“Have you had a chance to start writing the blog,” Alexa asked. It was a question I was dreading, because I wasn't sure how to answer. “Have you had a chance to start writing the blog,” Alexa asked. It was a question I was dreading, because I wasn't sure how to answer. I figured it was best to just come straight out with it. “Not really,” I noted, “because I wasn't sure if you wanted one.”
“What are you talking about?” she quizzed. “Of course we want a blog: we put one up every night now.”
“Yeah, I know,” I sighed disconsolately, “but no one is reading it anymore, so I don't know if it's worth it.”
“Of course they read it,” she stated matter of factly, “it's just that everyone has forgotten how to post a reply. Maybe you need to write about Alvaro again: that always gets the Portuguese going, at least!” “I think he's had a bad enough day today,” I replied, “I'm not sure he needs anymore aggravation...”
“So what are you going to write about,” she asked. “You must have a lot to talk about after today.”
“I guess so,” I sighed as I thought about what happened over the day. “I could always write about Alastair's finger.”
“Oh, that's a good one,” she squealed, wincing at the thought. “He hasn't stopped complaining about that all day.”
“Well to be fair to him, it must have hurt: he was squatting down to get the shot of Pastor in the pits when the jack failed, dropping the car to the ground and smashing the jack into his finger.”
“Ouch, it makes me wince just thinking about how big his finger was afterwards! It was so swollen!”
“Yeah, but the weird thing is he was more upset that they crowded around Pastor and no one even said sorry to him. I guess photographers really are expendable.”
“You better not let him hear you say that: he's already moaning enough.”
“Okay, I'll be nice: it is his birthday tomorrow, after all...”
“Maybe you could write something about Karun? About how he ran all the way down the pits to complain to iSport about Diego blocking him in qualifying.”
“Heh, you were going to go over and say hello until I saw his eyes and stopped you. Luckily it was his old team and they knew how to handle him!”
“Yeah. Oh, or you could put in how I texted him last night to remind him that he had to come to the signing session, and he said 'yes Mum' so I replied that he should clean his teeth and get to bed early because he had a big day today, and he said 'have you seen the grid, I'm starting from outside my house!'”
“Well that's better than starting outside your house!”
“That's what I said: he just laughed and said 'maybe if we were still racing in Magny Cours!'”
“He's a cheeky one: after the signing Lucas di Grassi was doing his usual shop steward act, trying to convince Vitaly and Karun that they should all go to Charlie Whiting and ask to change the qualifying session because of the traffic. Karun kept going 'yeah, totally with you there', until we got out of the van: he just looked at me as Lucas wandered off and said 'yeah, that'll happen...'”
“I don't know what else I could write about though: it's late, and we had to get up early this morning to beat the traffic.”
“Oh, write something about Sergio: he was great today.”
“He was, wasn't he? 25th on the grid to 4th at the flag, and maybe he would have been on the podium if he had another lap.”
“That's because of me, actually: I told him this morning that I really wanted to see the old Asia Series Sergio back, and he just looked at me and quietly said 'me too': you know how shy he can be. And then after the race he came straight over, a huge smile on his face, and just blurted out 'I'm back!'”
“Yeah: with the pace he had today he has to be on the podium if he gets a good start.”
“Or a win: I could live with that, too!”
“Or maybe I could write about Nelson's bet with Bruno Michel.”
“What was that?”
“Oh, the other week in Istanbul they were talking after the race and Nelson said 'Alberto was great this weekend: I reckon he'll win a race this year', and Bruno must have been in a bad mood or something, because he said 'no way'.”
“Really?” “Yeah, and you know what Nelson is like: he immediately said 'he will definitely win this year, I bet you he will' and then Bruno couldn't back down so he said 'okay, I will bet you a dinner' and they shook on it.” “So I bet Nelson is happy now.” “Oh, certainly: Bruno was trying to say there was nowhere to eat around here, and Nelson just smirked and said 'I used to live in Oxford, I know exactly where we should go' and burst out laughing: apparently the place costs a fortune, and Bruno had to agree!”
“So you see, you've got plenty to write about then.” “Yeah, maybe so: if only I could think of a way to put it all together.”
“I'm sure you'll think of something. I'll go and get you a coffee while you think about it...”
Wherever you find racing, gamesmanship is never far away as the teams try to find new and interesting ways to get one over their rivals: this adage was proved in Northampton on Thursday night when some of the teams ended up in the same bar after a long day setting up in the paddock ahead of the weekend's racing.
At times like that there is always a lot of good natured banter, with comments flying thick and fast between the various engineers and mechanics as they try to find an edge, but it wasn't until later in the night that one of the mechanics looked up at the big screen above the dancefloor to see a note wishing ART good luck in the forthcoming GP2 race.
