We arrived in the paddock this morning to find Antonio Giovinazzi already installed at the fussball table and taking on all comers: he looked up as we walked by before saying "the blog is not fair! You said that Pauline beat me, but you forgot to say that I beat her too!"
"And good morning to you, too."
"Sorry, good morning! But come on, fair is fair..."
And to be fair, Antonio is probably now the best fussball player in the paddock, given how many people he has beaten today. Although, to be equally fair, so he should be considering the amount of time he's spent at the table this weekend. I'm not entirely sure that he didn't spend all last night practicing, just to prove a point...
Still, it was a better start to the day than Sergey Sirotkin had: the genial Russian emerged from the bathroom in his hotel room, thankfully wearing a towel, to find a housekeeper tidying up his room. "Oh," she noted disinterestedly, "you are still here. Will I clean up now, or come back later?" "Later!" he gasped as she casually strolled across the room, leaving him stunned as he watched the door close behind her.
And when he went downstairs to have breakfast, the same housekeeper was in his lift, with the pair struggling through a somewhat awkward silence until they arrived at the ground floor. Any further plans for a dinner date are unknown at this time.
We then headed over to Arden International for the teammate's team talk, which as usual was a lot of fun. "Just remember, it's supposed to be funny," I advised Jimmy and Nabil, "so feel free to say whatever you want. First question, describe your teammate with one word."
"Stupid," Jimmy deadpanned, and the pair fell about laughing. As usual, don't miss the article in The Insider, where you'll learn about Nabil's friends and their hairdressing abilities, the pros and cons of social media, and Jimmy's surprising use of trucks in his physical training regime.
From there it was straight around the paddock to round up the drivers for a signing session in the fan zone, with the guys chatting in the back of the van as we headed over. When talk turned to the fans, Alex Lynn took the lead: "I have a few fans who turn up everywhere: no idea how they do it really, but they always seem to know where I am."
"Really?" Mitch Evans queried. "They follow you that much?"
"Yeah, it is a little odd; I've got no idea why, really." And sure enough, when we arrived at the stage his fans were already installed at the front of the retaining fence with a giant, Union flag inspired Alex Lynn banner: the Essex man walked straight over and had a long chat, signing the banner and posing for selfies before eventually heading over to sign autographs for all the other fans. "Is that them?" I asked. "Yeah," he smirked, "it's pretty great, isn't it? We all do this for the fans, of course, and it's amazing that someone will go that far for us..."
He wasn't the only one to have fans here: Marvin Kirchhöfer was in high demand too. "It feels really good to be back in Hockenheim," he smiled afterwards. "I had pole here in 2014 in GP3 Series, so I really like the place! Germans love to come to the races: sure, it's not like Monza or something where there are so many fans, but there are still a lot here, and it's a cool feeling to race in front of them.
"I don't know if they really know who I am, but you saw how many people were here asking for an autograph or a photo. And some of them even had photos of me from Formula ADAC and Formula 3, which feels a long time ago! But it's nice to see how far we've come, and that people have been following all that way."
But not everyone had fans there. Famously (in the paddock, anyway) Alexa was never able to understand Mitch's accent, and earlier Pauline was trying to transcribe an interview with him with little luck, passing the headphones over to me to translate from New Zealander to Australian to Franglais on every other line. "You're out of luck again mate," I smirked at him as we waited by the side of the stage as I pointed towards Pauline, "she doesn't understand you either."
Incredulous, he looked over and asked "you don't understand me when we're talking?"
"What?" she blurted, either because of his harsh accent or that she simply didn't hear him I cannot confirm.
"That's ridiculous," he laughed, "how come they can't understand me?"
"It's tough to know really: either the problem rests with you, or every French person in the world. So it's probably them..."
And then the race came and washed everything away. Antonio had an amazing race from the back of the grid to get up to the top five before running out of tyres and falling back to P9, later moving up to the reverse pole when his teammate was disqualified from a fine third, while Mitch moved up too before retiring with a mechanical gremlin, and Marvin gave his fans something to cheer about before he too dropped back at the end on old tyres.
