2011 F1 testing diary part one: Valencia

2011 F1 testing

Jarno Trulli, Lotus, Valencia, 2011

Jarno Trulli, Lotus, Valencia, 2011

Getting to and from Valencia for last week’s test without paying ridiculous prices involved four different planes and five different airports.

Nonetheless by Sunday night I was in the hotel bar at Valencia with Sam of Racecar Engineering, trying to work out what time Lotus’s online launch would be in Spain.

Fortunately before setting our alarms we realised the car’s 5am appearance in the UK translated to 6am in Spain and not two hours earlier as originally feared.

That left plenty of time to make it to the track for the first proper launch of the day, the unveiling of the Sauber at 11am.

But getting the train to the track didn’t go entirely to plan.

The walk to the station took us past one of Valencia’s many orange groves, where a guard dog took it upon himself to speed up our progress by chasing us down a dual carriageway.

Worse, the train didn’t stop at the circuit as advertised. We get out at Cheste and begin a frantic search for a taxi, which is followed by a long, dusty walk to the accreditation centre.

Sauber C30 launch, Valencia, 2011

Sauber C30 launch, Valencia, 2011

Instead of making it into the circuit with hours to spare, we’ve got less than ten minutes to unpack, set up, fork over ??50 for an internet connection, then leg it down to turn one for our first peek at the C30.

Naturally, the internet connection refuses to work at first, delaying the appearance of the first pictures of the Sauber on F1 Fanatic.

By the time the Renault appears an hour later everything is running smoothly. Everyone has to work fast – the R31 spends little more than a few minutes unwrapped before its covers are re-applied and the car is wheeled away again.

A close look at the pictures afterwards reveals why Renault were so keen to cover up the car again – just where are its exhausts?

The mystery is solved the following day when F1 Fanatic’s photographer Julien Leroy spies the car in the pits with its exhausts nestled in an unlikely location – its sidepods.

If Sunday was busy, Monday was bedlam. Three car launches within 50 minutes of each other means there simply isn’t enough time to cover everything.

I have to miss the first peek at the Toro Rosso in order to go the Red Bull press conference. Of all the teams in the pit lane, surely those two could have arranged not to overlap their launches?

The Mercedes W02 also makes its first appearance but Williams elect not to hold a photo call for their FW33, as they’re still putting the finishing touches to its livery.

The first days of testing are naturally very cagey. There’s not much to read into the times, but there’s a growing feeling among the drivers that the new Pirelli tyres are going to take a lot of getting used to.

The Sauber drivers are particularly wide-eyed. After his first run in the car Kamui Kobayashi is asked what advice he would give to rookie team mate Sergio Perez.

“Take care” grins Kobayashi.

Lewis Hamilton makes his first appearance of the test on day two. At his post-test press call he shakes the hand of almost everyone in the room before sitting down to answer questions. He tells us the tyre degradation is “massive”.

The last day of the test brings drama as Felipe Massa has a spin and a fire early on in the day.

Julien is in the right place at the right time and snaps a great series of pictures showing flames licking from the back of the Ferrari.

But with McLaren launching their new car in Berlin the next day, I have to duck the last hour of the test to dash to the airport. The Guardian’s Richard Williams kindly gives me a lift (his books on Enzo Ferrari, Ayrton Senna and Pescara are must-reads, and I’m not just saying that in the hope of securing future lifts).

Crazy though it may seem, the cheapest way of getting to the McLaren launch is to take three flights in 12 hours. Two back to Heathrow, four hours’ sleep, then a drive down to Gatwick where McLaren have chartered a flight.

After the sunny spring warmth of Valencia the biting cold of Berlin is a shock. Fortunately Vodafone and McLaren’s hospitality is up to its usual standard and we’re quickly whisked off to a plush hotel just around the corner from the Postdamer Platz, the site of the car’s launch.

As you’ll have seen, the car’s launch had an interesting twist, with members of the public walking in to fit different parts to the shell of the new MP4-26.

Getting an internet connection outside proves tricky – you can see me working in the press area eight seconds into this video from the launch:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZY_m7JNVLk

You may remember the site’s server was upgraded a few weeks before the 2011 car launches, in anticipation of the extra traffic.

But despite having added further extra resources to the server it couldn’t cope with the level of interest in the McLaren and the site went down for a few minutes. Fortunately it was quickly restored – thanks as ever to Ed Marshall for his help.

To put it into perspective, the first story from the McLaren launch is already the most-read news story on the site of all time on F1 Fanatic. Last week the site’s 50 millionth page view was served.

After the usual round of press conferences and interviews it was back on the plane for a badly-needed cup of tea.

As I put the finishing touches on this I’m about to head off to catch a plane to Jerez to cover the four-day test there. Thankfully this time it’s direct!

I hope you’ve enjoyed F1 Fanatic’s coverage of the 2011 launch season. There’s plenty more to come from the rest of pre-season testing.

Thank you very much to those of you who sent donations towards the cost of covering the tests. If you would like to contribute, please visit the Donate page:

Donate to F1 Fanatic

Valencia test pictures

Here are a few more of Julien’s pictures from the test which haven’t been posted here before.

2011 F1 testing

Browse all 2011 F1 testing articles

Images ?? Julien Leroy / firstlap.be

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39 comments on 2011 F1 testing diary part one: Valencia

  1. sw6569 (@sw6569) said on 9th February 2011, 14:28

    Great read Keith, puts the life of an F1 reporter into perspective! Crazy flights, horrendous hours but ultimately worth it.

