And now for something completely different…

Lots of people think that Formula 1 is a dull world, because that is the trendy thing to think. I completely disagree. I am fascinated by the people I meet and the stories they tell, if you ever bother to find out.

I started asking people about themselves back in the 1990s and for more than a decade each weekend I would write a 400-word article about someone different in the F1 paddock, be they a cook, bottle-washer or team principal. Often it was a random choice. It taught me that F1 people are not like other folk and to get where they wanted to be, they took crazy risks, or had the most bizarre career paths.

The other day, I was reminded of this when I was shopping in London’s wonderful Fortnum & Mason store, where they have the best of everything – if you can afford it. There, on the shelves, was a row of Duffy’s chocolate. I smiled. I know Duffy, I thought. Funny fellow. Good bloke.

Born in the less than glamorous Scunthorpe, in Lincolnshire, once a centre of iron-making and the manufacture of steel, Gerald Sheardown gained the nickname Duffy when he was still at school. He was interested in technology and began working with the then new and radical carbon composites, which were beginning to revolutionise the aviation world and would soon follow into Formula 1. The first F1 car he worked on was the Toleman TG183, the Witney team’s first composite chassis, designed by Rory Byrne and raced by Derek Warwick, Teo Fabi and later by the young Ayrton Senna, Johnny Cecotto Sr and Stefan Johansson.

10429067164_37a7dea854Duffy would work in F1 for the next 12 years, but did not really come to prominence (if one can call it that) until 1992 when his efforts with the hopeless Andrea Moda Formula (AMF) won him much respect from the F1 community. AMF was the dream of an Italian shoe manufacturer called Andrea Sassetti, who bought the defunct Coloni F1 team in the autumn of 1991. It was a pretty hopeless place to start, but Sassetti was talked into buying the rights to the design of an F1 car that had been completed in 1990 by Simtek Research, in an attempt to get BMW to run its own F1 team. Sheardown was called in to build the chassis, based at Brunet-Sicap SA, near Arras in northern France. The cars were fitted with Judd V10 engines but time and money were short and they could not be finished before the start of the season. It became something of a comedy show after that, involving Duffy, Roberto Moreno and Perry McCarthy. They worked miracles given a complete lack of funding. This was the era of pre-qualifying and getting into races was a major miracle for some of the teams involved. I remember the one occasion when AMF did it, with some amazing laps by Moreno on the streets of Monaco. The whole sorry tale ended up with Sassetti being arrested by police in the paddock at Spa in the early autumn.

Duffy had had enough of F1 after that and went off to do his own thing. In 1999 he popped up again working as project manager on the Nissan R391 open-topped LMP1 sports car for Nismo, designed by Nigel Stroud. This was followed by a role as project manager of the Dieselmax, diesel-powered land speed record car, which eventually reached more than 350 miles per hour in 2006, with Andy Green driving. Sheardown went on to work on a new LMP2 car called the Embassy WF01, but the money ran out and he moved on to be project coordinator for the design and build of the Acura ALMS cars, for Wirth in 2009, but this project was cancelled in 2010 as the world economy crashed. He was also involved as team manager with Team WFR in two and four wheeled competition, notably with Ginetta in the British GT championship. The switch to the chocolate industry can be traced back in 2008.

“I was listening to Radio 4’s Food Programme,” Duffy recalls, “and they said that only Cadbury’s were making chocolate direct from the beans in the UK. Everyone else was buying it in from wholesale suppliers in Europe and then making bars with nuts, raisons or whatever. My background and arrogance led me to say: ‘how hard can it be?’ and I decided to find out.”

Sheardown spent a year finding equipment and testing suppliers and recipes in his spare time and then began to produce his own chocolate bars.

Based in the seaside resort of Cleethorpes, in the estuary of the River Humber in north east Lincolnshire, Duffy’s was not really very glamorous and there seemed to be little in the way of transferable skills from composite manufacturing to chocolate-making, although the attention to detail and perfectionism are probably much the same. Sheardown continued to do motorsport consulting and lectured at Coventry University, but increasingly his focus became the Red Star Chocolate company, named after his company Red Star Racing, but the brand of the chocolate was always Duffy’s.

