Istanbul is really, really hot. This may not seem like much of a revelation, but it probably needs to be repeated constantly, as everyone seems to forget it. For example, the iSport mechanics were all out to run the circuit on Friday afternoon despite the still soaring temperatures, and when they returned every one of them had their shirt off and was caked in sweat.
“We started doing it a few races ago, and we've just stuck at it really,” one of the guys panted as he collected his breath at the end of the pitlane. “It's good for us, I guess. Bloody hard work around here, though!”
One person who was notable by his absence was lead driver Davide Valsecchi. The voluble Italian brings his trainer with him to every race and clearly makes a huge effort to stay in shape, but some in the team have been ribbing him about his (not notably large) girth ahead of the race, leaving him somewhat put out about the subject.
Not that it slowed him down this weekend, though. So maybe it had the right effect on him.
Giacomo Ricci has been slipping in the opposite direction to his countryman as the season has gone on: after a strong start to the season he has suffered from a lot of bad luck lately, and racing drivers are nothing if not superstitious, as anyone who has read the teammate interviews will confirm.
Standing around in the back of the team's truck ahead of the race this morning, Giacomo was convinced that he had discovered the reason. “My mechanic is a big Inter fan, so he is really happy about them at the moment,” - for those who don't follow such things, Inter has won a famous treble this year by claiming the Serie A title, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League - “and he decided to show his joy for this by putting their colours, blue and black, on my brakes.
“For me, when I saw it I thought I don't care, let him do it, it makes him happy, it is nice for him. But I noticed yesterday that since he has been doing it, I have had a lot of bad luck! So last night I told him okay, enough is enough, it must come off now. And this morning I come to the circuit and it is still there! So I just told him wait a minute, what is happening, I told you it must come off! And he said no problem, it's okay: it is only there for the outlap, then I will take it off...”
I haven't had a chance to ask him what happened to the covering since the race, and to be honest I'm a little afraid to ask...
Alberto Valerio was a man with no such doubts: during lunch he was happy to tell anyone who would listen how well he was going to do at a circuit he loves so much. “This circuit is great for me! Last year I started here from 12th and finished in fourth, so I overtook 9 guys in the race. Today I will start from ninth, so if I do it again I will win the race!”
Marco wasn't going to leave it at that: “So what happens if it's the other way? If you don't do it, then are you an idiot?” “Sure, it's a deal!” the Brazilian exploded with his famously raucous laugh, “If I don't win you can call me an idiot!” Strangely enough, we didn't see him for dinner after the race.
But we did see a lot of Davide, who topped off a great pole performance yesterday with a strong, battling second place in the feature race, fighting for most of it with Sergio Perez, from in front before the pitstops and then behind afterwards. With Pastor untouchable today, the Italian was happy to have brought home the best result possible on the day: he was so pleased with his job that he was still talking a million miles an hour to his engineers when he was supposed to be in the press conference.
“Just one more thing,” he would wave towards me before turning back to the track map time after time, until finally his lead engineer Gavin pushed him towards the front of the pit, pointing out that he can come back afterwards. “Wait, I need to know something,” Davide stated, this time looking at me instead of the map, “I heard that Perez has been disqualified for being underweight: is this true?”
I'd heard the rumour, which hadn't yet been confirmed, so I simply said that it was being investigated, we didn't have an answer yet, but it was possible. It was as though I'd confirmed the existence of Santa Claus: “You see?” he laughed as he turned to his team, lifting his shirt to expose his flat stomach and patting it happily. “At least we don't have to worry about getting a penalty like that!”
I can only assume that it was the heat: it affects us all, eventually.
The heat in Istanbul always catches everybody out: I don't know why, as it's always hot here (apart from 2 years ago when the race was a month earlier than usual, and we all had to rush out to buy jumpers against the freezing conditions, of course), but we always seem to forget about it until we arrive here. Which is probably why my jacket got so many comments.
“How can you wear a jacket in this heat?” Gaetan, one of the ART engineers asked me as we were waiting to get into the pitlane ahead of free practice this morning, the midday sun overhead blazing down on us all. “It's actually quite easy to wear it,” I noted. “Firstly it's linen, which is very cooling. Secondly, and most importantly, our office is behind the pizza oven: it's actually much cooler out here than back in there...”