    Looking forward to the next diary

    • Movement said on 9th February 2011, 16:09

      I want to second that – this was actually my favorite read of the last week from all your posts!

      On another note, is there an alternative way to donate other than paypal; I really dont like using them.

      At least on the upside to all the traveling you get to travel to a warmer part of the world than gray Enlgand ;) its not all that bad!

  2. djdaveyp85 (@djdaveyp87) said on 9th February 2011, 14:29

    You work so hard Keith. I’m trying hard to pluck some funds together to donate, and will do when I can!

  3. Todfod (@todfod) said on 9th February 2011, 14:34

    “where a guard dog took it upon himself to speed up our progress by chasing us down a dual carriageway.”

    LOL. Well if you ever plan to visit India for the Indian GP, you might encounter this as well.

  4. Cornflakes (@cornflakes) said on 9th February 2011, 14:36

    Very interesting, the logistics of such a trip must have been a bit of a headache! It was well worth it though, and in a weird way it’s great to see the F1Fanatic is growing so much it crashes…

    I visit the site atleast once everyday, just part of my routine when I fire up the laptop. Keep it up, I’m sure this season will be a big one for you!

  5. Tom23 (@tom23) said on 9th February 2011, 15:02

    Interesting to read, keep up the good work!

  6. Maciek said on 9th February 2011, 15:03

    Great reporting and then great reporting on the reporting! Seriously, it’s really great a opportunity to feel closer to the action for those of who can’t get out to a track more often than once in a decade or so. By the way, I think that only a Brit could string together the phrase “a much-needed cup of tea” Big kudos for the writing Keith. I’m poor now, but when I have something to spare I’ll try contribute to further teas.

  7. Fixy (@fixy) said on 9th February 2011, 15:04

    I have to miss the first peek at the Toro Rosso in order to go the Red Bull press conference.

    What? You chose the Red Bull over the Toro Rosso?!

  8. smifaye (@smifaye) said on 9th February 2011, 15:05

    This is a really interesting read Keith. Without this site I don’t know what I’d do at work!

    Thanks for providing such great coverage

  9. MondoL said on 9th February 2011, 15:07

    hi keith,
    I’m sure you do this, but two recomendations for cheap flights:
    1) Look for round trips with a weekend in the middle. usually cheaper than a one way trip. (May overlap two crossed tickets for same week travel)

    2) look at travel agencies ( internet agencies are ok) at the destiny and specially connecting points. ( is cheaper to flight barcelona-london and buy a ticket in UK to US than a BCN-NY via london.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 9th February 2011, 22:18

      I saw some of the tweets going on between Keith, other journalists and locals about arranging traffic.
      Looks like they were looking at all loads of options and sharing experience of what works and what doesn’t.

      Great read Keith, I think it was well worth your effort. I had the best week of coverage with pictures on site faster than the cars got out of the box.
      Also that scoop of the first pictures of the Renault, nice working with ScrabsF1 and nice interviews thrown in.
      Best F1 site on the web.

  10. Adrian J (@adrian-j) said on 9th February 2011, 15:21

    Keith it sounds like a nightmare – tell you what, I’ll take some time off work and cover the Barcelona one for you…no??

  11. Fixy (@fixy) said on 9th February 2011, 15:22

    Did Red Bull remove their fin? Hadn’t noticed!

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 9th February 2011, 22:19

      Probably did a comparison test of both engine covers. Hadn’t noticed it before as well.

      • Scribe (@scribe) said on 10th February 2011, 1:18

        Saw that as well, if Redbull are giving up maybe the shark fin is really on the way out. Shame, always saw them as natural progression an not to hard on the eyes. In a minority though.

        • BasCB (@bascb) said on 10th February 2011, 7:17

          Never really a fan myself, but I think it is nice to have teams doing different things. I would love it if Red Bull chaped that shark fin to fit the tail of the bull, that would be a nice touch.

          By the way, what’s your new avatar Scribe?

          • bosyber (@bosyber) said on 10th February 2011, 8:17

            I think the Red Bull car looks better without the shortened fin – I too hadn’t spotted that they tried without it, but I hope they run that way at least at some tracks.

            @ BasCB
            Scribe’s avatar seems to be (Dutch) footballer Robin van Persie; where does he play again?

  12. Fixy (@fixy) said on 9th February 2011, 15:39

    This photo ain’t Kubica, it’s Webber.

  13. Tango said on 9th February 2011, 15:43

    Great great job Keith. Very brave of you to have started working full time on the site and have to say, had it not been for F1F, I don’t know what i would read in my off moments at work. And home. And during hollidays. And while travelling.

  14. Mouse_Nightshirt (@mouse_nightshirt) said on 9th February 2011, 16:23

    Love it Keith. Your site is the best F1 news site on the web.

    And best of all, you can provide us insight into your life as a F1 journo by being insightful, informative and most importantly of all, without being condescending or “high and mighty” to your readership, which some other online F1 news sources seem to do on an all too regular basis.

  15. Hi everyone, sorry, this isn’t related to this post in particular!

    Can anyone help be with how to attach a website to my user?

    I knew how to do it before, but now i’m just constantly logged in, so I don’t see the “Website —–” option!

    Am I being stupid or is there an ‘Edit Profile’ option somewhere?

    I’ve just started my own F1 blog site.

    Cheers,
    Ben.

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