2011 F1 testing
Leandra Graves looks back on the final pre-season test of 2011 in Barcelona.
After my fantastic experience at the F1 test in February I leapt at the opportunity to return to Barcelona for the rescheduled final test.
However, due to a certain Champions League football match, the flight prices were astronomical on the Monday. Therefore, I had to fly out early Tuesday morning on the day of the test to Girona, accompanied by some very merry Arsenal fans and a large group of Red Bull mechanics.
Fortunately the Red Bull crew kindly agreed to let me share their minibus to the track, which was brilliant as it saved me a lot of time and money. They were worried I might be a spy and said they would only transport me if I promised to write nice things about them (No chance – Ed.). It was a great start to my trip as the mechanics were very friendly and good company.
I arrived just before lunchtime to an surprisingly quiet paddock, as several teams were not running on the first day of the test.
I settled back into my routine from the previous session, Tweeted some updates on F1 Fanatic Live, then headed back to Red Bull in search of some badly-needed lunch. I badly needed an energy boost after my 4am start.
In the paddock a group of fans had spotted newly-announced Lotus test driver Davide Valsecchi. “You know I’m not the race driver, I’m just testing the car” he told them, but they were still keen to get his autograph and take photos with him.
I had a chat with the Italian who seemed very surprised by the attention he was receiving and was very humble. He was a very nice guy and someone I hope has a great future in the sport.
After the test had finished, Jenson Button sat down with reporters to discuss McLaren’s ongoing woes. He remained polite and friendly, yet I thought a little more downbeat than the last time I had seen him.
Next up was Mark Webber who looked very relaxed. As usual he answered questions with good humour and had the whole room laughing. His remark “I hope when I’m 70 people don’t keep asking me if I love Sebastian” was a classic Webber response.
After typing up the quotes for the website I headed off to my hotel. It was full of mechanics from Mercedes and Renault as well as a few drivers.
While waiting for my food, who should turn up but Valsecchi, who came over and said said hello! He then busied himself adjusting the television channel in the foyer to watch the football. For me, it was time for bed, ready for another frantic four days!
It was a memorable start to the morning. As I went to get into the lift, I was joined by none other than Keke Rosberg, a true legend!
He was very much a gentlemen and I attempted some small talk to ask about how Nico was getting on and hoped he would grab his first victory this season. He wasn’t very talkative, but was positive and it was a nice beginning to another day at the Circuit De Catalunya.
It was much busier in the paddock once Ferrari, Mercedes and Williams had arrived at the test.
Webber was chilling out having a meal whilst we media enjoyed the superb Red Bull hospitality. I never saw Sebastian Vettel in Red Bull hospitality during any of my visits whereas Webber, the Toro Rosso and reserve drivers were often milling around.
The interview with the world champion after the second day of the test was tough in a number of ways. Unlike the majority of the interviews which take place in hospitality, sat around a table in a relaxed setting, Vettel’s interviews took place outside the Red Bull Energy Station. A massive crowd of TV and print journalists (as well as fans) surrounded the star and it was a fight to get anywhere near him to be able to listen for quotes.
Several journalists with cameras tried to push their way to the front, accusing some of the younger reporters of not being proper journalists.
Tough luck for them. We had the right to be there too and arrived early, knowing it was going to be like a boxing ring, and weren’t going to miss out on the interview. I stood on tip toes to get my voice recorder as close to Vettel as possible to hear what the Red Bull star had to say.
A busy day with great weather and – best of all – lots of interviews.
Kubica’s doctor was the first press call of the day, after which I only had a few minutes to run back to the media centre, email the quotes to Keith, then dart off to another interview, this time with new HRT driver Vitantonio Liuzzi.
There were lots of media present to hear what he had to say. Throughout the interview he kept saying ‘If the car is ready’. After that I didn’t expect to see the HRT on track at the test and unfortunately that turned out to be the case.
That afternoon I had access to the pit lane for an hour to get some photographs and see what the teams were up to. It was unbelievable – almost scary at first with the cacophony of noise and proximity of the cars. You really do need ear plugs (thanks McLaren for donating some to me!)
You can feel the vibration throughout your whole body as the cars roar past you. It’s a bit of an addictive feeling in pit lane, you never want to leave. It’s what F1 is all about, when you can see the cars at such close proximity and see the finer detail of the pit stops.
After the session ended the paddock was buzzing activity. Felipe Massa spoke to the press and seemed much happier than at the previous test and was content with the new parts on the car.
Then it was off to see Adrian Sutil who I have found very personable when I have seen him around the paddock. His interview was running late, as he did a session for German media initially and then English.