Sergey, on the other hand, had an amazing race: leading from the start before dropping as his tyres wore out, coming in just as the VSC signs came out and having the pitstop cancelled, making him think the whole race had fallen apart before setting a blistering pace and coming back, having to stop again but then with fresh tyres allowing him to slice through the field and grab the win against the odds.
He's not a particularly superstitious driver, as a previous teammate interview showed, but if you see a photo of Sergey in the paddock with a towel wrapped around him, now you'll know why.
If you ask me, I think it was the fussball table that was at the heart of Antonio Giovinazzi's problems this weekend.
Arriving in the hospitality area on Thursday, everyone was drawn like a moth to the flame by a brand new fussball table which just sat their provocatively, tempting anyone who came nearby to come over to stroke her, caress her, spin and shoot with her. Poor Antonio never had a chance.
"Do you want a game Antonio?" Pauline asked innocently, seeing the undisguised delight on his face at the new arrival in the paddock. "Sure!" he fired back, a little too keenly, and they were soon twiddling their knobs with an unadulterated joy that is rare in this paddock without a helmet on. But he moved too fast: little did he know that Pauline is a notorious fussball hustler in the mean streets of Paris, but it didn't take long for him to learn.
He begged anyone who walked by to come and play with him, but it was all in vain: the poor fellow was a dry husk of a man by the time his team dragged him back to the hotel to rest ahead of the next day's activities.
And Friday brought the sun, flat and wide and heavy, as we all returned to the Hockenheimring again. The swap deal with the Nurburgring seems a bit of a shame from the outside, as no one really gets settled with anything, and also because Hockenheim is frankly a nice place to come, and an interesting place to race.
Pierre Gasly was looking to extend his recent dominance, and in Free Practice he slapped down his rivals by setting the pace in the session, albeit that the tight, technical nature of the circuit meant that the time gaps were slight, with any mistakes penalised heavily.
After the session no one was surprised to see Antonio back on the fussball table with Sean Gelael as his partner, playing against Pierre and Antonio's trainer, and that the Italian was seemingly struggling compared to the others.
"Come on Antonio," I laughed as he missed a shot on goal, which rebounded to Sean at fullback before being cooly slotted back through every player ahead of him and into the goal, "are you going to do something, or are you just going to let Sean score all the goals?"
"That's right, he knows the score!" Sean laughed out loud, adding to his friend's shame. The pair swapped positions to allow Sean to take the lead, with Antonio greeting every touch of the ball by his partner with a "come on Balotelli" snark. Pierre didn't really care what positions they played in: he beat them twice, with two different partners: "Yeah, there you go!" he laughed at the end, using his hand as a beak in his teammate's face, and Antonio's shame was complete.
In the meantime we returned to write up the various pieces needed for releases and slowly drained Pauline's M&M dispenser, with the candies patriotically displayed in the colours of the German flag, before heading back out to the pitlane again, ominous looking clouds now hanging heavily overhead but the heat of the day undiminished by them.
Pierre led the way once again, and up and down the pitlane everyone had clearly assumed the Frenchman was going to be on pole once again, but they did so without considering Sergey Sirotkin.
The Russian has had a torrid season: after finishing in the top three in his debut season last year expectations were sky high, but results have been tough to find in a year that has been blighted by mistakes and pure bad luck. Sergey looks tough from the outside, but he is an emotional bloke who has been hit hard by the lack of results, which is why his strong Hungarian weekend was just the fill up he needed to put everything back on track.
His fast lap came with just 4 minutes remaining, when Pierre and most of the others were back in the pits: Sergey's first flying lap on his second set of tyres was aborted due to traffic, and a cool down allowed him to hit his straps as the track was clearing. The sector times next to his name weren't purple, so he wasn't setting the fastest times, but they were green, so they were his best sector times, at least.
And, unusually, 3 green sectors added up to pole: a smooth total lap beat 2 purple sectors and a slightly wayward middle sector.