His chocolate bars quickly become known as being among the best and in 2011 his Honduras Indio Rojo bar won the prestigious Academy Of Chocolate Golden Bean award for the best bean-to-bar chocolate in the world.

Duffy was kind enough to send me a few bars a couple of years ago and it is exceptional stuff…

Duffy

If you want to learn more, here is how it is done…

54 thoughts on “And now for something completely different…

  1. What a wonderful story, showing what a mixture of talent, sheer determination and also some chance – and being able to act upon and take advantage of that chance – can get you.

  2. Great story Joe. I’m from Cleethorpes originally and I’ve never heard of Duffy’s. But if you can’t buy it in Asda or Tesco or it’s not related to fishing then no one will pay any attention to anything in Cleethorpes (or Grimsby).

  3. This is why you are the best F1 journalist by a country mile. Brought a smile to my face on a somewhat miserable Thursday afternoon, thank you Joe. I will seek out Duffy’s Fine Chocolate!

  4. Great post Joe!

    On Thursday, 18 February 2016, joeblogsf1 wrote:

    > Joe Saward posted: “Lots of people think that Formula 1 is a dull world, > because that is the trendy thing to think. I completely disagree. I am > fascinated by the people I meet and the stories they tell, if you ever > bother to find out. I started asking people about themsel” >

  5. What a great story. Don’t know if it’s possible or if you’re too busy nowadays but it would be fantastic if you could bring this back, stories from a random non famous f1 paddock insider, maybe as a regular or occasional GP+ feature.

  6. Thank you Joe, I too love the “where are they now?” stories, proving there is life after racing. Just today you brought up Bertrand Gachot in this way. Many of us are aware of how Jody Scheckter made a new career in Georgia (USA) far from F1, before selling up and moving into sustainable agriculture in the UK. I believe Rene Arnoux manufactures components for watches that thee and me can’t afford and Jim Crawford, after his wicked crash at Indy, bought a sport fishing boat and became a charter skipper in Florida. I’d love to read about others you have known/know, perhaps in GP+

  7. The video makes it look like a one-man operation, but I suspect there must be more. Very interesting, Joe. I’d never have even thought of an F1 chocalatier.

  8. I never ever considered F1 world dull –
    Just some of the races we are burdened with.

    Not hard to beat Cadburys – generally tastes like sweetened condensed milk with a token sprinkling of chocolate.

    I’m impressed that Duffy’s milk chocolate range contains between 40% (‘Panama Tierra Oscura’) and 61% (‘Honduras Mayan’) cocoa solids (vs. Cadburys pathetic 25%) so will invest in a bar –
    Thanks for the tip.

  9. “Lots of people think that Formula 1 is a dull world, because that is the trendy thing to think.”

    Or maybe they just find it dull, regardless of that being a trendy opinion or not.

      1. Maybe they’re good at multitasking and can do all three things at the same time…

        And maybe they used to like F1 but find it dull nowadays. It’s not necessarily a daft opinion.

  10. I agree with the sentiment Joe, I run a small workplace health charity and when people ask me what business I’m in, I say we are in the people business. We listen to people’s stories and help them and some of their stories are fascinating.

    I remember the AMF team, having no money and sending out McCarthy on wets on a dry track. I recall though, that the car wasn’t that bad and if they had spent any money on it, they might of got it onto the back of grid on a regular basis.

  11. “Lots of people think that Formula 1 is a dull world …” Do they? I thought we motorsport fans think of it as being the opposite. Space travel, deep diving and Formula1, surely sparkle in the imagination of teenagers. Maybe you mix too frequently with a cynical and jaded fourth estate. A classical example was the way the press always went on and on and on about how boring Nigel Mansell was but the F1 crowds loved him because of the way he raced not because of his after dinner patter.

  12. And that’s why i’ve always loved your quirky journalistic style Joe….all the great writers, whether in sports or general news reportage, have their own unique style, and you have yours, just as Nigel Roebuck, and DT, AH, DSJ etc etc….unfortunately this flair is running out in motorsport writing, as in the general world of newsprint, and the quality of writing, the prose, the ability to draw the reader in, is being lost. There are very few good writers like you in this sport now, in my view. I very rarely buy an Autosport now, but when i used to from 1970 up to around 2006 when i stopped being a weekly buyer, the quality was way better than now…..MN the same…..MS is very good now, but then there are a lot of the Old Timers writing there!

