It's been a while since we last gave you an opportunity to take a look behind the curtains. So for the last post before the summer break we thought you might like to follow us from the paddock to the pitlane. Buckle up!
We arrived in the pits to find the place deserted: it was as though someone had called a holiday and forgotten to tell us.
In fact they were just cleaning up after the flooding caused by the overnight storms before going out the back to watch the F1 session: our paddock is above turn two, and you can learn a lot about the cars from there. Rodolfo was one of the drivers taking advantage of the view.
A quick lunch and time to watch F1 qualy before the action starts.
Given the steep hill between our paddock and the pitlane, the guys are allowed to drive around: it means we've all got to be a bit careful about where we walk.
Up in the pitlane there was some inspiration for the guys: here's our last champion's new car.
Some last minute preparation and then time for the grid.
Another ex-champ dropped in for a word.
On the grid.
The queue ahead of the (eventual) start.
A familiar sight.
And then it was time to go.
Waiting for GP3 to clear the paddock.
A driver's work is never done. Waiting for the press conference.
After missing Hockenheim due to a maliciously timed explosive appendix suffered by my poor wife (now on the road to recovery, even if she has to make a lot of stops along that road to catch her breath) the rest of the circus did little but moan to me about the weather in the Baden-Wűrttemberg region.
And then they turned around and headed straight to Budapest.
We always get the worst weather of the year in Budapest: the city is beautiful, but Bernie insists that we have the race here in late July / early August, which means diabolical heat. The first season of GP2 Will Buxton and I alternated our time upstairs in the bus typing as sweat waterfalled off our heads and into the keyboards for as long as we could take sitting there (a Bridgestone engineer recorded the temperature at 50°C on the Saturday), and it's never been substantially better since then.
The forecasts ahead of the weekend were divided: half promised scorching heat, half promised extensive storms, and everyone just smacked their heads and said 'yeah, figures.' Turning up in the paddock on Friday it looked like the heat brigade were going to win out, but by the time we got up to the pitlane for free practice we all stared with dull apprehension towards turn one and the massing storm clouds headed our way.
Brilliant, I thought: both forecasts were right after all.
The clouds soon loomed overhead with the promise of pain, but we got through the session without incident and breathed a collection sigh of relief to have done so, with Giedo van der Garde just pipping teammate Sergio Perez and Sam Bird for the top spot: all three were split by just one tenth.
It's a great circuit though, don't get me wrong: it's a real challenge to drive and get right, and the guys love driving here. “It's really, really awesome to drive,” Sam noted afterwards, getting a buzz from his first time at the track, “it's nice and flowing, although it's very difficult! You've got to get everything right as all of the corners lead on to the next one, so if you get the first one wrong, you get the second one wrong.
“I had to make sure I got everything correct, and it's very difficult as well with all of the traffic here: thankfully when I got a clear lap I was able to mainly put it all together!”
He clearly liked it even more when qualy came around, although the Addax pair weren't too happy afterwards. Traffic is always a nightmare on the tight, twisty circuit, and Sergio was determined to get a clear lap in and take advantage of the F1 rubber, but he jumped the gun: he rolled into the pitlane with 5 minutes to go until the green lights came on, to baffled looks from the Racing Engineering crew (we're sharing the Force India pitwall with them this weekend), which turned to laughter as he had to be pushed out of the way with a minute to go after he overheated, eventually rolling out last by the time his team rushed over to get him restarted.
Sam took pole in a dramatic session, just ahead of the iSport pairing of Davide Valsecchi and Oliver Turvey, but a question mark hung over his last lap dash for the flag owing to a yellow flag at the final corner for Jerome d'Ambrosio's spin. That question was still unresolved as we wanted to start the press conference, but with the poleman still discussing the matter with the stewards we had little choice but to postpone the event until Sam returned to the paddock.
Unfortunately the delay coincided with the Porsche's coming out for their practice session, and being situated on top of turns 2 and 3 we became very aware of their presence. Not that it mattered much: by the time Sam returned, Davide had disappeared. “Is he missing?” Oliver asked bemusedly. “It can't surprise you much, surely! Everyone at the team calls him The Ghost, because he just disappears all the time: he even went back to the hotel between sessions today...”
