Didier likes to find new and entertaining ways to annoy us all on a race weekend: well, if you're good at something you might as well stick to it, I guess. You'd think that a major race series' technical director would be a fairly mature person, but as someone told him today, he's like an adult who acts like a kid without actually being an adult first. He tries, but he can't fight his natural attraction to nonsense.
Which is why, when we saw a guy selling all manner of plastic nonsense during dinner we all sighed instinctively.
Of all the products for sale, naturally the one Didier gravitated to immediate was the megaphone. Almost hugging himself with joy, he started yelling through it immediately, scaring the life out of the other customers in the restaurant and embarrassing everyone at the table. I'm not sure which response he was more pleased with, but either way he could not have been happier had Angelina Jolie materialised in front of him and said he was the only man for her.
The next morning Didier walked around the hospitality area, sneaking up behind people before saying “BONJOUR” into the back of their heads: Alexa must have hit the roof 3 times in a row, with Didier giggling all the way to his office afterwards. I grabbed it of him at one stage and said “SHUT UP!” into it, but he simply recorded it and walked around our office playing that on a loop for a while.
Thankfully, his fun was short-lived. And not because we smashed it, more is the pity.
This morning he looked despondent, and I noticed it was the first time he didn't have the wretched thing in his hand. “Tom from Ocean Racing took it,” he sulked, “John Gentry needed it.” The mild mannered engineer had almost entirely lost his voice after an operation on his neck, leaving him unable to talk.
I like to think that he used the “SHUT UP!” button if Fabio or Max got a bit unruly in the briefing. At least it's a better use than Didier came up with.
Later in the morning we sat down with DPR drivers Giacomo Ricci and Michael Herck, which was a lot of fun. Alastair set up the shots beforehand: looking for something new he got Giacomo to sit in the car and Michael to stand next to it. We told them to pretend to have a conversation for the photos, as usual (my favourite of these was last year, when Lucas di Grassi and Dani Clos sat there looking at each other and going “blah blah blah” “blah blah blah” to each other until the photos were done), but then had to try and stop them talking and come for the actual interview.
It's hard to know what was my favourite bit, although I'm partial to Michael's comments about being bribed ahead of qualifying by his team boss, and father, with a Big Mac, while Giacomo talked about how he could sleep anytime, anywhere, even by the side of the track while the F1 guys are running.
It worked, too: both DPR cars were in the top ten in qualifying this week, which we all thought was probably the first time ever (feel free to tell me we're wrong below, statistic fans). So clearly the pre-qualy ritual is going to mean naps and hamburgers in the blue and white pit for the rest of the season. Look out for the full interview here just as soon as Alexa can transcribe it: there's about an hour of recording though, so don't expect it up immediately...
We should have done another teammate interview, this time with the Arden pair of Charles Pic and Gonzalo Rodriguez: we turned up at 1.00 but the drivers were nowhere to be found, prompting Alexa to complain non-stop about how Charles had let her down again, didn't turn up where he was supposed to be, and so on for an hour.
Until, that is, he pointed out later that she had actually arranged the interview for 12.00, and he had been sat patiently in the team truck for 30 minutes waiting for us to arrive...
By then, unfortunately, it was too late as we all had to get ready and head down to the pitlane, where I got a lot of favourable comments about my new shirt: I've bought a few, shall we say, colourful floral shirts lately, of the type that Didier wears constantly when he's not in his uniform. It was half a joke, half because I like them, and I'm not sure which half is which in the Valencia heat.
“Wow! I have to say I really like this shirt,” Didier said admiringly as we walked towards the pits. “I did not think they had shirts like this in England. Can I ask where it came from?” “Sure,” I smirked, “it's a little label called Eurotrash, by Didier...”
The shirt meant I fit in quite well in the paddock today. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.
After the race there were still a lot of smiling faces in the paddock, even if some of them were a bit of a surprise. Sergio Perez was his usual happy self, even if he was slighly doleful at his treatment in the race. “Yes – it was a little bit too much!” he sighed, understating severely about a race which saw him lose power from turn two when Pastor Maldonado crushed his exhaust a little when they tapped, was spun to the back of the field by Davide Valsecchi, and then had to avoid a jack flying off the car in front of him after his stop.
Sam Bird was smiling for a different reason, after finishing a strong third from tenth on the grid, despite losing the nose of his car in a small collision with Giedo van der Garde on lap three. “My engineer said he's not going to put the nose on my car anymore,” the Briton laughed after the press conference, “because clearly I just want to knock it off again! This keeps happening, and I seem to drive better without it, so maybe he's right!”