Back in the paddock Sergey knew it meant his plan was working: he was coming back, and although Pierre joked about it in the press conference, he knew a confident Sergey meant his job tomorrow was going to be harder than ever.
But Antonio wasn't thinking about such things: he was already back at the fussball table, looking for more competition. Along with one of his mechanics he played game after game this evening against PREMA Racing's Head of communications Angelina Ertsou and their F4 driver Mick Schumacher, son of the former GP2 test driver: the fight between the two drivers was fierce but the Italian slowly but surely came out on top, using his experience to find the results he was lacking as the weekend got under way, his smile getting wider as the sun dropped behind turn one just outside.
And even the bad news of his disqualification for a technical infringement didn't dent his newly found good mood. Which means we're going to have to keep the table, and use it as a compulsory part of the penalty process going forward.
So if you don't mind I'll stop here: I'm just off to the stewards to let them know the new rules.
I'm going to do a photo blog today, I told Pauline on the way to the track, unless there's any stories we don't know about.
Let me just check with the teams, she requested.
Nope, nothing going on here, Angelina noted, along with everyone else. And so it began.
It was early morning, the race was a long way away. Trident were relaxing, and keeping out of the sun.
It was early morning, the race was a long way away. Trident were relaxing, and keeping out of the sun.
And before long it was lunchtime, ahead of F1 qualy.
But then, this happened.
The rain lasted for about an hour, and then disappeared as quickly as it arrived. Our timetable was thrown out because of the support race up the hill, but eventually it was our turn to get ready.
Up to the pitlane, and there wasn't time to sit around.
The teams pushed their tyre trolleys out to the grid, and we all waited for the drivers to arrive.
Tyre strategy is always important, but on a circuit where overtaking is at a premium, it's crucial. There were a few last minute changes, just to confuse the opposition.
And a few teams had a bit more serious work to do, and not much time to do it.
After the race most of the teams just packed up and went back to the paddock.
But a few had something to celebrate.
While the other drivers just headed back.
But work's not finished: there's always more photos, and the press conference.
A friend and I were talking about Haruki Murakami the other day, as you do, and he asked me if I had read his non-fiction book What I'm Talking About When I Talk About Running: I'm a huge fan, like most people, but I've mostly concentrated on his fiction. You should read it, he suggested, as it probably applies to you: he runs ultra-marathons, and a large part of the reason is because he believes authors need the stamina and endurance of marathoners to write a novel. It's an interesting point of view, and I've been carrying it in the back of my head every since.
So today I thought I only need to write a blog: I should go and run a lap of the circuit.
It often works, strangely enough: I put on some tunes and start running, and ideas tend to run alongside me. It didn't take long to reflect back on a chat with Jimmy Eriksson yesterday, the bulk of which will appear in an upcoming Insider: I often joke with him about cheering up, because like a lot of people he's reasonably shy, but unfortunately for him it means he looks a bit grumpy in a public situation, whereas in person he's actually a charming and quietly funny guy.
I won't repeat the whole conversation here, but one of the questions related to the most important advice he'd ever received: bizarrely it was a few years ago when he was having trouble putting a start together, and his engineer told him a secret which he's carried with him ever since. When you are sitting on the line, he said, you need to just think of one thing: boobies. He went on to draw them on a nearby whiteboard, and on the paper in front of him, and for a week or so every time he saw Jimmy he would simply say boobies.
And it worked: from that time on, whenever Jimmy needed to get started, he would think of boobies and the rest came naturally. If only writing worked like that.
He probably didn't have anything of the sort on his mind this morning when he was chatting with his mechanics in the paddock as everyone waited to go out for free practice: we wait for F1 to finish and then the teams get moving with their trailers and trolleys up the hill and onto the track at Turn 13, while the drivers get a start and roll out at Turn 2, on the other side of the track.