“What's that about?” the embittered mechanic huffed as he pointed it out to his equally outraged colleagues. “They're not even English!” It was while they were working themselves up into a fury that I noticed Pastor Maldonado's engineer Gaetan Jego smirking wickedly at the carnage he had just unleashed after a quick chat to one of the barmen, before slinking outside to get the rest of the team to come and have a laugh, winking as I slipped out the front on the way back to the hotel and away from the skirmish to come...
Come the morning and we had bigger issues to worry about, such as finding a way through the enormous crowd already building as they came to see local hero Jenson Button on home soil. Maybe it's their last chance to see the Englishman here, maybe it isn't, but the crowd were soon finding out that there was a bigger story working itself up to hurricane strength in the big paddock.
Which soon meant that our paddock was playing host to more journalists than usual on a Friday morning. “I had to come up here for an espresso,” sighed one world-weary scribe, already looking exhausted despite the weekend just getting started. “Everyone keeps asking me if I'll interview them to get their side of the story out, and already it's wearing me out! How are things down here?”
“We're kind of like the kids in a bad relationship,” I noted as I made the coffee. “We're over here looking up at our parents fighting, and just hoping that we don't have to decide which one we love more...”
But it was soon time to get down to business, which suited everyone way more than discussing politics, as that story never ends. In free practice we had the advantage of a load of coloured light boards at each corner, which were being testing as a replacement for flags for the future: we've had four of them before, but this weekend we've got 19 of them dotted all around the circuit. The session went off smoothly despite the blustery conditions, so I guess they did the job.
Qualifying went well too, although Trident might disagree: their two drivers somehow collided on the outlap, putting Ricardo Teixeira out on the spot, with Luiz Razia getting caught up in the melee and Roldan Rodriguez pulling up shortly after mechanical gremlins. On second thoughts, maybe went well is slightly overselling it...
But the biggest qualifying crowd of the season were treated to a cracker of a session, with Alberto Valerio and Romain Grosjean fighting throughout for the top spot while all of the usual contenders seemed able to match them but tripped over each in traffic as they scrabbled for pole, all of them with thunderous looks on their faces to match the blowy conditions after the session.
It was the Frenchman who came out on top, but the Brazilian was ecstatic to put himself on the front row in qualifying for the first time ever. So excited was he, in fact, that he was animatedly describing the session to Bruno Senna, dotting his conversation with his trademark volcanic laugh, when Alexa rushed over to get him, sticking her arm in front of his face and pointing to her wrist.
“Hey, nice watch!” he smiled.
“Look at the time!” she spurted, “It's time for the press conference!”
“There is a press conference?” he spluttered as Bruno started to push him towards hospitality. “Wow, that's cool!”
And so it was that Alberto finally arrived, late but beaming as he made his way through the well-wishers who shook his hand or hugged the Brazilian with joy as he made his way to his first ever press conference, at the end of which I noted that everyone was hoping he would make it onto the podium tomorrow as we would be able to hear his laughter from the end of the paddock.
Although, frankly, if he does claim his first podium tomorrow I'd suggest you'll be able to hear him laughing all the way from your house, with or without the television. Fingers crossed for tomorrow's on-track shenanigans to outshine the off-track nonsense anyway, even if it's only for an hour or so.
There's nothing much you can do about the heat in Istanbul, but everyone tries to escape it anyway, knowing it's a doomed effort before it even begins. “Do we have to go back there to do it?” Lucas di Grassi asked, with his teammate Dani Clos looking on in hope, when we explained that we needed them both to leave the air conditioned comfort of the hospitality area for listless heat of their pit. “We need photos,” I began, as enthusiastic about going there as they were, “and we need the Racing Engineering logo in the background. You know that.”
“Yeah sure, but can't we do the photos later? Like, this evening?”
“There's this little thing called light...”
I could only sympathise: I didn't want to go either, but features don't write themselves. Which explains a lot about this blog, sadly. And yet, once we got there the guys posed like professionals for Aaistair (pretending to be chatting while I stood around the corner, their entire conversation consisted of, and this is an exact quote: “Blah?” “Blah blah.” “Blah blah blah?” “Blah! Blah blah...”), and then enjoyed themselves trying not to say anything too bad about each other for a forthcoming feature (wherein Lucas revealed exclusively that he would cook Pot Noodles for Dani if he popped around for dinner, while the Spaniard made a mental note to never put that to the test).
Edoardo Mortara and Sergio Perez were happy to sit in the truck for their interview, until they discovered that the air conditioning wasn't working: repeated stabbing the remote control button in vain, Edo was looking increasingly distressed until Sergio shyly asked: “Do you think you will be finished taking photos soon?” Alastair noted that he was just taking photos for the sake of it by now and put down his camera, with the boys immediately striping the top half of their race suits off and sighing in unison.