It was about then, with the furnace-like heat finally starting to break, that the Coloni guys came looking for Didier's megaphone. Did they want to use it to have a talk to Vladimir, who picked up a grid penalty for causing a collision on the first lap, or Alberto, who was let out of the pits with the rear jack still attached to the car? No, they laughed: they just wanted to use it to wake up Dino, who had fallen asleep behind his computer.
Didier couldn't have looked prouder if his own son had made the request. It was at that moment that he knew the paddock had been reshaped by his actions.
The more I think about it, the more I think we weren't supposed to come to Valencia. Initially it was almost impossible to get a flight here: one airline on strike, another with no return leg on Sunday, until Marco finally found a flight from the wrong airport and told me I'd have to make do. And then when I finally got to the airport yesterday there were no planes.
I wasn't alone in that respect: unknown to me everyone else was struggling to get here too, because the French air traffic controllers were on strike. No reason was given at the airport, but the best excuse was given by one of the passengers, who figured that they had gone out in protest at the antics of their football team.
I've heard crazier excuses for a strike, so maybe it was true.
But it was causing no end of problems. Alexa organised a photo shoot with the six race winners so far this year for earlier today, and had to make do with only five (Charles Pic ended up driving from the south of France, but was stuck in traffic around Barcelona by the time he was supposed to be suited and booted in the pitlane).
Jerome d'Ambrosio had a plane problem too: he arrived early at the circuit, but his race suit was with Dams' communication boss Claire, who was stuck at the airport in Paris and unable to help. Until, that is, she came up with the brilliant idea of calling Renault and asking if they could lend the Belgian one of Robert Kubica's suits for the shoot.
“You can photoshop it afterwards, right?” Jerome dubiously asked Alastair as he was setting up the shot. “Sure, no problem,” came the reply. “But can you just push up behind Sergio there. And maybe roll your sleeves up a little. And the belt, just in case...”
And being stuck at the airport for a few hours meant I couldn't see the Italy match: frustratingly I could hear the reactions from the guys watching at the bar back in the terminal, but I wasn't allowed to walk back into the main area. It turns out that the Italians are not very popular in the UK: who'd have guessed?
They were much more popular in the paddock though, as all the Italian teams who had made it to Valencia were watching the game in the hospitality area with Marco, Christian and the catering crew. But the result didn't go to plan: the crowd shrunk with every goal, until Marco was left throwing (plastic) glasses around and swearing to himself after the final whistle before stomping off in a huff to annoy Alexa about the French team.
The Italian numbers were down too, as many of them were also stuck without flights due to the strike. Journalist Roberto Chinchero was in Milan and organised a convoy of GP2 personnel, including Davide Valsecchi and, bizarrely, Heikki Kovalainen. The group all headed for the coast, with the iSport driver tearing off into the distance in his Cayman, but being constantly overtaken by Roberto as Davide had to stop every 250 kilometres or so to fill the tank...
12 hours on the road, but they made it in time for free practice. Which made his third position look even more impressive that it had originally seemed.
Certainly more so that Sam Bird, who had a torrid time in the session, finishing early when he found the wall a few minutes in and prompting a red flag period while the marshals cleaned up after him. The Briton looked a little sheepish back in the paddock, when I noticed a large cut on his head. I asked him if it was from the crash, but he sighed and said no.
“I was on holiday with my girlfriend, and there was a great pool at the place where we were staying. I was swimming a lot, to keep up the fitness, but I was getting a bit bored with it, to be honest. So I started doing the worm, you know, going up and down with my head and body to get through the water. It's quite good for the neck muscles, actually.
“So anyway, I started really getting into it, really going for it, flying through the water. And I wasn't really paying attention to where the edge of the pool was...”
Back on track and Sergio Perez was picking up where he left off, topping the practice session and continuing the strong form which saw him invited to meet the Mexican president between races. Sergio has become really popular back home, and his father was delighted to show us a number of photos of his son with the politician.
But one photo had us intrigued, where the pair of them both had their phones out at the same time. “That's my favourite!” Checo's Dad laughed, “right at that moment Sergio went on Twitter and said 'I am with the President', and the President went on Twitter and said 'I am with the victor of Monaco'!”
Alistair spotted the giant sombrero the team had draped over the flag on the front of their quad bike (most of the teams have flags hanging off the back at the moment, showing their support for the remaining teams in the world cup) and made Sergio wear it for a quick shot after practice: after qualifying his father came over to find us, and laughed that the shot was already on the front page of the main Mexican news website.
It's a small world, but I guess if the Mexican President tweets then I shouldn't be surprised about anything. Now if only we can persuade the French to put their strikes online instead, so that the rest of us can get on with our lives...