Jade continues her series of diaries from Montreal for F1 Badger.  Today she met her hero, had a good natter with Virgin Racing who proved themselves to be the friendliest of all Formula One teams….

Well. Where on Earth do I start? Friday was a crazy, crazy day, and I don’t mean for ontrack action. Brace yourself for a bumper blog entry…

I arrived a little later than intended, wending my way from the metro station, across the bridge and through Parc Jean Drapeau to head towards my seat at Virage Senna and then proceeded to go the wrong way to collect my Kangaroo TV, only realizing my mistake on reaching my grandstand and seeing no kiosk anywhere. It’s invaluable at the track, particularly where commentary and data is concerned, so I doubled back, collected it and got back to my seat about halfway through the first practice session.

FRIDAY PRACTICE

Practice one and two were mostly quiet, perhaps unexpectedly so given how many drivers were entirely new to the circuit. From my position alongside the exit of the pitlane I could see cars arrive at turn one and slowly sweep around turn two. Incidents there were minor; Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Vitaly Petrov all cut across turn two during first practice on a very greasy track, while Robert Kubica did the same early on in second practice. It was a good place not only to see the track rubber in, but to see how the teams develop and adjust their setup over the course of the day – and which teams did it the best!

The Historic Grand Prix cars were a sight to behold. I left the grandstand and watched their practice session from the fence, getting some really good close up views as the cars rounded the turn. Amongst them were two Gilles Villeneuve Ferraris, the 1979 312T-4 and the 1980 312B2, which naturally got the biggest reception from the crowd. Some of the helmets were familiar as well as the cars; from standing by the fence I could see helmet designs that hearkened back to those of Ronnie Peterson, Nigel Mansell, James Hunt and Tom Pryce.

There was a sizeable gap of an hour and a half between the Historic Grand Prix practice and the second Formula One practice session, during which videos were shown on the big screens of the drivers expressing their pleasure at returning to Montreal. The universal feeling seems to be that not only is the circuit an enjoyable one to race on, but the fans and city in general are very likable and welcoming, making for a great package. Hearing Fernando Alonso speak French with a distinctly Spanish accent was a curious thing…

THE MESSAGE – THE GOLDEN TICKET

After the second practice session came the message I’d been waiting for from Virgin Racing: “Shall I meet you at the end of the paddock? I’ve got the pass in my pocket…”

Okay, to backtrack a little, not long after Badger asked if I fancied blogging my Canadian Grand Prix trip, I was contacted through Twitter by Virgin Racing about possibly having a garage tour in Montreal. I jumped at the chance, as any sane Formula One fan would, and over the course of Friday the “possibly” slowly became a “definitely”. The man behind Virgin Racing’s Twitter account, Geoff, met me at the fence by my grandstand and handed me the Golden Ticket – the VIP pass!

From there we walked all the way down into the paddock, and the further we walked the more surreal it became; the faces you see on television so many times each race weekend just going about their business around their respective garages, real blink-and-you’ll-miss-someone stuff. Once at Virgin Racing’s little corner of the paddock – and I do mean little, the paddock in Montreal is cramped – Geoff showed me around the garage as the mechanics worked on the cars, seeing stacks upon stacks of tyres, bits of car stripped bare, an exposed Cosworth engine, headrests with different density foam fillings, Timo Glock’s three helmets, and labelled racks of headphones – rather like the coat hook you’d get in primary school with your name above it!

I was introduced to several members of the Virgin Racing team, and we talked about the increased openness and interaction with fans that Twitter offers. Other teams give mid-session updates and answer occasional questions, which is still much more than fans have had in previous years so no disrespect meant to those teams, but Virgin Racing in particular really chat with the fans. The fact that it’s through Twitter means it’s much more open and easier to maintain than it would be if it was simply through official fan club communities, and few teams have embraced the service to this extent yet, which is a shame.

MEETING FELIPE

Because of Virgin Racing, Twitter and Badger, I was able to have this amazing experience. I got to chat with Luiz Razia about the ups and downs of being a test driver, I got to sit and make notes for this very blog post in the middle of the paddock whilst eating a free cupcake! On top of all that, I was able to do something I never really thought I’d get the chance to do.

Geoff encouraged me to head down to Ferrari and try to get Felipe Massa’s autograph, and I ended up approaching Felipe’s parents and showing them a ‘get well soon’ drawing I had done after Felipe had had his accident in Hungary last year. Ana Massa, Felipe’s mum, explained that he was still doing his debrief, and that if I came back later she would make sure he saw me. I thanked her profusely and a while later I came back and waited outside Ferrari for Felipe to emerge. Minutes ticked by, I went over what I’d planned to say in my head – if I don’t plan I sound like a bit of an idiot – and eventually Felipe emerged. True to her word, Ana pointed him towards me and I was able to explain the drawing to him and asked him if he could sign it. As you can see in the photos below, he did a little bit more than that.

In the next diary entry I’ll cover the end of Friday and Saturday – I think this has gotten quite long enough!

Thanks to Virgin Racing for being so spiffingly brilliant and making our correspondent’s trip so much more exciting – good luck in the race today!

Read Jade’s previous diaries here: Canadian GP Diary