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.
Instead of making it into the circuit with hours to spare, we’ve got less than ten minutes to unpack, set up, fork over ?óÔÇÜ?¼50 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:
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:
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
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Images ?é?® Julien Leroy / firstlap.be