Both interviews were part of a forthcoming repeat feature to be run between race weekends: we will have teammates interviewing each other, and if the rest of them go as well as the ones we had today then I can't wait for them. Edo and Sergio in particular were in great form, bouncing off each other like the most amusingly passive double comedy act ever: “Who is the shyest? I think that's me, probably.”
“Actually, I think it's probably me: I'm really shy.”
“Really? Okay, maybe it is you.”
“No, no, I'm sure it can be you: maybe I'm not that shy...”
I'm looking forward too enormously to the Dams special, although a few recent comments by Jérôme d'Ambrosio to Alexa makes me wonder whether we'll get anything out of him at all. “Who do I talk to about something on the website?”
“What is the problem?”
“I want to complain about ... the blog?”
“No, not the blog: actually, I mean the press conference quotes. They seem ... strange?”
“Strange how? We quote you exactly.”
“Really? Maybe that's the problem: it makes me sound stupid! Maybe I have to change how I talk there: I might have to say 'It was a good day, comma, and the car was really strong.'”
“You could do that, but we'll just quote you saying comma...”
Luca Filippi and Vitaly Petrov may not be teammates, so unfortunately we won't be doing a feature of them interviewing each other any time soon, but clearly they don't share Jerome's qualms about being quoted in the press conference. Sharing a magazine and giggling while waiting for the journalists to arrive, the pair were clearly and enthusiastically enjoying the, ahem, ample charms of the cover model despite me starting the press conference with a welcome to everyone.
Vitaly was so engrossed that he didn't even notice, until Luca snatched the magazine and hurled it across the room, beaming with joy as Vitaly expressed his displeasure in the firmest of terms. Cue a constant stream of pokes, prods, nudges, giggles, etc to put each other off as they answered their questions in turn.
They are grown men, despite all appearances to the contrary.
Although the comments between them while Davide Valsecchi spoke, all picked up by my dictaphone on the table between them, should probably remain unnoted, for the betterment of all concerned, yourself included.
I can only blame the heat.
David Cameron on borders, hospitals and lame excuses Things never go easy in Istanbul: it's hot, it's a long way from home, and everyone seems to be under more pressure than usual to get things done here. As much as I love the city, working in the paddock just feels more draining than the other places (apart from Budapest, where we don't get the benefit of cooling sea breezes at night) we go to race.
Which is why it makes no sense that someone would put themselves under more strain than is truly necessary, and why no one can quite understand why Racing Engineering's Alfonso de Orleans Borbon did what he did yesterday. Regular readers of this blog may recall Alfonso's earlier adventures at the Turkish border: they will already be thinking the same thought I had in the pitlane before free practice.
“So I drove here again,” he started, already chuckling at the memory, “and it was the same guy as I had last year! This time I arranged a visa form in advance, so I wouldn't have to go through the same problems again.” Last time a long delay because of his dress sense and car were only solved by a call to the Prime Minister's office. “My friend remembered me, and he didn't want to give me any grief: the only problem was that the visa form, which is in Turkish, was for the truck, not a car!
“Four hours later and I could finally enter: I couldn't even say anything this time, because I brought the wrong form! And as I was leaving he waved and said see you next year...”
No matter how inconvenienced he was, even Alfonso recognised that his dramas were mild compared to Nelson Panciatici. The young Frenchman was walking downstairs to go to dinner in his hotel last night when he slipped and suffered a big fall, coming down heavily on his ankle: his manager and a French journalist found him on the floor, and were soon driving the distraught driver to hospital.
X-rays showed that there was nothing broken, but the doctor was extremely worried about the severe swelling surrounding the ankle, which may have been an indication of serious muscle damage.
“You're going to have to stay off your feet,” the doctor sternly instructed, “or else you risk making the damage worse.” “Okay, but can I drive?” Nelson asked, conveniently failing to mention his livelihood.
“I guess that would be okay if no one else can drive you, but if it starts to hurt then you need to stop immediately.”
“No problem doc.”
Cue one limping racing driver being helped to the pitlane this morning. It takes more than serious feet damage to stop them getting out on track, as Romain Grosjean also proved...
And Nelson was clearly delighted to be out on the circuit today, even if some of his competitors seemed to wish they were anywhere else but here. Hang around with racing drivers for long enough and you will hear every excuse under the sun for why they didn't get the job done, and today was no exception.
I'm thinking of approaching the stewards to suggest I hand out instant penalties to anyone who blames traffic or yellow flags for poor laps: everyone has the same conditions, so just deal with it. Okay, so today there were a lot of guys who didn't qualify well, notably Lucas di Grassi, Kamui Kobayashi and Jerome d'Ambrosio: any guess at the favourite excuse today?
Which is why it was so refreshing to talk to Kamui after qualifying today: as we were queuing for dinner I asked what had happened in qualifying, and then mentally flinched for the expected reply. To his credit he just looked sheepish and said: “Actually, I just don't know...”