A grand prix fan and BadgerGP fan (and Rob Smedley stalker) Jade Gallagher visited Circuit de Catalunya for the Barcelona test in February – here’s her ‘postcard’ from the time spent there with friends, proving just how much fun testing really is…
Landing at Barcelona airport last Thursday to the sight of weather very similar to what I’d left behind in the UK had me briefly wondering if sitting in a cold grandstand for four days whilst fast cars intermittently passed by was such a fantastic idea – fortunately it latter proved that it was!
After the hour or so train journey from the airport, Suzie, Ann and I arrived at our hotel in the middle of Montmeló, less than a thirty minute walk from the circuit, close enough to hear the cars blasting around the track from our room if the wind was blowing in the right direction and theoretically the best place to stay for the duration of the test. Montmeló itself is very quiet in February, with none of the bunting, banners and market stalls lining the streets that can be found there during the Grand Prix weekend. We occupied an amusingly named bar for the night, chatting endlessly about F1 and peering at the motorsport merchandise arranged on the walls until bedtime approached…
Mildly hungover and bewildered by the sight of The Fly being shown on Spanish television at 8.30am, we made our way to the circuit for the first day of testing. Tickets were a fraction of the price of a ticket to the Grand Prix; they ranged from ten to fifteen Euros dependent on the day, and fifty Euros for all four days, and included access to most of the grandstands, including the main one standing opposite the pits, and the general admission areas.
With us, ready to be unleashed upon the world, was our BEARDWATCH banner, ‘beardwatch’ being the official Twitter-based monitoring of facial hair cultivation and styling amongst F1 drivers. Being daft enough to not have brought anything to attach it to the grandstand with – the banner making was a bit, erm, last minute – meant a relatively short time on display on Friday and a trip to a hardware store that evening for some Spanish sticky tape!
Come Saturday we received the brilliant news that, with the help of the boss of his official fanclub and his camera, Nick Heidfeld had seen and been amused by the BEARDWATCH banner, calling us ‘crazy girls’! Of course, with Nick being the most thoroughly, magnificently bearded driver in F1, this was high praise indeed. Perhaps one day we can get him to sign it…
The weekend also brought confirmation that the lack of a competitive element to the on-track action did little to dampen the atmosphere, especially as Saturday featured Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari. We learned that ‘Alonsomania’ is an extremely appropriate term when the crowds gathered directly opposite the Ferrari pits are more akin to what you’d see on a Grand Prix weekend, prolonged chants of ‘Alooooonso, Aloooooonso’ rise up during the intermittent silences and a mere wave from the man himself sends the fans into hysteria.
A few texts from Geoff at Virgin, responsible for my fantastic visit to the paddock in Canada last year, and Suzie and I were being handed VIP paddock passes to watch the Marussia Virgin team up close in testing mode, seeing Timo Glock gesture away in the cockpit of his MVR-02 as he spoke to his engineers, mechanics adjusted the car and added fuel, as well as meeting engineering director Nikolai Fomenko. Later, standing at the end of the pitlane, we got to watch the cars return to the track as the green flag flew again.
After handing our passes back and saying goodbye to Geoff, we wandered around the paddock for a bit. It being a test, none of the teams brought their full-sized motorhomes, many teams making do with marquees – Force India and Virgin even sharing one marquee between them! We got to see a set of gravel-marked tyres being looked over by Pirelli technicians, presumably those from Paul di Resta’s recent red flag-causing Force India, and loiter with intent outside Ferrari’s shoebox-with-Venetian-blinds cafeteria. Despite being passed by Spanish guards bedecked with batons and pistols, we weren’t thrown out, even spotting and catching Rob Smedley for autographs – not to mention being useful enough to actually carry a pen!
By Sunday, with the absence of Alonso, the crowd numbers had decreased and the atmosphere wasn’t exactly buzzing, but it was good to see just how many fans had stuck around for another day of testing. Once the Alonso banners had been taken down, the BEARDWATCH banner was taped up opposite the Ferrari pits, not least because Alonso had been the source of a lot of BEARDWATCH fun over the winter.
For the majority of our time at the track, we stayed somewhere in the main grandstand; for me personally it was most interesting to watch members of various teams interact, or as best as we could with the presence of those pesky garage screens. While it’s fair enough that teams want to preserve their latest secrets for as long as they possibly can, giving the fans little to see when the cars were in the garages beyond the tops of team members’ heads was rather disappointing.
In a similar vein it was a shame that, for whatever reason, Circuit de Catalunya didn’t make use of the “la Caixa” sign at the end of the pitlane; foreign fans had next to no idea of the driver order each day, given that the circuit announcer understandably spoke Spanish most of the time. Twitter became invaluable in terms of finding out not only driver order, but laptimes and the causes of red flags as they occurred. There seemed to be few amenities open around the majority of the circuit; merchandise stalls and refreshment tents had been erected behind the main grandstand, alongside a small go-kart track and the circuit-specific merchandise shop, but walking from Seat to Campsa turned up only empty ice cream stands and locked bathroom blocks.
With all that being said, I didn’t feel that the experience was lessened by a ‘quieter’ circuit. In a way, it felt a bit more special – the fewer fans, the chill winter wind, the music of Lady Gaga or The Offspring blasting from the PA during quieter moments, getting a wave from Felipe Massa after hollering at him (nicely) on Monday, the general feeling that, on hearing English speakers, you were amongst real fanatics. Exclusivity is a thing that F1 seems to strive for, but giving passionate fans affordable access to F1 teams and cars as they are tested and developed is a great twist on that idea – if you’re a big enough F1 fan, and you’ve got a few mates who are also F1 fans, take yourselves down to one of next year’s test sessions. And wrap up warm!
Brought to you by: hand shandies, meringue milk, Quim beer, Middlesbroughshire, “Hold it tight, there’s a good girl”, Boullier = Robotnik, the Nick boob, “Is he short or is there something wrong with him?”, Fernando’s Bad Romance, outing drivers, the Bobby K train, the dog gauntlet, €1.75 wine, “Muhmuhluh”, crisps and ham.
Extended Postcard Gallery from @LookingSpiffy‘s trip to testing: