Saturday started like so many others before it: waiting for drivers to arrive for the signing session, this time Pastor Maldonado. We waited for as long as we could, but with the session to be filmed by FOM for later use we eventually had to leave without him. Besides, the crowds are smaller if the F1 guys are on track, for some reason: apparently our support event is quite popular...
We took off, a motley convoy of scooters and Sergio Perez's quad bike, and when we got outside the circuit we saw Pastor coming the other way in a car. Of course. But given the distance to cover we had to keep going, through the car park and across the abandoned foundations of a number of long dead buildings, kicking up dust as we zigzagged across the vast area.
When we arrived at the fans zone the quad bike was nowhere to be seen for ages, until Sergio eventually came around the corner: there was a gap that we could easily get through on the scooters, but it was too small for the quad bike. “We had to go up on two wheels and crawl through, and then a bunch of fans saw us and came over and took some of the posters from the front.”
“Oh well, at least we're not in a hurry on the way back,” I smirked, “so we can take the slow route...”
The fans rushed forward as the guys walked out front at the Bridgestone stand, but one girl looked disappointed: “Is Pastor still coming? I was hoping to get this signed...” She held out a good photo of the Venezuelan, and just as we were explaining that we could take it back to the paddock to get it signed Pastor rushed in, having clearly run the last part of the trip, and she beamed as he came over to say hello.
Afterwards we had to get back to hold the next of our now semi regular teammate interviews, this time with Kamui Kobayashi and Jérôme d'Ambrosio. The easy going Belgian lost his usual cool, however, when he heard about the photos Alexa wanted to go with the piece:
“In our race suits? Are you joking?”
“Jérôme,” she calmly replied, “you know I never joke.”
“But, but, it's Valencia!” was all he could splutter in reply. Alastair was soon smoothing things over, taking the shots as quickly as possible so that the guys could strip back down a minute later.
We had a lot of fun with them though, and hope to get it on the site soon, so you too can discover how much French Kamui can speak after four years in Paris, which driver is a master chef, and why they are unlikely to bring their pets to Spa...
But all of our running around in the sun all day – we also had to take Nico Hülkenberg halfway around the track for a photo shoot, with Alexa and I making Nico laugh as we compared him to Zoolander while Alastair snapped away – left us less than excited by the marathon hike to the paddock, especially as everyone had already left while we waited for Alexa's race notes programme to fire up.
Luckily a young local guy offered us a lift: he was clearly excited about getting as close to the pitlane as possible, which suited us, and we waved contently to the sweating masses from the paddock as they watched enviously while we sailed serenely past.
On the grid there were lots of unusual sights to behold. José Guedes, co-owner of Ocean Racing, stopped us as we walked down the grid and said: “I don't know who to tell, but there seems to be a bit of a weird looking grid girl over there...” Sure enough, standing in front of Karun's grid spot was the only grid boy, much to Alexa's delight: “Fantastic! I thought they forgot to bring the boys this year!” she laughed at the team owner's disapproval.
There was another grid boy of sorts at the front of the field: Michael Schumacher was standing in front of Nico's car with their mutual manager Willy Weber, chatting away happily behind his reflective sunglasses.
One brave photographer among the hordes decided to ask the question that all the others wanted answered, namely would he mind ever so much please sir if he went over to shake hands with Nico to wish him luck. Schumacher scowled, not wanting to jinx anything or overshadow his countryman's day, and merely called out “good luck” before heading back to the pits.
Richard Selwin wouldn't have minded the attention: sitting at the back of the grid after Giedo brushed the wall in qualifying and brought his session to an early end, the English engineer could have used the distraction. “Schumacher's here, is he? I didn't know: you can't really see much from back here! Tell him he's welcome to visit us if he likes...”
Given his comments, I guess he couldn't be too upset that his driver jumped the start...
At the end of a tense race it was Vitaly Petrov back on top, claiming a remarkable third win in the city after claiming last year's race one on the new circuit, as well as the same race at the old circuit. But the team weren't about to jinx anything, as mechanic Daniel Lluch explained afterwards:
“No, we don't bring the Spanish flag that we used to wave at the end of the race any more: since Monaco we decided it was unlucky, so the mechanics won't let us put it in the truck! I'm not even sure if it exists anymore: the guys are maybe a little bit superstitious...”
And the result will clearly be vindication for the boys, so don't expect to see it again any time soon. But the love that the team show for their de facto team leader is clearly returned: most of the drivers will point to the team's name on the car when they return to the pits, but Vitaly is probably the first driver to take off his gloves on the slow down lap (well, it was very hot) and caress the team's logo while he drove back to them.