Badger’s resident F1 cartoonist, Rob Cureton made it to his first race at the weekend, so to celebrate this, he had a rather special start to the weekend – spending a day with the Lotus F1 Team and lunch with Charles Pic…
It’s the Friday of the British Grand Prix weekend and for once, the sun is shining over Silverstone. This afternoon, I will be spending some time with Lotus as a guest of official team partner Sure, the UK’s best-selling male anti-perspirant and spray of choice in this corner of The Sett. Not bad for my first time at a Grand Prix weekend!
I was greeted in the Lotus motorhome by Francois Puentes, the team’s Head of Partnership Management and our host for the day. After introductions, we were off on a tour of Lotus’ facilities. We first headed to the aptly named Race Base. Here we saw all the tyres for the weekend, prepped, heated and ready to be bolted on. Next to this was a small office filled with computers for the all-important link between the track and Enstone, Lotus’ factory. Around the back of the Race Base is the spare parts store, containing all the parts needed for the weekend. Responsible for all the parts is just one man, currently very busy due to an earlier engine failure in FP1.
Next up is the garage. For most teams, this is a highly secretive place, but Lotus takes great pride in opening up this usually off-limits area to the public (well, Paddock Club ticket holders while under strict supervision of course). Busy at work were three engineers working on separating Pastor’s failed engine from the gearbox and it was nice to see that in the high tech age of modern Formula One, there is still room for the old “hit it really hard with a hammer” technique.
I was surprised just how much access I was given behind the scenes, viewing telemetry screens, a stack of car floors and even handling and engine cover. The garage was busy with much preparation to do for the start of FP2 so we ducked out of the way and headed for lunch.
Back in the motorhome, we took our seats and were joined by reserve driver, Charles Pic. Lunch was ordered (swordfish and prawn skewers for me, gnocchi for Charles and Francois) and we get to chatting. Charles gives us a run-down of his duties over a weekend as reserve driver, following the same routine as regular drivers, Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado, even if not taking part in the weekend. A frustrating task but the young Frenchman is learning lots from being part of a bigger team having spent the last two years with Marussia and Caterham.
“We compromise on a lot of things for budget reasons but not food” says Francois as the food arrives “We believe we have the best chef in the paddock.” A bold claim but one I find out is justified as I tuck in. Charles agrees. “When you eat here it is fine because they bring you the portions, but on the other side, on the team side, you have the buffet. So then this is very tricky because you can take, you know, two huge plates.”
I was surprised to learn that as one of the smaller drivers in the paddock, Charles still had to lose some weight at the beginning of the year to fit in with the new weight requirements. I assume he’ll be sticking to just the one plate from now on.
Throughout lunch, there are a steady stream of team members coming past to say hello to Charles and Francois, including Team Manager, Paul Seaby and Deputy Team Principal, Federico Gastaldi. There’s a very family atmosphere about the team and the majority of people Francois points out to me have been with the team for a very long time. As Francois explains, “I spend more time with these guys than I do my own family.”
FP2 is about to begin so we head back to the garage, put on some cans and listen to the team radio as the cars are fired up (Yes, Pastor’s engine has been replaced in time, phew!) In between the usual indechipherable, encoded team babble, an engineer regularly chimes in to translate for myself and the rest of the guests what we’re hearing. It’s again fantastic to see how open Lotus are with their guests and I really felt like a member of the team throughout the session.
Once both of the cars are out on race sims, Francois ushers me through the garage to stand out front in the pitlane to see the action from there. Unfortunately, due to the nature of Silverstone’s pitlane, there was not much to see on track from here. That said, it was worth it alone for the experience of having Jenson Button coming at the you at 80kmh for a quick change of rubber. And as for the noise, the turbo-charged V6s sounded incredible. Much better than the ear-splitting scream of the GP2 racers I’d seen earlier.
With sixty-eight laps in the bag Friday practice was over and with it, my time with Lotus. As I was gathering my things and getting ready to leave the paddock, the work was just beginning in the garage, prepping the car for the next day’s running. However, before I left, there was one last thing left for me to do. After all, experiences like this don’t come for free… and it polished off a great day in F1.