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.