Another day, another early start in Abu Dhabi: six years I've been working for GP2, and still I haven't worked out that when Didier recommends one last drink, while Alexa and Marco say that they are going to get some sleep, I should just follow them. It's not the drinking that extends a toll – he's French, after all – it's the fact that you lose track of time as he tells story after story until you realise one o'clock has come and gone, and you have to meet the others in a couple of hours in the foyer...
I admit, the tiredness might have played a part, but the security guard couldn't have annoyed me more if he'd started talking in a comically high pitched voice and poked me intermittently with sticks. We went to walk into the paddock but he stopped us, yelling that we need to put our bags through the scanner: I went to remove my coat but he said no, and pointed towards the metal detector gate.
It buzzed, obviously, as it did for everyone, which gave him the chance to rub me everywhere. Yes, everywhere. He found my phone and iPod in my coat, what a surprise, and scowled but had to finally let me in. The only bright point was that Alexa had to go into a small black tent to be patted down in the darkness, and was still yelling back at the occupant as she finally emerged, looking even more annoyed than me, somehow.
We had to head over to the main pits not long after to set up for the race, but unfortunately it was too early for the F1 teams again: ART had to open up the origami Ferrari stand, while iSport put the chairs in place next door at McLaren. The Williams guys had just opened the pit doors and were starting their set up, but thankfully they were happy to come over and take the covers off so the Coloni guys and us had somewhere to watch the race: Renault didn't arrive until the race was almost over, forcing everyone to squeeze onto the perches that were open.
There's not a lot of extra space in the main pitlane, so parc ferme was placed in our pitlane rather than the main one: it's easy enough to drive to, but it meant that the usually dramatic moments where the top three get out of the cars to be greeted by a heroes welcome was replaced with ... well, I don't know really, I was up in the main pits with everyone else, while the guys were in the paddock with the cleaners, I guess.
There wasn't even a TV camera to record the moment, so we were all in the dark until a large coach rolled into the pitlane, unloading Sergio, Oliver and Sam, who sheepishly strolled over to us and then upstairs to spray the fizzy rose water around (which is much better smelling than champagne on a sweaty, steaming race suit, trust me), back downstairs for back slaps and hugs, job done.
At least you'd think so. With the circuit going live in preparation for the F1 practice session, Oliver and Sam had to get back into the big bus to be driven outside the track and dropped at the front of the GP2 paddock, in full race suits and holding their trophies and bottles, only to be stopped by the guard.
“Er, we've just finished the race, we don't have it.”
“I don't have it – I've been racing!”
“They're racing drivers, let them in!”
“This bottle is not allowed – no alcohol.”
“It's not alcohol – it's from the podium! It's rose water.”
“It's not ... never mind (Sam tips out the remainder of his drink) Can we come in now?”
“No bottle – it's not permitted.”
“They were just given the bottles on the podium! They just came second and third in the race!”
Eventually someone offered to take the bottles and keep them secure for the guys, and they were let through by the clearly disapproving jobsworth (after the trophies were run through the x-ray machine, of course: you can't be too careful, as trophies could possibly be used as weapons, somehow). Sam had to run over and get changed before sprinting up to Mercedes for a debrief, while Oliver came over to tell his team the story, to everyone's obvious disbelief.
Sam was asked to watch the F1 practice session with the team on the pitwall, and had to sprint back to make the next signing session, but at least he made it: Giedo van der Garde slumped off to the hotel 10 minutes after his race finished (no one would be too happy about being pushed off at the first corner, to be fair). But it probably didn't matter, as the star of the show was Marcus Ericsson.
The likeable Swede has had a pretty torrid debut season, but he always has a smile on his face and is happy to talk to anyone. Which is just as well as the Mad Swedes (TM) turned up in force, flying over eight hours to watch a guy race around in the midfield of the F1 support race. “I think he is a good driver, and I just wanted to see him race,” one fellow noted, “so I had to fly out and be here before the season finished.” “We have races in Europe, too...” I noted. “Yes, but this one has sun, too. I like the sun.” I thought about pointing out that we had a fair bit of sun in Europe too, but figured it was better to hold off. “The last time I went to a race was in 1977. It was in Sweden back then. It was sunny, too.”
When he finished the signing session Marcus strolled over, seemingly oblivious to the swelling ranks of his countrymen standing at the side of the stage for a moment with him: “It's always like this, if you are Swedish,” he noted. “Our fans are the best in the world, and the most passionate!”
I waited around for him, but he was happy to stay and spend time talking to everyone, and I had a blog to write. I might just pop out to check the gate now though: I'm not sure that he brought his pass with him, and I don't like his chances with the crack security force here...