In many ways, every race weekend is the same as every other - we work to almost the same timetable every time, we’re obviously doing the same job, even a lot of the tracks start to blend into each other after a while - but it’s the differences that make the, ahem, difference for us, that mark out a race as a favourite or otherwise, that make you look back on it fondly or pull a face at the thought.
It’s these differences that come into play when you talk about the season as a whole and then try to break it up into bite-size pieces, that allow you to answer authoritatively with a two word response. Spa? Wet, long. Monaco? Harbour, stressful. Monza? Fast, crazy.
Abu Dhabi’s description? Let’s go with hot, blue. The latter mostly because I don’t seem to be able to look anywhere at the circuit without that aquamarine colour somewhere in my peripheral (or direct) vision. And I’m sure you don’t need me to explain the former.
“Mate, it’s roasting over here,” Leon from GP3 noted when we were discussing the travel details ahead of my flight.
“Yeah, I noticed,” I replied from the autumnal gloom of London, “I looked it up this morning. 35 today, 35 tomorrow, 34 the day after for a relief, and then back to 35.” Best pack some shorts, I thought, against the habit of a lifetime…
“Nice legs” Marco smirked when I came into the paddock, the 200m walk from the hotel early in the morning already wringing a few pounds of sweat from me.
“I’m a dad now: I don’t have to worry about how I dress anymore.”
“But I have to worry about looking at you!” All around us the detritus of a flyaway event filled the space behind the pits, with huge wooden cases left sitting slightly haphazard but near to hand, the massed evidence of a rush to get unpacked and out of the sun as quickly as possible.
Which goes someway to explaining why the top five drivers were less than enthusiastic about a photoshoot in full race suit straight after lunch, perhaps.
Alexa had asked the drivers and their teams to bring their pitboard with the driver’s name and one word to describe him (and after the latest Lotus kerfuffle, we specified it should be a word from outside the cockpit, rather than during a race). Walking around to Racing Engineering they were ready to go, with their word duly printed up and in place on the board already, while Rapax were similarly prepared (with Stefano picking his own word).
Carlin were still brainstorming for their word as Alexa put her head around the door, but were ready with a printed card on time. Over at ART, however, and James Calado’s engineer Fifou was a bit bemused by the whole thing: “oh, [press officer] Sandrine didn’t tell me. What can we put on it? Can we use some letters?” One his mechanics looked up and deadpanned “we have BOX, and IN: do they work?”
Over at RUSSIAN TIME, Sam Bird was spinning round and round in his chair: “I still don’t have a word, what should I put?” (looks in the letters case) “I could use the P for position, a 3 turned around, IN upside down, and a 5…”
He finally rushed over for the shoot with his word handwritten on a piece of paper, and then looked slightly miffed with James arrived with the PUSH card: “it was that or BOX…”
Sam: “There was one other word you could spell…”
James: “Yeah, P3NI5!”
Alexa: “I can’t believe you guys didn’t at least go with BOOBIES…”
James: “Right, yeah! I love boobies!”
Ahead of qualifying, a stroll along the pitlane was all it took to see who was in contention and who wasn’t with little more than a quick glance into each pit: half the teams were sitting back, relaxed in the freshish breeze from their giant fans, while the further up the pit you walked, the more intense the atmosphere as the teams and their drivers considered and reconsidered every possible set up. Four points for pole right now feels like it has the weight of a ten second victory, so who knows what emotions tomorrow’s win will generate.
Talking to Pat Coorey from Caterham at lunch, it was clear that many of the teams were enjoying the lower stressed environment: “It’s nice that we can work without the normal pressure, and have a bit more time between the sessions to really look into the various options we have, can plan our strategies for a bit longer.”
So, that worked out well.
Spare a thought for poor Marcus Ericsson, who thought he’d cracked it for pole against a tonne of pressure at the sharp end: the red flag came out at exactly the wrong time for most of the guys, just as their tyres were primed for a final tilt at the top spot, and those last two minutes when they got back on track were very highly stressed.
But Marcus got back to the pits with his name on the top of the screens: we all hugged him to show our delight, but in the time it took me to go upstairs to write the press release we found out that his best lap was removed for exceeding track limits, just before heading down to record his thoughts: he was still smiling, as always, but it didn’t quite make it all the way up his face to his eyes.
And so: seven points, two races. The championship has never gone down to the final sprint race before, so we might be breaking another record here and, although it will mean more work for us, I kind of hope it does.
But one thing is certain: I’m wearing long trousers tomorrow, and not because I’m worried about offending Marco. Frankly I enjoy doing that but, as hot as the action will be on track and the temperature outside will undoubtedly be, working inside means dealing with a very specific local problem, explained by Didier thus: “you know, they are definitely all air conditioning enthusiasts here…"