It wasn't much of a surprise, admittedly, as Davide is known to prefer to sleep than to do pretty much anything else: driving is about the only thing he likes more, but it's a close run choice. Alexa made the inevitable call as the rest of us made jokes at his expense. “Davide, where are you?” “I am ... around. Why?” “Because you're supposed to be here now.” “Why?” “You know why: the press conference.” “Oh, puttana. I'll be back soon.”
It all worked out eventually: Sam got back and answered everything we asked, his usual cheerful manner exacerbated by pole (confirmed as we sat there) and his true love of my action sampler camera (an admittedly ridiculous camera that looks like it's made of Lego), Oliver was erudite and on message, and when Davide turned up halfway through he was as ebullient as ever.
And then it was time for transcription and a bite to eat before more work. I sat down with David Beck, Dallara's token Kiwi engineer and a keen racing fan, who was delighted to see a replay of some classic races from the 80s and 90s on the screens as we ate. “Those were the days: the drivers were real personalities back then.” “Yeah, not like today: I reckon anyone would agree with you. Let's ask the guys at the table next to us: oh look, it's Karun Chandhok and Sam Bird...”
Luckily Mark Glendenning from Autosport came over to save David's blushes: “I've got the worst present ever: do you want to see it?” Well, of course we do. He held out a small replica tyre with a Bridgestone logo on the top. “They just came over and sold it by saying 'we've been told to hand out some presents, and they are the worst ones I've ever seen: do you want one?'”
Mark put it down on the table and pushed the button. A voice said: “For drivers who want to get the most out of their cars, it's Bridgestone, or nothing.” He pushed the button again: it repeated the same phrase, again and again and again. We laughed, and I asked if I could have it. “I'm quite attached to it, of course,” Mark giggled, “but you are sponsored by Bridgestone: surely its rightful home is with you.” I left the tyre in its box next to Didier's computer and, as the internet wasn't working, there was nothing left to do but go back to the hotel.
We arrived back first thing this morning to see Christian and his gang cleaning up the sodden hospitality area after the floods caused by last night's storms, serenaded by Didier's megaphone proclaiming “For drivers who want to get the most out of their cars, it's Bridgestone, or nothing” over and over and over again.
I'm back in the paddock in Budapest, and nothing much ever changes.
I don't want to belabour the point, but maybe the Europeans are right. I was certainly starting to think so this morning after the GP3 qualifying session, when the second and third placed guys (Rio Haryanto and Nico Mueller) turned up for the press conference but the poleman didn't, leaving the rest of us all standing around and waiting to see what would happen.
The ART guys were in a panic trying to find their driver, to no avail: a collection of scooters were pressed into action as they tried to find their errant driver, but ultimately we ran out of time and had to have the press conference without the main guy.
It was only as we were having a coffee afterwards when the phone rang to ask where we were: 30 seconds later Estaban Gutierrez, for it was he, came rushing in, apologising profusely for going missing, as a meeting with his sponsors kept him out of the paddock.
And no sponsors, no racing: it's motor racing law number one. But next time, I'm levying a fine: an extra dessert after dinner, perhaps. This is the sort of tough treatment that means all of the drivers are secretly afraid of me, just between you and me.
Because of the overrun we had to run straight down to Rapax for the latest of the teammate interviews, this time with Pastor Maldonado and Luiz Razia. It was pretty funny – the guys never stop joking around with each other, and are always laughing together – but no matter how well they get on, I always enjoy watching teammates try to out do each other, no matter what they're doing.
So when one driver suggests another one is gay, for example, and that driver then decides to say yes just to out do his teammate, forcing the other one to then suggest that he is too: from there it is a race to see who can be the gayest driver ever. And that can only end well, for anyone watching.
And I can also report that Pastor is probably the most superstitious driver we've ever had in the series: name a superstition, and he's got it. So if the Venezuelan suddenly has a bad weekend, I'm going to immediately assume that Luiz has hidden one of his teammate's shoes. It would only take one to destroy his day.
Lunch time gave me the opportunity to sit down with Adrian Zaugg, who for one reason or another I don't seem to get many chances to chat with. The South African is a lovely guy, albeit a bit sad whenever anyone else talks about their national football team, and he's certainly had a lot of bad luck this season as he seems to have been knocked out of more races than he's finished.