There was a bit of rain overnight, so around the paddock was a bit damp, but the track was dry and the sun soon burned away the last remaining clouds: the track temperature was just over 40C at the start of practice, but scorched up to 48C by the end of the session. Pierre Gasly didn't seem to mind, setting the pace once again: Sergey Sirotkin was the only other man to sit on the top of the timesheets with a real laptime, and even that only lasted for 10 seconds until the Frenchman crossed the line once again behind him.
Afterwards it was back to the paddock to work and grab a bite to eat, and it didn't take long before it was time to get ready for the pitlane once again. Waiting to go I realised we were in a good position to watch the F1 cars on track, and it's always a great thing to do: you forget how much the cars move around, that the drivers take different lines in and out of corners, all the little things that you miss in the pitlane or watching on the monitors, because the cameras seem to oddly flatten everything out, make everything look the same.
Running the circuit this afternoon reminded me that it's not flat at all, not by a long stretch.
I watched them for a while in Turn 13, then back down at Turn 2: the latter is a spot that has always been popular for the teams and younger drivers to watch and learn about the track and what it will tolerate, what it will reward or punish them for. It's a shame that it doesn't seem to be as popular as it used to be, probably because the teams all have air-conditioning and TVs in their trucks, so why stand outside in the blazing sun?
But you really do see a lot more, watching from behind the barriers. I wish I got to watch the GP2 guys on track, but I have to write the reports and I have to know what is happening during the session, so it's not really possible.
Pierre continued to blow everyone away in qualifying: waiting until everyone else was coming in before going out was a masterstroke, to get the track to himself and teammate Antonio Giovinazzi. In the press conference he looked like the cat who got the cream, while Sergey admitted that there wasn't anything he could do to get on terms with his rival: Yeah, he needs to tell me where to improve! Everything was alright, everything felt good, but to be honest I don't know where we can find time to close the gap, really!
You've got to admire his honesty, really, although there was a bit of headscratching going on at ART as I went out for my run. They'll still be okay - ART always do well in the races - but the gap back from Gasly to everyone else was pretty big. DAMS tried to get the free track advantage too, sending their drivers out on fresh rubber early, but both of their drivers ran wide and any advantage they could have made was over as their rivals re-emerged before they could start another lap.
Coming back to the paddock I walked past their pit, where they were playing Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins at great volume. I can only hope they were being ironic. And as I walked in, Jimmy walked out and started up the hill: I was going to go and have a chat, but if I've learnt anything this weekend it's not to try to stop Jimmy once he gets started.
That, and also that if I want the blog to be any longer, I should run two laps.
Timehop is great, isn't it?
Who doesn't like to be reminded of the stupid things they've done in the past, and that they tend to do much the same things over and over again, sometimes on an annual basis. And what Timehop reminded me of this morning is that I've been to Silverstone a lot of times now, and that every time the French really like to complain about the place. And also that I like to point this out, so it doesn't look like I'm the only one moaning about coming here.
And to be fair, they do mostly have a point. The Brits love to think they are the centre of the motorsport universe, and there is a fair argument to be made to that end, but that shouldn't give them licence to do things just slightly differently to everywhere else. Because that makes them the exception, not the rule. And it also makes them very annoying when you're trying to work to a schedule that works everywhere else, but gets snagged all day long on the differences here.
At least Didier didn't miss his flight this year, which made a nice change. He was late for his flight, sure, but the flight was late too, so that didn't work. In protest his body decided to have an allergic reaction (whether it's to Britain itself or just something growing on it has yet to be discovered), and he's been complaining on an Olympian level ever since. Even a France v Germany semi final wasn't enough to entice him out after work, although he did concede that he "heard they might have won" this morning over coffee in hospitality, where he did seem substantially less allergic than yesterday.
Sergey Sirotkin, on the other hand, didn't have that much time for conversation. "Hello," he volunteered as he waited for the first F1 practice to start. When asked how he was he enthused "okay" before peering around us to see the screen in exactly the same way my four year old son does when I'm in the way as he watches an episode of Swashbuckle. And we forgave him for the same reason we forgive Arthur: he's too nice and well-mannered (when the telly's not on) to make you upset. We'll catch him later, I said: maybe in the press conference.
