Jug or Mug?
A very pleasant afternoon in the company of Tim Mullen started with me tipping my
Guinness all over his Ted Baker jacket and finished with him paying for lunch.
Even though his manager, the ever-present Declan Betts, was thankfully on
holiday in South Africa and didn't witness this social faux pas, his grin still shone
brightly on the wall of the pub having won a signed England Rugby shirt in the pub
competition and had his picture tacked onto the wall. His toothy grin suggested he
would get to hear of this pint-tipping exercise, and will be merciless next year. As if
to emphasise the point in true Declan style, he had the same picture up twice.
Mullen, the 26-year-old from Portadown, Ulster, came to the Team Maranello
Concessionaires as the 'unknown' driver, in the company of Jamie Davies, Darren
Turner and Kelvin Burt. His claim to fame at the start of the year was losing out on
a championship title having missed qualifying for the final round as he was at his
sister's wedding. He got fogged in and the helicopter arranged by a family friend to
take him to Croft couldn't do it. "I think it was a bit much expecting to do the two,
and I won't do it again," he says.
Even though he had failed to win the N-GT championship either, having led with
Jamie Davies up to the Spa 24-hours in July, he wasn't denied by the elements
this time around. Mullen put on some fine performances in the Ferrari 360
Modena, and there is no doubting his commitment. In the pub car park he proudly
shows off a photo in a magazine of himself in the Ferrari, sideways at Parabolica,
Monza, having been leaned on by Tommy Erdos' Saleen. "Look at all that blue
He started the season with Davies, a promising partnership that yielded a win at
Magny Cours and the championship lead. Team boss Sam Li decided to double
his chances of taking the title by splitting the pair at the Spa 24-hours where all
manner of problems affected the Ferraris. The upshot of it all was that Davies
came out ahead, and went for the championship. Splitting the drivers was a
gamble that didn't pay off.
"Basically, Jamie and I were leading the championship up to Spa, and Sam
wanted to double his odds," says Mullen, who never likes to criticise a team
publicly despite some prodding from yours truly. "It was a bit frustrating from a
drivers' point of view. None of us really wanted to change. We had built up a
relationship over the first half of the year, the car crew, and me and Jamie. I stayed
with my crew and my car, Jamie went to the other crew.
"If Jamie and I finished Spa with different points, we could never be together again
for the rest of the year because the person with fewer points couldn't win the
championship. We are all professional, and we do what we are told, but it was
"Together we had built up a very good relationship, on and off the track, and we
drove in a way that was not trying to out-do each other, but when we split, our focus
changed a bit. We still worked together, we still got to the track on Thursday, and
walked the track together and chatted about what was perhaps best to do in this
corner or that, but it was never the same."
The team struggled with reliability problems this year and were struck with the
kind of luck that only hits when you have flattened a few black cats having driven
under a row of ladders. At Enna Davies was penalised, took his ten-second
penalty, was waved out early by the marshal, and received another penalty.
Wheels falling off, ECU units failing, and un-helpful gearchange mechanisms did
not help their cause as they battled for the title. When the chips were down,
however, it was not the championship-winning Freisinger Porsche that dominated
the final few races, but the Ferrari rival, Pirelli-shod JMB team.
"Whenever Jamie and I were looking at the circuits, we could see the Pirelli
engineers taking pictures of the track, doing what ever they do with their little
microscopes, you could tell that they were pushing hard and putting the effort in,"
says Mullen. "A lot of the performance advantage was with the tyres, I think. We
started off well with the Dunlop, which were very good at the start of the year, but
then Pirelli I think just put that little bit more into it, and they had the advantage over
us in the second half of the season. Freisinger were on Dunlops too, and we
came back at them."
No Free Lunches
Despite the esteemed company within the team, which included quality and
experienced drivers and a film crew that, while it raised the profile, managed to get
itself run over at Enna, Mullen emerged from the season with credit. Getting him to
look ahead to next year is a bit like trying to get a politician to tell the truth, however.
"I am pretty certain…I won't be driving in Formula One," he says guardedly. He is in
negotiation with teams for next year but wouldn't tell me who, or what. Perhaps that
is why he bought lunch.