2011 F1 testing
Leandra Graves covered the last test in Barcelona for F1 Fanatic.
She relates her experienced of her first visit to a Formula 1 paddock and her impressions of the drivers she spoke to.
Just as Keith did on his way back from Jerez, I found myself on the same flight as Toro Rosso reserve driver Daniel Ricciardo as I made my way to Barcelona. There was also a crowd of Force India personnel on the flight.
Ricciardo seemed better prepared for the weather ahead, with a beanie hat on and his padded Toro Rosso jacket. While Keith saw the sun in Valencia and Jerez, I was greeted by heavy rain and massive puddles in Barcelona.
I woke with a nasty chest infection. Poor timing, but nothing was going to stop me from making the most of this amazing opportunity.
After the usual headache of finding the accreditation centre I got talking to a young Spanish journalist who was also reporting for a website. She took me to the media centre with her and basically gave me a quick guided tour.
The media centre gave a great view of the final corner and over the start/finish line. The sun was shining and with this incredible base to watch the F1 cars at full speed roaring past me, I felt very lucky.
I got settled in and posted some updates on Twitter. When the red flag comes out, it takes a few moments before information can be received and everyone scrambles around the TV to try and see who caused it, or grab the best view out of the window to spot them.
I get to know my around the paddock and it wasn’t long before I spotted a throng of enthusiastic fans awaiting their hero. The blur of red meant Fernando Alonso was on his way and he greeted his supporters with a happy smile and took time to sign some autographs. He looked very relaxed and had an air of confidence around him.
The first interview was Nick Heidfeld and there was much interest in him, was this was his first appearance since he had been confirmed as Renault’s replacement for the injured Robert Kubica. He admitted “it wasn’t the way in which he would like to return” and looked bemused at the massive crowd circling him.
It was time to run back up the many steps to get the interview typed up as World Champion Sebastian Vettel was later to be interviewed after the test had finished for the day.
Luckily I arrived early, as it was like a boxing match to get anywhere near the Red Bull star. I had to jostle to get my voice recorder close to Vettel to get some audible quotes, then rush back and get them written up.
You get a lot of exercise walking and running around the paddock and I collapsed into a taxi at the end of the day. The driver driver kept trying to make me get out at a restaurant despite numerous attempts of explaining “Ibis Hotel”. Eventually I made some headway and it was time to dose up on cough sweets and sleep ready for another important day.
The noise at the top of the media centre and grandstand is earth shattering. You really need ear plugs as the noise and vibration is unbelievable.
Lunch time saw interviews with Adrian Newey and Christian Horner. I was impressed with both of their attitudes, very responsive, with good senses of humour.
It was a nice surprise to find out Red Bull hospitality welcome media into their hospitality for lunch. I can confirm their food is excellent and their team very friendly – especially the communications staff. Vettel made it two in a row with the quickest time in the Saturday test.
The President of Catalunya arrived late in the afternoon, to meet local stars Alonso and Jaime Alguersuari – the latter took the President for a spin around the circuit. Bike stars were also out in force to observe the F1 tests, ex-Grand Prix rider, Randy Mamola and his son Dakota were present.
It was then time to hear from Jenson Button. He arrived around five minutes late and apologised and said hello to everyone. I found him very polite, honest and professional. It was apparent he had concerns with the car but he handled the questions with a good sense of humour and I think he endeared himself to those in the room.
I was taken out to a fast food restaurant in the evening by some Spanish friends that evening. Meanwhile the rain poured down again.
Waking up on my third day at the test, it was like being in Britain. Wet, cold and miserable.
However, there were many new faces on track including Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Mark Webber. Massa seemed to struggle in the wet conditions and went off twice on the slippery track.
I was starting to settle into a routine and was beginning to recognise other faces within the paddock.
I met some journalists from Poland and it was great to have others to share information with as you can’t always be everywhere at once. There were reporters from Hungary and Russia too, it really demonstrates the worldwide appeal of F1. David Coulthard was also wandering around the paddock and proved a popular target for autograph hunters.
Nico Rosberg set the fastest time in his Mercedes and he was the first interviewee of the day. I was a little put off by his beard, but I was impressed with his switch to answer questions in three different languages (German, English and Italian).
Some people had told me he’s arrogant but I found him one of the most approachable drivers from my four days.
