Behind the scenes at Jerez

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Home away from home - working on F1 Fanatic at the Jerez media centre
Home away from home - working on F1 Fanatic at the Jerez media centre

Last week I went out to Jerez for the second F1 test session. I’ve had a lot of questions about going to the test, which F1 events I’ll be covering in future and requests for a “behind the scenes” article on the test.

Find out more about my experience at the track below.

Hi, I’m Keith…

Only one airline is flying direct to Jerez on the Tuesday before the test starts and there’s a few recognisable F1 faces on the plane: new Force India test driver Paul di Resta the team’s press officer Lucy.

This being my first visit to an F1 test in a media capacity I spend much of the four days introducing myself to various people. While jostling for Michael Schumacher’s attention in the media gaggle after Thursday’s test, a woman I’m elbow-to-elbow with suddenly demands, “Are you a journalist?”

“Yes”, I retort and, slightly taken aback, can only think to follow it up with, “Are you?” Indeed she was – it turns out I’d addressed my question to one of Bild’s Formula 1 correspondents…

Day 1

Alarm goes off at 6:30. Shower, find the car, find the track.

At the gate a security guard peruses my accreditation documents, then points me back the way I came to an abandoned petrol station barely visible through the dim morning light.

I drive out to the station. By now the LCD on my Citroen rental car’s dashboard reads seven-thirty. One hour until the covers come off the new Red Bull. Can’t miss that. Have to get in.

I’m a little relieved when I finally meet someone I recognise – Sam from Racecar Engineering, who I met at Silverstone last year. He assures me that the level of organisation I’ve seen so far is pretty typical. A woman arrives with wallet full of press passes and a key to the petrol station’s cabin. There’s no power, so we point another rental car at the booth and turn its high beams on.

Accreditation sorted (mine reads “K Kollantine” of “FanaticF1”, but never mind) I drive Sam and his colleague Russell into the track. Next is the scramble to sort out internet connections – the circuit charges ??60 for four days on a wired connection. That sorted, it’s down to the pit lane just in time to see the RB6 poke from beneath its sheets.

Base

For all the problems I had getting in, the facilities inside the circuit are excellent. The media suite is spacious and Jerez’s looping layout means you can see both ends of the track from it. Walk up the stairs to the roof and at least half the track is visible, and you can peer down onto the pitlane.

Inside the centre are banks of monitors showing the latest lap times, the best so far, and climactic conditions at the track. There’s also a rolling CCTV feed of the track which is programmed to follow either Fernando Alonso or Michael Schumacher when one of them is lapping.

As the teams aren’t publishing lists of lap times (unlike last year, so I’m told) the only way to get data on the stints each team is doing is to write them all down as they appear on the screen.

I’m told media attendance at the test is much smaller than it was at Valencia – no surprise, given the number of debuts at the first test. Nonetheless there’s easily a hundred journalists, photographers and broadcasters all beavering away on laptops. Though at least one of them seems to spend most of the time playing Farmville.

Close quarters

I make a point of getting out to the track itself whenever I can to get a close look at the cars and how they’re behaving. This is my first visit to Jerez, and I tour the circuit making mental notes of the scenes of various historic moments at the circuit.

Here’s turn one, where a puncture ended Jean Alesi’s race before it had barely begun in 1990. It’s also where Jaguar’s three-car team of XJR-6s eliminated themselves in an embarrassing crash on the first lap of the sports car race in 1986.

Down to Curva Dry Sack, where the 1997 world championship was decided between Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve. I note Schumacher isn’t turning into the hairpin quite as early as he did that day.

And on to the fast right-handers behind the pits, where Martin Donnelly had that sickening crash in 1990. The barriers are further back from the track now, there’s more run-off, and the F1 cars use the slow, fiddly chicane known rather depressingly as the ‘Senna S’. Except when they’re on in-laps, when drivers tend to cut the slow corner and use the old route.

Having a press pass I can get right up to the barriers, so close you can almost touch the cars. I’m spoiled for choice for places to take photographs from. Here’s a selection of my pictures from the test:

Eats

I’d anticipated the pricey internet connection and expected food to be similarly expensive. So I’m quite taken aback to discover there isn’t any.

Instead, journalists grab a bite to eat at one of the team’s motorhomes where there’s often food left over after their mechanics and other staff have eaten. The upside is the food is delicious, healthy and free. The downside is you never quite know when you’re going to eat.

Red Bull have the largest motorhome (as they have Toro Rosso mouths to feed as well) and it’s right next to the media centre, so it becomes a favourite haunt. Risotto, pasta and salad is washed down with plenty of the company’s cola product, which I’m now hooked on.

I get away from the track by 9pm and eat in in town at a tapas bar: delicious rolls stuffed with chewy chorizo and queso and plenty of cerveza. Sherry is the speciality of the region but I haven’t got a taste for it. Local manufacturer Tio Pepe used to sponsor the Grand Prix in the eighties, and as a result drivers weren’t allowed to spray champagne on the podium.

The drivers

Most of the teams make their drivers and other key personnel available for interviews with the media immediately after the day’s running has finished.

Over the course of the test I see Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Michael Schumacher, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Nico H???lkenberg, Adrian Sutil, Lucas di Grassi, Paul di Resta, Sam Michael and Force India’s Mark Smith.

Here a little experience and better organisation would have helped me meet more people and ask more questions. But it’s a good start and helps me generate plenty of original material for the site. Next time I’ll get much more:

Where the action is

Getting to report on an F1 session first-hand was one of the main things I wanted to accomplish in my first year of running F1 Fanatic full-time. Whether I’ll be able to do more of these in the future, and start getting to full Grand Prix weekends, largely depends on whether I can make it cost-effective.

Interest in the test meant F1 Fanatic enjoyed some of its busiest ever days for site traffic while I was in Jerez. More visitors means more advertising revenue, and that’s what pays for flights, hotel rooms and everything else.

At the moment I’m working to get to the final test at Barcelona where we should see the most significant action of the pre-season. If you enjoyed the coverage from Jerez please help spread the word by letting other F1 fans know about F1 Fanatic.

You can also support the site by making a donation – I’ve already received some very generous contributions which helped fund the Jerez coverage. Another way to help the site is by purchasing products from Amazon via this link.

At Jerez last week I posted hundreds of live updated to Twitter, shared hundreds of pictures from the track, and wrote dozens of articles. Whatever suggestions you may have for how I can cover F1 events better in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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