    1. “but then there are a lot of the Old Timers writing there!”

      Ask Simon Arron, I guess. He is old enough and young enough to understand how one might establish a motor sport journalist career.

      1. Simon Arron is another favorite of mine, as was Jerry Williams….the current crop at AS are too much like tabloid writers for my liking.

    2. Dear Joe, all
      Damien, couldn’t agree more.
      I don’t buy Autosport because I live in Australia, and, I have only noticed the ‘airfreight’ version, which costs a small fortune. A subscription would arrive 2-3 weeks after UK release.
      I will stick to MS & GP+. Both thoroughly enjoyable, beautifully written.
      Cheers
      MarkR

  13. I never thought i would see My hometown of Scunthorpe mention on your site Joe. Was a nice article. I never knew anyone from Scunny working in F1.

  14. Very interesting story, Joe: thanks for posting this. Unfortunately the video doesn’t work in Germany for copyright reasons around the soundtrack!

  15. Thanks Joe, interesting read.
    Would make for a fascinating book “the people in F1”, an assortment of stories about the folk that work in our sport.

    1. It was done by Gerald Donaldson. It’s called Grand Prix People. It is out of date now, but it did the job in 1991.

      1. Thanks, I did not know about that book and it was easy to order online.
        Still that was 25 years ago, maybe a sequel on the people in the 1991-2015 era could be made by someone.

  16. I hope Duffy’s been able to afford some packing machinery by now – it must have been horrible work to have to foil-wrap, paper-wrap and label every single bar! Mind you, the Best Before label said July 2012, so that’s a pretty old video by now.

  17. Hi Joe,

    So you have a load of pieces like this on a range of different folk.

    Sounds like book material me, the personal side of F1, the personalities of F1 something like that.

    I’d buy it based on this post…

    How do you find the current crop of F1 folk compared to those you spoke with in the 90s ?

    I can only really claim to have “met” one F1 person but I have met quite a few folks from the Group A / SuperTouring era and Group C scene, showing my age now eh ?

    I was luck enough to be given a tour of the old Station Lane factory used by Benetton/Toleman, Greg Field gave up a couple of hours to make it happen, it is something I will never forget.

    I also still have a letter from Allan Scott on TWR headed paper when he gave some information on fuel management that contributed to my degree dissertation. Automotive electronics and the application of motorsport to the high street. Living in Coventry when a V12 Jag won Le Mans was quite something.

    Keep up the good work, this sort of post is great, why I read this blog.

    😀

  18. Was he the guy the documentary was about a few years ago on /channel 5?
    It followed him for about two years through many trials and tribulations, especially in the smoothness of the grinding.

    Apparently chocolate is suffering with coco beans subject to many hazards. Best but some before the price shoots up. Dark chocolate apparently very good for your health and non fattening.

      1. I think that the person you are thinking of with the chocolate documentary on channel 4 was Willie Harcourt-Cooze. It looked like a real labour of love to be able to produce real quality chocolate.

      2. I live in the UK.

        I really like this capacity that UK accepts people from different countries.

        Long before I was born, thousands of Polish people came to the UK. Some of these people weren’t nice.

        Thousands of Poles seek refuge. So I am a generous man.

        1. Huh??? W.T.F does that daft comment have to do with Joe’s story or rpaco’s comment? Maybe they weren’t particularly thrilled by being an allied country that was sold out at Yalta. Perhaps you should review some WW2 history, you may be enlightened. Fortunately all immigrants and domestic Lager louts are pure sunshine in this day and age, enjoy.

  19. Nice read , Joe .
    You provide the best backstories for the circus .

    I hope it’s worth at least a box or two from Duffy .

    1. I don’t think he makes boxes. I think he only makes bars. But that was not the purpose of the story. If I want Duffy’s chocolate I know where to buy it.

