It is time to publish my story I’d originally written for Lotus Renault GP on Jerez winter testing. We’re now well into the spring, with the first race of the 2011 F1 season not very far away (let’s hope there won’t be any more glitches). I really enjoyed putting this blog together, one particular reason for it has to do with the fact that I was fuelled (like crazy) by LRGP’s wonderful strong coffee and started typing right on the spot (had me laptop with me). So, straight from the depths of the famous motorhome, ladies and gentlemen, we present, let’s welcome – the story…
When F1 comes to town, it’s great, but when F1 comes to town near you – it’s even better! It’s been exactly a year since my last visit to Jerez de la Frontera: in 2010 I tried to make sure I’d catch Vitaly testing the R30; in 2011 I picked the dates when Robert would be behind the wheel of the R31. Well, we all know what happened…
The atmosphere in Jerez is always electrifying – the local population seems to be very enthusiastic about F1 these days, while at night you’d always hear somebody singing flamenco tunes right outside your hotel window in the middle of the night. I arrived on Friday evening so the city was buzzing with life. A quick visit to the circuit revealed a couple of military helicopters flying above it in circles (sic!) and a small group of (former Enstone employee) Fernando Alonso fans anxiously waiting in vain for their hero to drive past them out of the track’s security gate – no such luck though. Animal kingdom, represented by a couple of sheep not very far away, didn’t seem to mind and went on peacefully about their lives probably thinking to themselves, “What’s with all this fuss?” Clearly, it’s not what you’d expect from the glitz and glamour of Formula 1 but this is only testing, the real thing starts next month.
Next morning I was surprised to find myself stuck in a huge traffic jam with F1 engines roaring so near and yet so far. It’s a terrible feeling, I was gutted and it was not where I wanted to be. I did the only logical thing I could do given the circumstances: I left the car’s controls to my mates and headed towards the circuit on foot. I’ve been visiting Jerez for about 7 or 8 years but I’ve never seen anything like this before! It seemed as though the European Grand Prix had returned to Andalusia!
As you might expect, I was mostly looking forward to seeing the R31 in action and hearing its innovative exhaust system. The car didn’t disappoint – Renault engines have always been one of the noisiest out there, but from time to time the beast would produce absolutely mind-blowing sounds. It was even more obvious on the main straight or when the car would accelerate out of the slow corners. Satisfaction 100%.
For the first half of the day I was hanging out in the grandstands with the crowd. You wouldn’t believe the quantity of people at the circuit! I could barely find a couple of empty places from where I could take photos. Then I spotted a huge banner with messages of support for Robert Kubica – an initiative from some fans. You could also write your own message to Robert on the back of it (they had a few marker pens for that) and I did leave one on behalf of the entire LRGP blog: “Get well soon, Robert!”
Then I was off for a short excursion around the paddock, courtesy of LRGP and its continuing fan-friendly initiatives. My first stop was the motorhome where I spotted all the main team players. It’s quite exciting when you do get to see the people you normally only read about in magazines or on the internet in real life. It’s also a great privilege for which I’d like to thank the team.
In the meantime, Nick Heidfeld was busy putting in a series of quick laps in the R31; once the session was over, he moved to the motorhome for a press conference with the F1 media. Nick turned out to be a very likeable press-friendly guy, and some 20 minutes later the journalists left looking very happy with the end result. I also had a brief chat with Vitaly and wished him good luck (for the 2011 season) in Russian. Judging by the look on his face, he probably felt like he had never left Vyborg (his home town), because the Russian language can now be heard in various places in the paddock.
The most interesting part about paddock visits is being able to observe the team’s life and learn how things work. There are so many little details, it’s as precise as a Swiss watch or perhaps a TW Steel watch… It’s a lot of hard work and dedication from every member of the team and these are not just words.
The F1 circus moves to Barcelona now, with Jerez being just a small stop. The pace is relentless…
PS Lotus Renault GP photo gallery from Jerez is still here.