But the biggest story of the weekend was about to break open in front of me, pushing all thought of heat based japery aside. “My friend, I have some wonderful news!” Paolo Coloni beamed, coming across the road to give me a hug. “I have just heard from my girlfriend, who has been to see the doctor: we are gonna have a racing driver!”
The forthcoming son already has some strong competition, even though he doesn't know it yet: Paolo's young half-brother is already angling for the lead drive. “I am gonna write a press release when he is born: Coloni line up filled for 2030, Kevin Coloni Montoya and Marlon Joshua Coloni sign for the season. Formula One teams are invited to talk to us, but be warned, we have already had some discussions for them both!”
Free practice came and went, a heat hazed blur of noise and colour as always. Sam Bird has brought his father along for the weekend, the first time he'd come to the paddock, with his son making the introductions as I was in the middle of writing something. “Hello,” I sighed, distractedly. “Please don't call Mr Prime Minister: I've been getting that a lot.” “Oh, I wouldn't think about it,” he replied, taken aback. “I would only call you by your name...”
Sam has been getting a lot of attention this weekend for a variety of reasons: there is an online petition doing the rounds to request the Circuit de Catalunya's owners rename turn five as the Sam Bird Corner in honour of his performance there a few weeks ago, as well as someone pointing out that the Briton has his own podcast (“it's downloadable from iTunes” he noted somewhat redundantly when I asked him about it), making it a PR win of a weekend without turning a wheel in anger.
And yet, when I asked him if he had anything for the blog at dinner he noted: “Oh I don't think so: I've had a very boring weekend really...” He'll need to try harder next time if he wants to get some free publicity, clearly.
The heat had, if anything, exacerbated for qualifying, and we were all trying to find any shade we could in the blast furnace that is the pitlane. One mechanic, for a team which should probably remain nameless, was entertaining his fellow team members by pulling out some random cards for his driver's pitboard. The one that got the most laughs was PYFFO: I have no idea what it means, but feel free to leave your suggestions below...
We had asked for a fan to at least stir the hot air a little in the office yesterday, and it finally arrived just as the press conference was about to start: Oliver Turvey walked in to find the drivers' table completely covered in random pieces of metal, with Ludovic from the kitchen sweating over them as he tried to piece it all together. “Oh,” Oliver smirked, “I thought we were supposed to come here now: have we come at a bad time?”
It was a fun press conference though, with the edge of the heat falling away slightly as the guys arrived to talk to us all. Davide was clearly excited about being back in the press conference: he talked so much that I had to interrupt him to ask some questions, and subsequently he felt compelled to interrupt Pastor and Oliver to answer for them, or to ask some questions of his own, much to the amusement of the assembled journalists.
With the sun finally dropping below the horizon it was time to have dinner, with hospitality manager Christian presenting Mark from Autosport and me a few beers, a little present for our birthdays: Will Buxton soon came down to join us, and Paolo couldn't stop himself coming over to join the festivities. It didn't take long for Paolo to be thinking about business though.
“Will, your new baby, she is a girl, no? I think my boy Marlon Joshua should marry her! We need to think about the arrangements already!”
“I will tell her what Marco told me when she was born: don't let her go out with an Italian boy! Besides, I think my wife would have something to say about it!”
“No, it will be fine: you can tell her that I promised you a scooter!”
So if anyone is looking for a drive with Coloni in about 2055, you should probably talk to Paolo soon: it always pays to think ahead in this business.
The early start for the feature race in Monaco always catches out a few people, particularly as it's Friday and most people think there is no racing, but you would think that at least our teams and drivers would be aware of the timings. Which was why we were so surprised when iSport's Davide Valsecchi was late into the paddock this morning, with team boss Paul Jackson arriving even later than his driver. The early start for the feature race in Monaco always catches out a few people, particularly as it's Friday and most people think there is no racing, but you would think that at least our teams and drivers would be aware of the timings. Which was why we were so surprised when iSport's Davide Valsecchi was late into the paddock this morning, with team boss Paul Jackson arriving even later than his driver.
