50 shades of rain


It's a wonder no one drowned

So I got up this morning, rubbed my eyes and open the blinds wide to help me wake up properly, and peered out at the low hanging rain on the other side of the window. The place we stay at near Stavelot is lovely when the sun is out, but unfortunately we're in Belgium, so it never is. The trees all round hold the rain close, the clouds seemingly at head level. It's beautiful, if you're of a mind to appreciate it for what it is, for the gauze it drapes across the landscape.

I've got a specific Spa outfit that I first put together quite a few years ago: a thick shirt and thin jumper, with some waterproof jeans lined with flannel are the base layers, with strong walking socks under neoprene boots, and a thick waterproof jacket along with a baseball cap to keep my head warm. The boots are the most important bit, to keep your feet dry despite the constant running water in the paddock.

We're on a slope here, around the first corner and on the run down the hill in the old pits: they're atmospheric, but anything you drop floats downstream to whatever team draws the short straw and ends up in the bottom pit. Assuming it rains, that is.

And it's Spa. Of course it will rain.

Rain is a constant at Spa: I have never been here when it hasn't rained. Another constant is Alexa complaining about wet feet at Spa. And everyone complaining about the cold. And every driver hiding in their truck unless they actually have to be on track. Along with their teams.

Hospitality is a ghost town here: we could probably make do with a Portakabin. And if we did, I'm not sure anyone but the catering crew and GP2 staff would notice.

We drove through the grey, atmospheric fields of southern Belgium, stopping just to pick up some pain au chocolat to keep Didier quiet for the morning, and pulled our hoods close as we walked into the paddock. There was none of the usual greetings and banter, because the only people to be found in the paddock were the local marshals getting an early beer at the bar to set them up for the day.

We opened our computers and hit the espresso machine for the first of many visits as the rain picked up outside: I thought I saw Julian Leal running over, but it was actually one of the Trident engineers looking for a coffee too. And we sat down and waited for free practice to come.

When the rain was finally heavy enough, it was time to head up to the pitlane: Marcus Ericsson waved as he ran from his truck in the lower half of the paddock up to the iSport pits in the top half, and we hugged our coats closer to us as we trudged up the hill through the gloom.

The pitlane is a bit of a ghost town before the session: obviously the F1 teams aren't hanging around, considering the weather, but with our drivers having to do a full lap of the long, undulating circuit we have the place to ourselves for a few minutes before the noise arrives, along with more rain.

Free practice in the rain is a fraught affair: you want to push enough to get a sense of what your car will take in the conditions, but not so much that you tip over the edge into a crash. There were drivers running wide all through the session, particularly in the complex at the end of the top straight, but mostly the barriers at Spa are far enough back that you can get away with it.

Mostly. Johnny Cecotto ran slightly wide into Pouhon, lost the back a little over the kerbs, and then a lot when he aquaplaned backwards into the wall, removing most of the back end of the car. It brought out the red flags, with 3 minutes to go, and the Addax mechanics groaned at the rush job ahead of them to get the Venezuelan into qualifying.

Back in hospitality, the usual lunch lines were muted, with the teams waiting for a break in the clouds that never came to sneak across from the pits to eat. I thought I saw Jolyon Palmer sitting at one of the tables, but it turned out to be a guy in a blue hoodie. Outside the F1 teams sat out their practice session, and we ate in peace. I chatted with someone's dad for a few minutes, and he mentioned that every day in July had been as wet as today around here.

Soon the rain picked up again, and it was time for qualifying. The teams sheltered in their pits as we slunk back up the hill again, with the session delayed for 15 minutes to wait for the conditions to calm down a little.

"Who's on pole?" Al asked when he came back, soaking wet after standing at Eau Rouge for the session and not having access to the times. "Rio? Fantastic: he looked really fast today. And I like him too: he's really..."

"Pretty?"

"Yes. He photographs well!"

We saw most of the drivers on the back of scooters as they made their way back to the main pits after the session - they had to drive the cars back to our pits, then head back up top for the weigh in - and then Rio and the Lotus boys actually came to hospitality for the press conference. They had to speak up so they could be heard over the sound of the rain on the canvas roof.

I was going to go for my usual run, but the rain picked up just as it was time to go, killing that idea off. Dinner instead, and the presentation of a birthday cake for Ludovic from the catering crew, leaving me just enough time to put together a blog.

And now that it's done and it's dark outside, I'm hoping to head back for a quick beer at the hotel. Hopefully the rain will ease up soon, so we can dash back across to the car park without getting too wet.

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