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.