Part of the fun of turning up in the paddock for the new year is to see what has changed since you were last there. It's still motor racing, so change tends to happen glacially, but there is always new stuff if you look closely enough.
- Beards: Apparently 2009 is the year of facial hair. It seems to be an Italian led trend, with Davide Valsecchi and Luca Filippi arriving in the paddock with full (for them) beards (the latter has already chopped his down to a surprising mutton chops / goatee combination), while Andi Zuber is sporting an Amish-style beard (and was less than thrilled at that description), and Jérôme d’Ambrosio has a “lucky beard” he started growing in GP2 Asia.
“Well they obviously don't want to go to F1,” was Karun Chandhok's swift judgement. “They don't like beards up there.” “What about Nick Heidfeld?” “He's been there for ages, so it's okay.” “And he probably only grew it so that people would actually notice him.” “It's his USP: he is the beardy one...”
- Paint schemes: The teams have been busy coming up with new colour schemes for the season. Trident's striking new colours have been particularly well received, along with their classic style outfits, while iSport have resolved their blue / red clash in fine style. Arden now look like the GP2 test car, Piquet look surprisingly like a large Formula BMW, while most of the others tweaked their existing schemes. Apart from one obvious change...
- Fat Burner Racing Engineering: They're bright, they're brash, and they're very, very red. Team boss Alfonso de Orleans-Borbon, probably aware of what was to come when he stepped foot into the paddock, was busy over the off-season pre-empting the punchlines. “I've lost 22 kilos since we got this new sponsor,” he told approximately every living being in the paddock (“Is that guy over there Alfonso?” asked a newbie in the paddock yesterday. “I've never spoken to him before, but he came over and told me he lost 22 kilos...”).
He certainly looks pleased with his weekend so far (and also quite slimmed down from last season). Those in the paddock with a grounding in the Latin languages can't help but feel that Lucas di Grassi is less enamoured with the new sponsor, given his surname...
- Hospitality: We've got a proper door out front now, and a new, lower roof that stops the glare on the TV screens and keeps the whole area cooler. Those of us who live upstairs in the central bus are less sure about the latter change: it seems even hotter up here now, and we now can't look down and see who is sitting downstairs (no more antics involving a wireless microphone and fake calls to the stewards' office, sadly). But it does look as though we're above the clouds when we look out the window now.
- ORT: Ocean Racing Scene, as the paddock's aficionado's of early 90's retro rock are already calling our newest team, have hit the ground running: their matt black and shiny blue paint scheme has had numerous people scratching their heads as they try to work out whether they think it is genius or the opposite (current split: 60/40 for genius), while the shirts have all the females in the office smiling because the silver lines are glittery. It's the small touches that make all the difference.