When a driver is late there is usually a very simple reason: all they ever want to do is to sleep for as long as is humanly possible. But in this case there was a more surprising reason: Davide's car was towed by the police from outside of his hotel after he parked it in the market area. When the team were asked at breakfast if any of them owned an Audi they all said no, with the Italian walking downstairs just in time to see his car disappear around the corner.
Figuring that it probably made more sense for his driver to be at the circuit on time than himself, Jacko offered to bite the bullet and retrieve the car, with Davide finally calming down enough to be bundled into the car with the rest of the team, who are fairly rapidly becoming experts on a wide variety of Italian hand gestures.
We had a few old friends joining us on the grid, with Karun Chandhok walking around modelling the new line of Karun Chandhok shirts and trying not to look embarrassed – to be fair, it would be pretty weird wandering around with your name and face emblazoned across your chest – while he checked out the first few grid spaces. I guess he just wanted to see what they looked like.
Nico Hülkenberg dropped by too, looking relaxed and wearing another in a long line of sunglasses that are maybe so dorky they are on the cutting edge of fashion, or maybe just so dorky they're dorky. It's impossible to tell with Nico, for two reasons: because he's German, and because he always has a faint smirk on his face which suggests that maybe, just maybe, it's all an elaborate joke which will be revealed in 2015.
“I really miss it here,” he noted when he walked over to say hello. “It's always nice to be on a grid with no pressure!” He wandered over to say hello to the ART boys, but didn't outstay his welcome: he knows as well as anyone that the teams don't really need any distractions on the grid, even though they can't always be avoided.
The race came and went, with the usual Monaco crashes and spills, with some guys getting away with a kiss of the wall and others being less lucky. One of the unluckiest of all was Giacomo Ricci, who looked to be in a strong position until he finally came in for his stop towards the end of the race: we had assumed that he came in before the safety car, and we'd just missed it. “It was so unlucky for us today,” he sighed afterwards, still looking upbeat despite his dramas, “I saw the crash and I said do I come to the box? I said again and again, but they don't answer until I cross the start line - I think there was a radio problem – and they said box, box! But it was too late.”
The luckless Italian ended the race in last place (until Sam Bird picked up a penalty for cutting the chicane too many times, that is) after looking likely to pick up a top 8 finish once again, but still couldn't resist putting a positive spin on things: “Maybe it will be okay: tomorrow I hope it snows, rains, hails, everything all together in the race!”
Back in the paddock there were a lot of fans hanging around looking for autographs and photos, with one guy in particular turning up, just as he does every year, with reams of photos for the drivers to sign, and Jerome d'Ambrosio was the victim when I walked over. He had Christian Vietoris with him, and was obviously showing him the ropes: “Watch out for this one,” he smirked, pointing his elbow at me, “he's the guy who writes the blog, he will write anything you say.”
I've got no idea where he got that idea.
And finally the winner returned: Sergio Perez arrived back in the paddock to a hero’s welcome, with all of the fans crowding around him for their moment with their brief glimpse of the championship leader. But there was only one thing that I wanted to know when he finally made his way up to the hospitality area: why did he have odd coloured gloves on in the car today?
“I lost one of them in Barcelona,” he laughed, “I looked everywhere but I couldn't find it, and finally I had to get a different one and go. And that was good luck for me, so I thought I should wear them again!” So there you have it: you can have all the skill in the world behind the wheel, but the real way to win races is to accidentally end up with mis-matched clothing.
The GP2 Paddock: breaking the big stories wide open.
Monaco has rolled around again, and I can't be the only one who thinks it's a bit odd to have the race this early in the season: we only started the season last week, how can it be time to go to Monte Carlo already? Although it turned out to be helpful in one respect: when my flight home was cancelled in Barcelona, it gave me an option other than camping out in the airport for a few days.
“Where are you now?” Marco asked after getting back to Geneva and finding out I was left behind. “Can you meet up with Christian? He is still there, and will drive to Monaco tomorrow, if that helps.” A few calls later and it was arranged: with flights to London cancelled for the next few days, a road trip with the caterers promised unexpected salvation.
Christian and his crew were at the circuit until 1.30 in the morning, but at 8.00 they were packed and piling into the Espace for the long drive to southern France, with Christian driving the whole way and asking me constantly if I was alright or needed a stop: I'd had a full night's sleep and was still tired, so I have no idea how they do it. “It's normal,” he stated matter of factly as we pushed through Montpelier, “I sleep maybe 4 hours a night during the season: it's just how it is.”
His crew all defer to Christian, a father figure for many in the paddock, and their easygoing familiarity was obvious in every joke, every comment to each other, in how they use the diminutives of each others names, Fabri and Fede and Ale, in how they live in each other's pockets day and night and still have a hug or a cigarette or an affectionate nudge for each other when it's needed.
Their lives are like those of circus workers, travelling from town to town before setting up for the next show, relying on each other constantly to get through. Christian would point out each truck as we rushed by - “there's the Ferrari motorhome, there's HRT and Force India, oh, there's Ludovic in ours” - proud to be able to share some of his life with someone new. “The new GP3 truck is nice, no problems: it's faster than the GP2 truck, you know...”
And before we knew it we were in Monaco, with the guys setting up the kitchen and hospitality areas while Christian battled through the traffic to go and buy the supplies for the weekend as the F1 trucks came the opposite way, down the hill to the principality. “You see, this is why we push so hard to get there early: the traffic is impossible, so if we can get here quick then maybe we can have a little break before everyone gets here.”
It wasn't to be, as usual, as the GP2 trucks arrived at the same time as us, and the entire car park complex was a blur of activity almost immediately: back to back races leave almost no time to get everything done, so every second counts.
But just because everyone was busy, it didn't mean there was no time for a few cheeky comments. “Good morning Mister Prime Minister,” almost everyone smirked as they walked into the hospitality area, “where's your kilt?” The failure to get home meant that I wasn't able to live up to my now regular habit (although I wear it for my birthday really, which is 2 weeks away this year as Monaco has been pushed forward). But I was able to get out and pick up some very French looking check shorts, which were controversial enough to fill in for the errant tartan ensemble.
It was all quickly forgotten as free practice got under way in perfect conditions, the drivers all slightly nervous about putting the car into the wall with qualifying just a few hours away. They needn't have worried, as all bar one had no dramas to report, even if the cost was a little bit of ultimate performance. Pastor Maldonado picked up where he left off last year with just another expert Monaco performance: so fast was he that his best time put him ahead of three of the F1 cars in their first free practice.
They weren't too amused in the big paddock down the hill: the difference was the talk of the media centre, and when one journalist noted that Bruno Senna had raced and won here before and asked him straight-faced what was the main difference between F1 and GP2 in Monaco, the Brazilian deadpanned “in GP2 the car is quicker.”
Lucas di Grassi's time would have put him second in the GP2 session, with Bruno and teammate Karun Chandhok a little further back, but they're all ex-GP2 drivers: I'm sure they just wanted to feel like part of the gang again.
Qualifying was the polar opposite of practice, however, with a few spits of rain hitting its stride and turning into a deluge just as the green light went on in the pitlane, and stopping just as the session ended. It's exclusive rain just for GP2, one wag noted after the session: Bernie probably organised it so that we don't embarrass F1 again. Although technical director Didier Perrin had no problems with the rain at all: “It was great, because it gave us a chance to see that the reverse gear works really well!”
And then it was back to the car park for everyone, once again: the teams were back to working on the cars, Christian and the gang were preparing dinner for everyone, and I was back writing about it all. It never takes long for Monaco to get back to what it does best, no matter when we get here.
Rain, unexpectedly named cars and commando tactics: welcome to Barcelona! “Did you get woken up by the rain last night?” Barbara asked as we walked through the hotel's front door and tried to remember where we parked yesterday. I was halfway across the carpark before I noticed Alexa had stopped at the car right in front of the door. Doh. “It was amazingly loud: I couldn't get back to sleep.” “Did you get woken up by the rain last night?” Barbara asked as we walked through the hotel's front door and tried to remember where we parked yesterday. I was halfway across the carpark before I noticed Alexa had stopped at the car right in front of the door. Doh. “It was amazingly loud: I couldn't get back to sleep.” “I didn't notice a thing,” I replied, trying to pretend that I meant to walk past our car and look at the conditions. “Looks like it was pretty heavy.” “Just what I need,” Alexa sighed as she got behind the wheel, “A drive through the spray on the freeway before I've even had a coffee...”
It could have been worse: she could have been driving around the circuit with 30 guys in their first GP3 qualifying session. All we ended up with was dirty shoes from the muddy carpark, rather than a bent car and some very grumpy mechanics and a parts invoice. But it was a great session for everyone watching: 30 minutes of excitement as the pace increased every lap, and you never knew who was going to go off track next, or who was going to come out on top, until the last guy crossed the line for the last time.
A quick press conference followed, where I hoped desperately that I got their names right as I announced them (hey, it's the first time I've met a lot of the guys, and they're not all called Dean Smith: cut me some slack...) and we had to run over to ART for the first of our fan favourite teammate interviews.
Jules and Sam are great guys, and we had a lot of laughs: Jules was clearly nervous ahead of his first race from pole, but luckily Sam was completely supportive of his teammate, agreeing a number of times “yeah, I hope you don't stall today too – that would be terrible...” We also learned that Sam calls his car Mary: he wouldn't tell us why, but it explains why he gave his car a little pat as the mechanics pushed her back up the pitlane after free practice.
After that we were straight over to see Jerome and Ho-Pin at DAMS for another interview: the guys have known each other for years, and it was easy to see how relaxed they are around each other. Although sometimes that isn't such a good thing: I now know who drives commando, as well as a lot of other superstitions the guys have about racing (is there any other group of people as superstitious as racing drivers? I can't see how that could be possible), and unfortunately some things can't be unlearned.
We'll be sure to print their interview soon, so you can know them too!
Then it was time for a quick bite for lunch and the F1 qualifying, and on to the main event. It looks like Sam's attempt at a psych out of his teammate backfired: Jules didn't have the best start but Sam's was a lot worse, and when he got to the first corner he had to take evasive action and launch poor Mary over the kerbs, breaking her nose in the process.
An early stop for a new nose cone and a race full of qualifying laps later the Briton finished just over a second behind 8th place and the reverse pole: one more lap and he would almost certainly have had it. A point for quickest lap was scant recompense: he was almost inconsolable after the race, even though most people in the paddock were quick to come over and congratulate him on an amazing drive.
The rest of the grid better be careful: Sam and Mary look like a pretty racy couple.
Jerome was in the wars too: qualifying had been poor for the Belgian, but an amazing first half of the race got him up to fifth position before his stop, when a poorly affixed rear wheel brought his brilliant race to an early, heartbreaking end.
I'm starting to think that we may be bad luck. Feel free to leave a comment below and suggest who we should interview next.
But I don't want to take anything away from Charles Pic, who had a great drive to claim his first win in his first race in the series. Although it probably wasn't polite for Karun Chandhok to text Alexa as the shy, hairy little Frenchman celebrated to ask if this was the first time a girl had won a GP2 race. And next to him Giacomo Ricci looked like he was going to explode with joy at his good fortune, while Dani Clos had the look of a man who was in the middle of the best dream of his life, and didn't want to ever wake up.
Pic Ricci Clos: it's not a podium anyone in the world could have predicted before the race, but it would be equally impossible to find anyone who wasn't happy for the unexpected trio. GP2 always finds a new way to surprise you, and it's great to back in the middle of it all.
This station, the 2010 GP2 championship.Every season we have a launch before the first race to congratulate the winners from the Asia series, and to introduce the new gaggle of drivers competing this year to the world's media and invited guests, and although we work hard on improving the show each year, certain things always seem to happen. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Every season we have a launch before the first race to congratulate the winners from the Asia series, and to introduce the new gaggle of drivers competing this year to the world's media and invited guests, and although we work hard on improving the show each year, certain things always seem to happen.
A few examples, to prove the point. Alexa always seem to rush around in a mad panic, trying to make sure everything is perfect before our guests arrive and seems to forget how to breathe properly. The technicians always seem to not understand what their jobs are, just to annoy her a bit more. The presenter always seems to arrive at the very last minute.
And it always goes off without a hitch.
At least that's what I was told: I didn't actually see any of it because I was running around trying to organise drivers to be in the right place, right time. It's like herding cats. The Addax drivers Sergio Perez and Giedo van der Garde drove to the theatre together, and were therefore seriously late together. Which meant their team boss was standing outside, alternately glaring at his watch or up the street towards the circuit, as the opening music floated out from deep within the building.
The GP3 drivers, astonishingly, did exactly as they were told: new GP3 press officer Amanda and I came into the holding room to find all 30 drivers sitting quietly, in their overalls and in perfect numerical order, waiting for their call on stage. Although they managed to get ludicrously out of order in the 20 metre walk to the stage, of course.
It won't last long, though: I give them 2 races before they're just like the GP2 boys, who had to be almost physically forced through the doors and into the changing room backstage, and as soon as they went in they ignored all the piles of race suits we placed in order to stand around Charles Pic instead and mock him ceaselessly for his hair.
To be fair to him though, he's probably been looking at Romain Grosjean and figured that's what all French race drivers do for a hair style.
With 2 minutes remaining they were all studiously ignoring my constant requests to get into order until I finally walked around and called each of them by name, poked them in the chest, yelled their car number and pointed them towards the stage. And even then, all Max Chilton could do was ask when he was going to be allowed to eat.
But it always works out in the end: it just costs Alexa a few extra nerve endings. And it was great to catch up with a few of our former drivers: Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok came to present their old team boss Paul Jackson with a trophy for winning the Asia series, and Vitaly Petrov also came along to present a prize. He was wandering around afterwards looking like he didn't know what to do with himself: “You're an F1 driver now – you probably don't have to hang around if you don't want to.” “Yeah, but I want a drink! A vodka!” “No problem, you can do whatever you want.” “Actually, in that case I might just go back to the hotel and sleep...”
There were a few changes once when we got to the paddock though: I suppose it was inevitably given that we have an entire new race series next door now that GP3 has arrived. All the extra people meant that we needed a new hospitality area, so walking around the corner into the paddock this morning we were greeted by the massive new complex, already being cleaned to a shine by Christian and his people. “We've got a new office too,” Alexa noted wistfully. “We're not in the bus anymore: we're in that door on the other side...”
Walking through said door we found our huge new space, which includes room for the press conference as well as a couple tables for our photographers Alastair and Drew as well as for Amanda, Alexa and me. And, just on the other side of the canvas wall, stands the new kitchen. It didn't take long for the smell of cooking to infiltrate everything. “This isn't the greatest idea we've ever had,” I noted as we looked at each other, “but on the bright side it means that we can be walking billboards for hospitality in the paddock.”
And I did notice that Max Chilton seemed to be wandering around behind me a lot today. But I'm sure that was just a coincidence.
The guys didn't seem to have any problems when they arrived for the press conference after qualifying, although for the ART duo Sam Bird and Jules Bianchi it was their first time with us, so they probably had other things on their minds. Like my £20, 4 lens plastic camera which they spotted and immediately started taking photos of themselves with, much to the annoyance of Alastair, who always makes fun of my random camera collection and who has thousands of pounds worth of equipment standing under his finger.
Nico Hülkenberg came back for a visit as everyone was sitting down for dinner, asking if he is still allowed to come around to eat with us every so often, and telling us how much he misses the family atmosphere of the old hospitality area. Or at least he was until Alexa suggested his crash today was giving GP2 a bad name and pushed him out the door.
But she's a bit up tight today: it's the first day of the new season, and she's always a bit stressed until we're back into the old routines. Which is why she forced me to come and write this blog now, while the kitchen is still run at full steam. They're cooking fish at the moment, which isn't the most pleasant atmosphere in the world. So if this blog stinks, I can only apologise.