Oh, I can see you're getting ahead of me.
But it was a day where the past and the future crossed over constantly. Giedo van der Garde and Davide Valsecchi were both in the paddock, laughing and joking with everyone as they caught up with their old teams and colleagues. "Yeah, doing a bit of business these days, with my father in law and others," Giedo stated when I asked him what he's been up to. "It keeps me busy, I guess. And a bit of racing, LMP1, which is fun." Not much time involved though, I guessed. "No, not compared to here!" he laughed, "but I'm enjoying it, so that's the good bit."
And on the screen Charles Leclerc was testing with Haas, on the flip side of the Dutchman's career, while Giuliano Alesi walked past in his Ferrari gear, about to head over to the big paddock. Giedo was here with Steijn Schothorst, mentoring him through the paddock and giving him the benefit of his experience, and it seemed odd to both of us that only a few years ago Giedo was the fresh faced young kid dreaming of the F1 life that would (if briefly) be in his future.
One thing that didn't flash back to previous years was the traffic: this year we're staying remarkably close to the circuit, and if it's hardly the height of luxury at least it didn't take long to get into the circuit. My Timehop feed today flashed up a series of tweets Alexa and I made while stuck in traffic, followed by a photo of Jolyon Palmer, Marcus Ericsson and their trainers running into the circuit: they had abandoned their car by the side of the road and legged it to (just) make free practice. This year everyone was here with hours to spare, which makes me nervous: I can't shake the feeling that the circuit is waiting until Sunday morning for the early sprint race before it strikes us, cobra-like, when it counts.
Silverstone still reminded us that ultimately we have no control over events when Pauline and I were heading to the pitlane for qualifying this afternoon, ensuring that all the buses left early and we had to beg a hospitality minibus driver to get us the approximately 50 mile distance from the old to the new pits, making it just in time for the cars to be released. On the way over I officially turned into an Old Silverstone Lag when I complained that things aren't the way they used to be, when everyone in the paddock knew each other and we all used to pile onto one of the teams' rigs as the dragged their equipment into the paddock.
Qualifying was pretty exciting, with the lead changing constantly and a couple of red flags to break it all up. Unfortunately for Sergey he didn't notice when one of the race officials waved him to the weighbridge: by the time I noticed the investigation comment on the screens and Marco walked across to ART Grand Prix to tell them it was too late, as they'd changed his tyres: even if they could push him all the way back up a (semi) live pitlane his car had been amended, so it wouldn't have been a legal measurement.
Cue much Russian swearing from red and white car containing possibly the most unlucky driver of the season...
After the session we were walking out towards the bus stop when the Rapax guys stopped and asked if we wanted to jump on, and they didn't need to ask twice: Pauline and I were soon hanging off the side of their tyre trolley and rolling the 100 or so miles back to our paddock. "I've never seen you smile this much," she laughed, while I just watched the track roll past to my right and smiled some more in the watery sunshine.
But the session lasted longer than expected for some: when Pierre Gasly arrived for the press conference he still wasn't sure whether he'd come out on top or not, because of the investigation into Norman Nato's quick lap. "Are you sure?" he asked when I advised the PREMA man that his countryman was on the top spot. "Go and look where he's sitting, if you don't believe me." We walked around the corner and there was Norman, grinning fit to burst in the middle seat waiting for us...
It was a nice birthday present for Norman, who seemed genuinely surprised that I knew what the day meant to him, and even more so when we presented him with a birthday cake after the press conference. The Racing Engineering squad and teammate Jordan King all turned up to embarrass him with an appalling version of Happy Birthday, and despite the best efforts of the Briton it was the first birthday cake in the history of GP2 Series to be presented to a driver and not end up on their (or someone else's) face.
Not only did it not devolve into a foodfight, but Pauline and the others raved about what a good cake it was, and how glad they were to be there have a piece. Which is when I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming: if the French can find a reason to be happy to be in Silverstone, then surely a pattern of behaviour is changing.
What that will do to my Timehop feed, only time will tell.