"It must be so glamourous" people inevitably say when I tell them about this job, about following the circus around Europe from circuit to circuit, from year to year. "All those great cities, all those fabulous restaurants and nightclubs, all that time with the drivers and everything."
I love Barcelona: I always have. It's a great, chilled out, fun town which surpasses the comments above. But the problem with this job is that the reality never quite matches up to their dreams. We don't actually see the cities we go to: most of the time, like here, we see the airport on arrival, get a cab or a car past the city to a race track out of town, shuttle between there and a hotel nearby with a gorgeous view of an ordinary freeway, and then drive back past the town on Sunday to the airport on the way home.
So this year I came out on Thursday morning instead of the evening, just to remind myself what a great place Barcelona is. I caught the bus into the Placa de Catalunya, walked down la Rambla and through the old town, past the Museo Picasso and the Arc de Triompho to la Sagrada Familia and up the hill to Park Guell to take in the stunning view of the whole city laid out in front of me.
Instead of rushing around for flights and taxis in the dark I arrived chilled out and ready for the opening party in the hospitality area, laughed with the drivers and team members as we had a few drinks before a few of us decided to head back into town for some tapas, and still managed to be in bed before midnight.
So I guess that's ruined my argument next time someone tells me I have a glamourous job. It could be worse.
But the chilled out vibe couldn't last for long - we're all here to race, after all - and Friday saw the atmosphere ramp up as the teams eased into their jobs, preparing the cars for free practice while Sergey Sirotkin, Gustav Malja and a few others watched the F1, Nobu Matsushita jumped into his car to tweak the seating position, newbie Luca Ghiotto stood deep in conversation with a mechanic, the Indonesians stood in the shade opposite the Campos pit taking in all the activity for the first time and the Russians, now old hands in the pits, sat around behind the RUSSIAN TIME truck and gentled bickered with each other to pass the time until the session got underway.
The drivers looked to be extra careful not to put a wheel wrong in free practice given the shortened period between the session and qualy, which seemed to arrive 10 minutes later, just after we all threw down a quick bite to fuel us up again. The day had started with a wide open sky and blazing sun, but as the clock ticked down to qualy the clouds snuck in like a dog in trouble with its master as the Minion toy on top of one of the Tridents supervised the team's work, Oliver Rowland hung off the rear of the MP canopy with a giant drink hanging from his mouth and Artem Markelov strided back to his pits, peering over the top of his sunglasses as he scrolled through the screen of his phone for a nugget to consume.
Alexa isn't with us in person, for the completely joyous reason of being pregnant and therefore inappropriately proportioned for the heat and grime and hours and stress of the paddock, so she has arranged for a proxy to attend in her stead in the form of Pauline, to deal with the things she can't do from her spy drone hovering overhead for 20 hours a day. Pauline is a great proxy: less blonde but just as French, and with the same amount of dry, sardonic snarkiness needed to get through a race weekend.
She's quietly enthusiastic about everything, which is winning her a lot of fans. At the press conference, as we all chatted together while we waited for the noise from the Porsche session to die down, she took a photo of the top three drivers laughing together and showed it to them. "It's a good thing you took it before the press conference," I smirked. "Usually the photos during it show one guy engaged as he answers me, and the other two looking stunningly bored. Indeed, sometimes they all look bored!"
"Well if you could ask some good questions from time to time maybe we wouldn't look like that!" Alex laughed.
He seemed in good form when we finally got started, so maybe I'm getting better at this job after all this time, or maybe he was just in his usual jokerish form. Afterwards he and Pierre were talking about the Matsushita/Gelael spat during qualy to see if they could find out what had happened when Norman came over and said something in French to his countryman: "oh right," Alex sniggered, "Norman just admitted he took them off..."
Then it was time to write everything up before dinner, which saw Stoffel Vandoorne and Esteban Ocon come back over from the big paddock for a bite to eat and to catch up with their old team. It's always good to catch up with our graduates, and it gave me a chance to have a joke with our current champion.
"It's lucky you raced with us last year," I began. "I mean, sure, you got pole position here and it pretty much set up the whole season for you, but that time would have only been good enough for 12th today..."
"What?" he blustered, taking the bait completely. "I could do better! Give me a helmet and let me race tomorrow!"
"You've hit a nerve!" Esteban laughed. "Don't you know he thinks he owns GP2!"
"Well, he pretty much does now!" I laughed back as Stoffel realised it was a joke and finally joined in. He probably doesn't get much of the chilled out atmosphere we have anymore in the new paddock: they may have a bit more glamour, but I know which side of the fence I'd rather have dinner.
And, clearly, I'm not alone.