  20. Great read, thanks. I am sure, you would have stuff for a succesful book from the many interesting, adventurous and original people you have met in F1 during the years. (Provided they would let you publish…)
    When seeing the name Scunthorpe, memories from years past came to mind. I worked with the now defunct Marshall Tractors factory there in 1988/90.. Long before Duffy chocolates. Must see, if I can find it here in DK…

  21. Excellent read Joe. So from all the people you wrote about how about a dream team… I am sure with your history and stories it would be a strange but great read…

  22. Dear Joe,

    I found your item on the chocolate maker with past motor racing history very interesting . If you ever look for another interesting person you could think of Peter ( Bungy ) Taylor . He was a boat builder in Salcombe who began to make sailing dinghies in an Olympic Class .He went to the 1972 Olympic Sailing even in Kiel ( Munich Games ) and was for some years closely involved with GBR Olympic Sailing . as boat builder and repairer . Unfortunately he became bankrupt . He went to Hamble where he was involved in the making of racing yachts . At about this time he visited us in Silverstone and showed us the fibre glass body he was making that was fitted to the Saudia Williams race cars . I remember our children jumping up and down on the body work on our lawn at his invitation to demonstrate its strength and rigidity . Later in Hamble he ceased making yachts and began making the fibreglass body for the RS2000 rally cars . He was left high and dry when following a fatality the racing and building of these rally cars was terminated . Once again bankrupt since he could not diversify into garden urns and window boxes at short notice . Next thing he went to Sauber to assist in the building of their race cars . He remained there until he recently retired . Continued whilst living in Swizerland the restoration of a racing yacht and a Riva motor launch . The family are now naturalised as Swiss citizens . It is of interest that when he first went to Sauber he had to slink onto the country unofficially . After three years he was granted a work permit and had to return to the UK in order to return to Sauber officially !

    If you ever wished to follow up this story I can give you Peter’s contact details .

    Our son is in Barcelona at the moment with 105 Williamsf1 team members at his disposal . I am going to the BRDC meeting on Wednesday next about the JLR matter. Though as an Associate member I have no vote in our future .

    Regards. Dr Frank Newton. Silverstone

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. Hi Frank, very interesting what you find if you google your own dad. I hope you are well. Best regards from Switzerland, Ollie Taylor

  23. Some people ensure they are destined to succeed… I find them most inspirational. Especially those who are following their passion.

    It’s the main reason I keep coming back to this site.

  24. Must chase up a bar or two on his website – no retail stockists listed for Northern Ireland! Just the job; a couple of squares of seriously dark with a nice Islay malt, to sit down with and read the GP+ season preview?

  25. This is a great story. I don’t know duffy personally but a lot of my old colleagues do. I didn’t know he was a lecturer at cov uni, that’s where I studied many moons ago. I’m still in the composites industry but no longer f1 and I do miss it. If you have many more stories like this I would love to hear them.

  26. What a wonderful story. I’m sure F1 is full of interesting and different people (apart from the drivers and the “communication” people that is……) so can we have such stories in GP+?

  27. I’ve never heard anyone say they think F1 is a dull world. Pretty much ticks all the boxes for being the opposite. International Business. Exotic Locations Celebrity Filled. Speed & Sound. Constant Change. Politics. But, saying that people think it’s a dull world is a convenient set up for an article…

  28. Not a great F1 fan but have just ordered some of Duffy’s chocolate (awaiting delivery) . If Joe wants more research, Jano Trulli makes excellent Montepulciano……

  29. A quick scan of the Comments section tells me that no-one has tested Duffy’s Chocolate. So I am compelled to eat more and more of it in order to report on the experience (excuse me a moment while I have another piece).

    This has changed my perception of, or definition of chocolate. And that is indescribable, so I won’t bother. Simply said it is a wonderful chocolate experience.

    I ordered the Dark Honduras Indio Rojo and Milk with Cocoa Nibs & Oak Smoked Salt. The milk is going faster… rather addictive. The dark is very serious stuff. Savour slowly.

    Thanks for the tip, Joe.

  30. This is a great background on the chocolate maker – I am in Canada and finally just got my hands on some Duffy bars – trying hard not to open them yet until I have time to really enjoy them! I just love how diverse bean-to-bar chocolate makers are – they all come from different backgrounds. Thanks for a great overview!

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