But this week the team have come up with an ingenious solution to his woes: written across the back of the rear wing, as well as on both mirrors, is the instruction “Keep Your Distance”, an echo of the famous message on the back of Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams a few years ago after he lost a win when Jos Verstappen drove over him in Brazil.
“Yeah, that's exactly where they got it,” Adrian smiled when I mentioned it, “but to be honest I'm not sure it will help much today: there's not many guys behind me on the grid!”
It turns out that Charles Pic could have used the sign too: the Frenchman's strong qualifying performance was thrown out the window when Sergio Perez tapped him into a spin on the second lap, nullifying any hopes of a points finish at his team's home circuit. To his credit the Mexican went straight over to apologise after the race, and given his luck of late Sergio clearly knows how his rival felt.
Other than that the race will probably not go onto our classics list, but Adrian seemed fine with that: “It was a boring race, but I don't mind at all: that's a step forward for me!”
And the rest of my day went to plan too, other than a slight delay in getting to the GP3 race press conference. Inevitably Estaban was sitting there smirking, and pulled out his phone to make a point. “Look, you are one minute late! I've been waiting for one whole minute!” “Thanks Estaban, I'll take it off your tab: you only owe me 29 minutes now...”
Silverstone is always a difficult weekend – I don't know why, but it always seems to work out that way. And the Europeans obviously hate coming here – the money is wrong, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road, the weather is always a problem – and nothing ever goes right. Silverstone is always a difficult weekend – I don't know why, but it always seems to work out that way. And the Europeans obviously hate coming here – the money is wrong, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road, the weather is always a problem – and nothing ever goes right.
The weather is always bad, we'll be told – it's always wet and raining and cold. Personally I can't remember a cold, wet Silverstone since Bernie briefly moved the race to April a few years ago, but frankly that was always asking for trouble. It was this assumption that meant we didn't pack the air conditioning unit for the hospitality area – why pack something you won't need?
It's so hot here, they inevitably moaned – why don't we have any air conditioning?
But one group who weren't complaining were the Addax team, who arrived early to watch their crucial semi final against Germany – two hours later they were driving around town yelling and screaming, hanging out of the car and waving their flags madly, delirious with delight at their country's first World Cup final appearance.
Which gave the other Europeans something to moan about, of course. Apart from the fat kid annoying people this evening by riding up and down the paddock for no reason with his oranje shirt on, and the token Uruguayan at DPR who has hoisted his flag proudly on the portable workbench to share his allegiances in the pitlane.
Sam Bird was another happy camper, partially because we're at his home circuit, partially because he arrived off the back of a fun trip to Goodwood. “It was great, actually,” he gushed in the paddock earlier today, “I drove the 74 McLaren and the 2010 Williams – I do their straight line tests at Kemble, so it was nice to take a few corners this time!”
You might think that the opportunity to drive a championship winning car and the latest version of top end technology would be the highlight of the weekend. You might think that, but you'd be entirely wrong – better than driving these two cars, apparently, was the opportunity to enter an F1 quiz with Jonathan Williams and Karun Chandhok.
“Jonathan is amazing! There is nothing he doesn't know about Formula One – my girlfriend had a big F1 book and was randomly opening it and asking question after question, and he knew absolutely every answer!” I know from personal experience that Karun is a complete statistical geek about F1, and the combination meant that Sam didn't have a chance to get a word in.
“I am a huge F1 fan, obviously, but I didn't know any of the answers to these questions anyway! So I asked my girlfriend to give me an answer and then got her to ask the question – I just slipped the answer in quietly, they looked at me like they were impressed with my knowledge, and then I could just keep quiet from there!”
After which it was time for qualifying, but the less said about that the better: after dealing with the traffic on the way to the circuit and the over officious traffic wardens, the hordes of people walking up and down the paddock all day and the lack of air conditioning, it's a wonder heads didn't explode at the thought of the kerbs on the new part of the circuit and the endless traffic on track spoiling everyone's one clear lap.
But I don't want to make too much of it – after all, if it wasn't for the Europeans, we'd have nothing to complain about...