Jerez is as important to Formula 1 as Formula 1’s European races are to Bernie Ecclestone – and I mean it. The circuit is pretty outdated by modern standards but has a nice friendly atmosphere and teams gathered a lot of data over the previous decade, so in terms of comparing your new toy to last year’s toy it’s a perfect place. As far as I can remember, it rained only on a couple of occasions since 2003, most notably in 2010 when we had a storm of epic proportions; I decided to hang out on the terrace over the garages that year and was nearly gone with the wind! This time, even Ross Brawn probably was where he wanted to be, in the sunny Jerez of course, testing the silver tin-woodman on wheels, aka Mercedes F1 W04 (can’t say the same thing about Lewis [though], he definitely wasn’t where he wanted to be – in the safety barriers or chopping expensive equipment whilst stuck in the garage, I just made that up actually – the chopping bit; however, feel free to start a false insider rumour on twitter, you’re so very welcome).
I’ve been a long-time visitor to Jerez; hell, I even witnessed the days of magic V10 roar and tyre wars (separate top secret Bridgestone/Michelin tests). Glitz and glamour of the past decade is firmly dead and gone, pay drivers rule the world, car launches are very low-key and muted events… There weren’t too many happy faces in the paddock either: mean, for sure, lot’s of people with multiple years of experience in the industry can’t stand F1 by now. You could sense everyone felt pretty tired after no proper winter break at all, reports of manic depression caused by constant travelling around the globe turned out to be true after all. I have to say I felt somewhat sorry for pay drivers: not only are they being spat at by the fans and international media, they also have to endure nightmare schedules and put up with all the invevitable suffering… only to be replaced by another and an even richer kid after a bleak season of qualifying in P19 and finishing races in P15 (usually labelled as “great result for the team” in glorious press releases).
I, on the other hand, was smiling like a Cheshire feline on that narrow piece of the Spanish territory, grooving around posh and improvised motorhomes, garages and the media centre in a trench coat (think I spotted @andystobart moving between Tole-Ben-Ren-otus garage and former Toyota F1 motorhome – had a nice Barrett battle with him on twitter quite some time ago). With not much to do, me and a couple of other guys (reporters) spooked Autosport dot com’s gang in the media room; DJ Noble was present, as you’d expect, I still don’t know who was the angry young lady (journo?) sitting next to them.
It was a total and utter pleasure and privilege to walk the circuit and watch the cars whizzling past like Russian meteor. Marussia and Caterham managed to come up with improvement… in the livery department: Caterham stopped flirting with classic Team Lotus colour scheme, gone were the yellow wheel rims, replaced by black ones and in harmony with front and rear wings. Charles Pic was throwing the CT03 around the track like a madman with confidence you get only after spending a full season in F1, while van der Garde looked a bit subdued, probably not risking any potential embarrassment. Marussia reminded me of the current generation of IndyCar machinery, beautiful lines, Cosworth engine singing a lovely tune. It looks fast, but will it be fast (-er than last year’s tractor)?
Ferrari changed their livery a little bit, going for yummy mid 1970s Lauda-esque look; Massa was, for sure, faster than his team-mate and Jerez absentee Alonso, y’know. Despite grandprix.com’s fantastic report from a living room somewhere in the US, crowds were pretty decent. I was glad El Matador chose not to test in Jerez because it made my life easier – no constant ‘Aloooonsoooooo!!!!’ chanting mixed with loud burps from the local F1 aficionados, very easy to move around, a pleasure. Fernando, please, please me, oh yeah, and do the same in 2014!
Now, lap times? Don’t expect me to burst into a lengthy section on lap times or who will win the championship based on the first test: lap times mean nothing right now. Listen to Jenson, all ye twitta experts.
The element of fun dominated Jerez as I and my fellow (Mexican) reporters were among the first ones to arrive and last ones to leave the circuit. We then decided to chill out a bit at the circuit’s surreal bar with a name like Pedal to the Metal or Mighty Pistons in translation. The owner definitely wanted to drown me in Jerez wine, I love Tio Pepe but not in such copious quantities. I had no choice but to run for my sober life and catch a taxi cab to the city where, inevitably, a cosy restaurant in the historic centre was filled with F1 people. We bumped into DJ Noble and the band once again, yo! Darren Heath (the undisputed scientist and giant of F1 photography) could be seen relaxing after a hard day’s work.
Make sure you check out my galleries on Flickr from the test, some good stuff there and I let it be known I paid for all this splendour with massive sunburns to my left ear.
A separate (official) report from yours truly is coming soon in the Motorsport Illustrated News magazine, available online and in printed version for our absolutely wonderful subsribers, we love you.
See you ’round then… in the GP3 paddock.