2 May 2007 // 20:27
By David Cameron - 8 comments
Local boy Jujube, friend of the GP2 Series and the most famous driving camel in Bahrain, was back in the paddock when the series came back to his home circuit, hoping to catch up with his old friends in the pitlane. David Cameron caught up with him at the end of a long and stressful weekend for the camel and brought back this exclusive story, told in Jujube's own words.
"I swore to myself that I wasn't going to do it again: after the bitter disappointment of missing out on a drive the last time GP2 came to Bahrain I thought 'there is no way on earth that I'm going to make a fool of myself to get a drive this time.'
Of course, my manager knew what it would take to get me back into the paddock:
The next morning I found myself in the breakfast tent at the track, a little unsure as to how I got there, but it didn't take me long to get my head back together.
As luck would have it, Alfonso de Orleans Borbon was having breakfast too: as soon as I saw him there I knew that I had to go over and re-introduce myself. "Hello Jujube!" he boomed, just a little too loudly for me at that moment. "What are you doing here again?"
"Well, I'm looking around for a drive. I figured out this time that there might be more of a chance to get a seat at the start of the year than at the end."
"Oh, if only you'd come to see me a little bit earlier: I just confirmed my line up a few weeks ago. Maybe you should jump on Dave Price and see if he's still got a spare seat."
So I did, but that didn't work out so well:
"Oi! What the hell are you up to!" yelled the surprised team boss as Alfonso walk past, sniggering. "I bet he put you up to this, didn't he! Tell him I've signed Soucek, so you're out of luck." Taking the hint I slunk off to the pitlane, stopping briefly to use the handy spittoon I found in one of the garages.
But if there was one thing I learned from my last visit to the paddock it is to start at the top, and that meant there was only one target for that morning: ART. "Hello Mr Todt," I began, nervously. "I was wondering if there was any chance of getting a drive with your team…"
"I'm sorry Jujube, but both of my cars have been full for a while now. The only chance of a vacancy would be if something happened to either of the drivers." I thanked him for his time and wandered away, but he'd given me something to think about. Sitting near to the ART garage, I waited for the first of the drivers to turn up.
"You can stare at me all you want Jujube, but I'm not going anywhere," Lucas di Grassi stated from his cockpit. "I can sit here all weekend if I have to. You'd be better off trying to sneak into someone else's car."
So I wandered off down the pitlane to see if there were any other cars left untended, but it seems that word had got around, and the other drivers were guarding their cars carefully.
I realised that the best thing I could do was to make friends with the drivers and try to appeal to their consciences. It was educational too: I managed to get a few tips about the cars from Kazuki Nakajima while we watched the F1 practice sessions.
Luca Filippi was great too: he told me about the benefits of relaxation and exercise, and even gave me a massage to show me how important it can be before a session.
Sakon Yamamoto helped me out a lot too: he let me sit in on his engineers meeting to get a few pointers.
All of this information was great, but I needed to get away and think about it while keeping an eye on the paddock just in case something came up suddenly. Luckily photographer Andrew Ferraro was in the pitlane: he gave me the best seat in the house.
And then, all of a sudden, I knew what I had to do. No one has as much local knowledge of the track as I do, and I was determined to put it to good use. I decided to go around to the various teams and help them out with their set ups at this notoriously tricky circuit: the team bosses would be thrilled, and it wouldn't be long before they offered me a drive just to get more of my technical feedback.
The other benefit was that I could confuse the drivers: if they didn't go well in free practice then I would be certain to take over their seat for the rest of the weekend!
"Are you sure about this Jujube?" Nicolas Lapierre asked me. "I was told you turn right in the pitlane here…"
Meanwhile I was able to brush up on the specifics of the GP2 car with Didier Perrin: who could be better to learn the ins and outs of this car from? He even loaned me his glasses so I could get a better look at the secret telemetry traces he has on his computer from every car.
I also figured it could hurt to keep targeting the ART drive.
"Get off me Jujube! Jumping off the door frame and trying to scare me into giving you my seat just won't work!"
I also kept in with the Piquet Minardi crew: I think they really liked my personality and abilities, and I regaled them with stories of my past adventures in Bahrain: "So I said no problem Ernesto; you've got to get an early night because you've got a race tomorrow, so you take off and I'll make sure your girlfriend has a nice time tonight. Maybe I'll take her to a knitting club I know up in Manama…"
And when I was in their garage I bumped into an old friend who I hadn't seen in a while. Nelson and I had a great time catching up: it seemed like only yesterday that we were last hanging out together.
But finally, success! After impressing the FMS engineers, Paolo Coloni decided he would give me a chance in one of his cars.
"And down here we have the secret button, but you can't tell anyone about it: that's the boost button, but you have to be careful not to hit it at the wrong time, or else you might accidentally run up the back of someone when the safety car is out, or something like that."
I was overjoyed, and a few minutes later the photographers were buzzing around to get a shot of me with my new team boss.
I felt great, and it was so exciting to be at the drivers' autograph session. I sat there at the table with my competitors signing race posters, and it was such a proud moment when the commentator said "come and get autographs from top young drivers Kazuki Nakajima, Mike Conway, Andi Zuber and, of course, hot young local driver Jujube!"
And then there was the obligatory schmoozing with celebrities, in this case launch party DJ sensations Guy Hornsby and Gary Holden. Oh, and GP2 communications manager Will Buxton wanted to bask in my reflected glory as well.
I should have seen the signs though: looking back there were some subtle little hints on the car that maybe my car might not be mine after all:
And so it proved: Antonio Pizzonia got my seat after all. I tried to squeeze into one of the cars on the grid, but I knew there was no chance.
"That's twice you've failed to get a drive here, isn't it?" Heikki Kovalainen told me, trying hard not to laugh. "Maybe you need a better manager."
"You're right!" I stated, and as the engines fired up on the grid I knew what to do.
"Hello Bernie? You know how you've been looking for a local driver for F1? I think I might be the answer to your prayers."
"Right, get over here now," he spat back. "There's a pass waiting for you at the gate."
This was a bigger chance than I could have ever dreamed of! I was straight out the gate, stopping only to leave two little messages before I left. "