing into a concrete barrier.

Ron’s life on the road is much different from how his life began after his father died when he was four years old.

Double champion Emerson Fittipaldi
Double champion Emerson Fittipaldi
With the French champion Alain Prost
With the French champion Alain Prost

He was placed in children’s homes and foster families and moved from Margate to Gillingham when he was about nine years old.

He said: “I didn’t like school very much and I was a little rebellious, I was just going around.”

He spent his time playing pool and biking in the fields near Cliffe and “getting into trouble”, earning him court and a three-year driving ban at the age of 16 .

When he got his license one of the first things he did was buy a bike, an Italian Bianchi, and continue his love of mountain biking.

He switched from motorcycles to rally cross cars and was a regular at the Lydden Hill circuit near Dover.

Ron and his wife Penny
Ron and his wife Penny
Ron and Henry Surtees who were killed on the trail, just 18
Ron and Henry Surtees who were killed on the trail, just 18

He met Penny at a Cliffe pub where she lived and they married in 1966 after a short romance.

He said: “I have met a lot of famous people, but the person who deserves the biggest mention is Penny.

“While I was gone, she was my long-suffering wife, raising our three children.

“Without his support I would not have been able to pursue my career in motorsport.”

Ron has since stopped working full time, but still freelances for Mercedes in Stuttgart, where he helps run vintage cars.

Ron with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard
Ron with Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard
British champion Jenson Button
British champion Jenson Button

Closer to home, he also looks after artist Jools Holland’s car collection at his home in Cooling Castle.

He said: “I still have the virus. I make sure to show up and check in at airports every two weeks, which was tiring.

“But I miss the camaraderie, the mechanics and the fun.”

The drivers Ron worked with were: Emerson Fitipaldi, Kimi Raikkonen, James Hunt, Nelson Piquet, Keke Rosberg, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen, Jenson Button, John Surtees, Lewis Hamilton

Ron added: “I was fortunate enough to work with four of them – Piquet, Rosberg, Senna and Hakkinen – when they won the championship.”


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