Unusually for the paddock, most of the teams spent the week between Bahrain and Abu Dhabi together: there was little point in flying all the way back to Europe before turning around and coming back, so almost no one bothered. And who could blame them? The choice between a day on a plane, two days in the rain and then another day on the plane or spending all of them in the sun at Yas Marina isn’t really a meaningful decision.
A number of the drivers disappeared up to Dubai, the larger neighbour 40 minutes drive up the coast, while the teams enjoyed the all too rare opportunity to set up their pits at their leisure and giving the cars a real going over before the final weekend of the season to sort out any niggling issues.
Which is why it was such a surprise to see Alex Lynn in the pitlane with his nosecone removed and the team crowded around the car deep in discussion in free practice. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much time.
But I digress. With everyone hanging around anyway a signing session was held on Thursday, and only two drivers failed to show from the original eight (no names, but you could probably guess) leaving the Brit Pack of Oliver Rowland, Dean Stoneman, Alex Lynn, Jordan King and Mitch Evans (honorary member) along with Rio Haryanto to entertain the troops.
Alexa had been fretting all day that no fans would turn up without any on track entertainment, and upon arriving in the fan zone a quick peek into the room confirmed her worst fears: there was precisely no one in there. Don’t worry said the one of the smooth team of Brits who organise all the fan zone activities, once the MC starts talking, they will arrive.
And so it proved: the guys were treated to rousing applause as they filed out, and it was just as Dean and Jordan were trooping out at the end of the line that she remembered a signing session she was organising for the end of season party. Do me a favour guys, she whispered in her most coquettish manner, can you steal the pens when you come back?
But they’re really big, came the entirely accurate statement.
Don’t worry, shove them in your pockets, it’ll be fine, she assured.
Okay, Dean replied, I’ll do it as it as long as you remind me: what’s my car number again for the autographs?
Everything went off fine, with loads of requests for photos, autographs and quick chats from the (it must be said) largely English ex-pat crowd, and as they filed out our cunning duo cast sly glances around before whispering here you go and slipping the pens out behind them to Alexa in their best secret agent manners.
Mission Possible indeed, and the result was entirely to her liking. The only problems I can see is that a. Jordan dad’s runs a major supermarket chain and probably wouldn’t approve of the cunning crime and, probably more importantly, b. Alexa’s husband actually owns and operates a large stationary store back home.
And then it was time to deliver the bracelets.
Alexa had arranged for some rubber bracelets with motion sensitive lights in them to be made, to be used as the party invitations, and they had to be handed out to all the teams. Rapax were far and away the most interested, surrounding her and jostling each other as they peered into the box, which flashed with the movement as it opened. Oooh, que bello! came the excited reply, it flashes just like the VSC!
Yes it does she smirked, and it means you better all clap during the prize giving ceremony, because I will see if you don’t...
Back in the bus to the Fan Zone on Friday, the new breed were learning the ropes: Sean Gelael, Nicholas Latifi and Gustav Malja were joining Artem Markelov for the racing game/signing session, and on the way they were talking about their new cars, and how it compared to their previous steeds. The conversations was generally approving (oh man, when you hit the DRS it’s like a rocket, or another gear!), comparing throttle percentages and where they were flat or not (no way, even my teammate isn’t flat there!), even which screens on the display to use (oh, you didn’t try to use that at the start? You should...).
It was almost a disappointment to arrive at the Fan Zone: it’s always interesting to listen in as drivers talk about how they do what they do, especially the younger ones who haven’t learnt to hide things from their rivals yet, so happy are they to have arrived in the big show.
But no matter how young they are, there’s always someone younger: the fan champion was Alex from Dubai, all of 11 but looked far younger, as he was so small he had to sit on his dad’s lap to reach the pedals. There’s always someone younger in this game. Luckily they beat him royally: I was a bit worried I was going to have to flash my bracelet to distract him.
The things I do to make this place look good are, like this blog, almost endless.