Next up was none other than Lewis Hamilton. I had been really looking forward to this one as he’s always intrigued me as a person.
He arrived around 15 minutes late and wasn’t exactly the happiest chap. There were sandwiches on the table for all the reporters and he joked they had laxatives in them and that we should all have some!
His body language was quite negative, lots of shrugging and hands in the pockets. He was showing a lot of frustration with the car and was quite open with his dismay with the lack of mileage compared to his top rivals.
The final chat of the day was with Mark Webber. I know Mark always has a lot to say so knew this should be quite entertaining. He didn’t disappoint and really gave careful consideration to his answers.
I was surprised how cautious he was about the current performance of Red Bull compared to his rivals, he was realistic with his expectations, but he wouldn’t rule out the threat of Alonso.
By the time I left the circuit it was getting on for 10pm – the security guards had gently encouraged me and fellow journalists to leave on two occasions.
I woke up on my final day of reporting on the test with some sadness – I didn’t want it to end so soon!
It was beginning to get quieter in the pit lane. HRT had already and at lunchtime Lotus also packed up after Jarno Trulli damaged the car in a crash.
Luckily the weather was being kinder to us and after another beautiful lunch provided by the wonderful Red Bull energy station crew, it was time to meet Paul Hembery, motorsport director of Pirelli tyres.
There were lots of questions about the possible postponement of the Bahrain tests and the first race of the season and it was really good to get his views. He was quite frank, admitting parts of the winter tests had been “useless”.
The developing situation in Bahrain was a growing story throughout the test. There was a buzz in the media centre as the test drew to a close and news broke that the first race of the year was being cancelled.
Felipe Massa’s press conference at Ferrari was a much more formal affair than the other teams.
At other interviews we had gathered around the table with the driver, this one Massa was sat on a chair alone at the back of the room and if you wanted to ask a question, you had to get the approval from their PR man and wait for a microphone to be handed to you.
Massa was visibly disappointed by the news about Bahrain since this was a track and place he liked.
It was time to say my goodbyes to the many people I had worked with and there was a lot of chatter in the paddock about the upcoming test with various rumours of it being split between locations in Spain.
On my way out, I caught sight of Button and his girlfriend Jessica Michibata running around the paddock – lycra clad, clearly keeping their supreme fitness levels up. Most drivers had disappeared, but the McLaren duo stayed to do promotional work for Vodafone.
I took the chance to have a wander around the pit lane and walk on the track before I was ushered off. The atmosphere in the pit lane was much more relaxed with music blaring.
Ferrari had their car packed away and the Red Bull was mostly under cover to avoid prying eyes such as mine. McLaren and Force India were still working on their car and had it hidden from view. I was strictly told I wasn’t allowed to take any photos.
Renault and Mercedes were much more accommodating and it was a pleasure to get to see the cars at such close quarters.
I flew home the following lunchtime (and left Barcelona on the warmest day of my stay). The flight was full of Williams mechanics who said that the test had gone well for them. One disappointment of my time in Spain that I never got to attend any conferences with the Williams drivers, as they weren’t conducting interviews during the test.
My overall impressions were Red Bull has the best car and if there’s one man who can beat them, it will be Alonso. I think the delayed start to the season will help McLaren enormously and perhaps restore some faith in the car with the drivers, as at the moment, I would say they are very worried.
I am intrigued with how Di Resta will perform, I think he showed some good running during the tests. I was also very impressed with Ricciardo, he only had a limited time running in the Toro Rosso, but set some solid times and I think Alguersuari and Buemi will be looking over their shoulder all year long.
From a journalistic point of view, it was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I hope you all enjoyed my Twitter updates on F1 Fanatic.
Thanks for the support and for sharing some memorable moments with me and F1 Fanatic. Finally, a massive thank you to Keith for the opportunity.
Follow Leandra Graves on Twitter
2011 F1 testing
- Young Drivers Test Day 3 in pictures
- Vergne completes third day on top in Abu Dhabi
- Young Drivers Test Day 2 in pictures
- Vergne stays quickest on second day of test
- Italian F3 pair complete Ferrari test
- Jean-Eric Vergne leads first day of young drivers test
- 2011 F1 testing diary part four: Barcelona
- McLaren cover least test distance with new car
- Rosberg: Mercedes are “on the up”
- Second Barcelona test day 5 in pictures
Images © Pirelli (1), Leandra Graves (2-4)