It was worth the wait as I was practically the only English journalist left to speak to him, so it was great to be able to have the opportunity to ask him so many questions. I found him very intelligent, calm and focused when speaking to him and he made some forthright remarks on the competition in the midfield and the performance of the Pirelli tyres.
Next, a quick dash to the other end of the pit lane to catch Jaime Alguersuari. Despite his young age he’s already starting his second full seaosn and seemed very mature and professional. He hopes his car can regularly be picking up good points in 2011.
Following the Toro Rosso driver, it was time to sprint back down the other end of the paddock again, this time to Sauber to speak to the surprise of the day, Sergio Perez. The rookie had recorded the quickest time of the day but was realistic about his chances in the coming season.
Transcribing the four interviews kept me in the media centre until half past nine. As I made my way to the exit I saw a relaxed-looking Fernando Alonso for once not surrounded by Ferrari fans.
The atmosphere at the circuit came alive as Alonso drove for the first time and the grandstands were half-full. The first excitement of the day was the HRT launch.
The whole launch only ten minutes before the car was hidden away in the garage again. The car looked great but seeing “This could be you” plastered all over it showed the team were still in desperate need of sponsorship however.
Much of the day’s interview opportunities clashed which meant some tough decisions: prioritising the big names and missing the rest. Rumours of an interview with Alonso circulated but eventually Ferrari only allowed selected media to talk to him.
A press call with seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher is, as you’d imagine, quite a media scrum.
At times it threatened to get out of hand with a few sharp words between people jostling for the best places. All rather different to the more civilised earlier press conference with Nico Rosberg.
Schumacher finally turned up 25 minutes late and gave us two minutes of chat. Not a great pay-off.
I wanted to make the most of my final day at the circuit but when I was greeted by some grim-looking weather when I awoke.
The rain was so heavy the paddock had rivers flowing through it. With only Hamilton, Alonso, Schumacher, Rosberg and Maldonado left testing it was clear their would be few laps and the paddock was like a ghost town. A few hardcore fans braved the downpour.
With no news to report, the morning dragged a little and it was a case of trying to find out from Ferrari and McLaren potential rescheduled interview slots, as I knew Alonso and Lewis Hamilton would most likely not be hanging around until after five o’clock. Happily those efforts bore fruit.
Hamilton was up first and a large group of TV and print journalists turned up to speak to the British driver.
Last time I had encountered him, I found him quite aloof and defiant. This time he was like a different person. He was immediately friendly to everyone, looked us in the eye, smiled and say hello. He was clearly surprised how many media were there to see him and actually looked quite pleased.
He was refreshingly honest, a little cheeky with his answers and really took an interest in all of us. When he sat down, he glanced at us all and said, ‘Oh there’s some nice faces here today’ which I found funny.
He had a totally different attitude than the previous test and I really enjoyed talking to him, I found him very accommodating and I would have loved to have had a one-on-one interview.
I believe he was a little wary of saying driving the F1 car in a race is no longer fun with having to push less and less each season, but he said he was still gaining enjoyment from the timed laps in qualifying. He was clearly concerned about the performance of his car but rather than being angry, he was clearly accepting the current situation and trying to be positive about the work the team was doing to get to their real potential.
The last interviewee of the day was the elusive Fernando Alonso. I was really glad to get to this one since he was a top priority and I hadn’t managed to hear from him in the first test.
It’s a long process as first he speaks to Spanish press, including live TV interviews, then Italian press and then a short time for English press. It’s much more formal as you have to speak on the microphone, if you are approved by Ferrari PR officer to ask a question at the conference, which is a bit more daunting than a chit chat around the table.
It was good to ask him questions and although he’s a bit reserved with his answers, he was clearly confident and expecting updates to the car in Australia, which can only help his title ambitions.
The rain was still horrendous so I had time to write up both sets of quotes due to the weather. I was pleased to have ended the week on a successful if soggy note and I was genuinely very sad to leave the F1 circus behind.
I had felt the second week had been much more special, with visits to the pitlane which was truly unforgettable and I had felt I had been able to take risks with the type of questions I had asked. To be able to sit and talk to Lewis and Fernando was just a pleasure. I felt very lucky.
Once again, thank you to Keith and all the F1 Fanatics. Roll on Melbourne!
Thanks for following F1 Fanatic’s pre-season testing coverage and special thanks to everyone who contributed to the cost of attending the tests by making donations.
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 © F1 Fanatic / Leandra Graves. If you wish to use these images please contact F1 Fanatic to request permission