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