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.