Getting to F1 testing can be a fun experience and, in some ways, can be better than attending a race itself. One of Badger’s fans, Sarah Merritt, was lucky enough to head to Spain for the very first glimpses at what we can expect for 2015. Here she shares her experience of her time in Jerez, as well as some great tips on what to look out for!
Hello, I’m Sarah (AKA @Sareyware), and yes, I am a “Bobblehat”. Perhaps you’ve not heard that term before? Well, that is how we fans are affectionately referred to by the guys and gals at the teams we support. I’m actually quite a fan of the term, although I’m more likely to don a team cap myself!
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to quite a few European circuits for both testing and race weekends over the last few years. It’s fair to say I’ve caught the bug, and whatever opportunities are afforded to me, I like to share the experience through photos and tweets to my friends and followers.
This month I travelled to Jerez to get a taste of the first 2015 F1 test. I flew in to Seville, which is well serviced by low cost airlines from the UK. It’s about an hour away from Jerez itself, which does have its own airport, but there are few direct flights, with those I knew who flew into Jerez having flown in via Madrid. Another option is to fly into Gibraltar, but this is a bit further away than Seville.
The Jerez circuit itself is about six miles outside of the city, but I didn’t see much evidence of a regular public transport link to make that journey, so would recommend a taxi for this short distance. I stayed in a city centre hotel that was housed in restored wine cellars, and was very well placed to go for having a walk around. Prior to setting off, people who had visited before had told me what a lovely place Jerez was, and I can confirm it is as the guide books depict; picturesque roads lined with orange trees (Orange fact: once harvested, these bitter oranges are used for marmalade, liqueurs, and the peel to make gunpowder!).
The pedestrian area of the city consisted of narrow streets and many bars/restaurants with tables outside, serving reasonably priced and great tasting tapas and paella. It’s a good place to socialise with your F1 travelling companions.
A few facts about the circuit itself; a lap of the Circuito de Jerez covers 13 turns over a distance of 4.428km, and the lap record of 1min 23.135 is held by Heinz Harald-Frentzen, set in 1997 in his Williams FW19. The circuit opened in 1985, and hosted the Spanish Grand Prix from 1986-1991, with a break until 1994, and then again until the European Grand Prix in 1997. As well as being used for F1 testing it also hosts the Moto GP race, among many other motorsport events.
Upon arrival at the circuit on Sunday we were greeted by car chaos at the main entrance, and it soon became apparent that as it was a Sunday many local people had come along with their families. The grandstands were very full on Day One (less so on the following days) and as you might expect there were many banners referring to Fernando Alonso. Despite the McLaren only having limited running that day, there were rounds of applause and clearly audible cheers around the circuit as the MP4-30 passed by each grandstand. This made for a great atmosphere.
Testing is a much more reasonably priced way to catch a glimpse of an F1 car than at a race weekend itself. Entry prices to the circuit were 15 Euros a day for general access and certain grandstands, and 25 Euros for the main grandstand opposite the pits and the area on the inside of turns 1, 2 and 3, where I’ve been told there were great opportunities for close-up photos.
I was lucky enough to be given access to the paddock, which was a real treat as my previous visits to that area have only been during pack-up/after running, and a bit of a bobblehat’s dream!
The testing paddock was a much simpler back-drop to that which you might see at races. The teams did not have the full complement of ostentatious hospitality units in place, with no McLaren Brand Centre, and no Red Bull Energy Station. That said, there were still a lot of branded trucks, many with marquees attached to the side for use as hospitality, and a quite a few trucks combined to make engineering offices and areas to store/wash the tyres adjacent to the garages.
Regular hot beverages were an essential part of the day, as I needed to warm my frozen hands so that I didn’t drop my iPhone! So here’s my run down on the best of the bunch;
• The best coffee? Most definitely from Williams.
• The best tea, biscuits and banter came from the cheery bunch at Lotus.
• The best toast and jam was at McLaren, and they do get bonus points for having packets of chewing gum in a jar on the side to keep the team minty fresh!
I felt really privileged to wander about and see the teams going about their tasks, and seeing drivers walking around freely. It was nice to chat to everybody from the guys on security at the back of the garages to the senior team members. Hopefully my enthusiastic “Hello!” might have given a boost to some of the guys I saw who’d done a day shift and were then working into the night, reaffirming that we should never forget how hard the teams work to achieve their goals.
Something that has always been on my bucket list was to meet Niki Lauda, so when I saw him walking along with Toto Wolff (on crutches!) I took my opportunity to ask for a photo. Best selfie ever perhaps? I was also lucky enough to meet Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, and the boss, Ron Dennis, amongst others.
Over the weekend I found some great vantage points from which to watch, and photograph, the cars on track. My favourite of these was on the roof of the main pit building, above the garages, media centre and boxes. From here I could watch the cars leaving their garages and progressing up the pit lane, and also see some doing practice starts before joining the track alongside the unique “UFO “ style building that protrudes out over the main straight. I was also then able to get some good photos as the cars returned in after their runs, and were pushed back into the garage by their teams, as well as watching pit boards detailing the run information to the driver.
This turned out to be the perfect place to be on Day Two when the Lotus E23, driven by Pastor Maldonado, left the garage for the first time. The car had arrived late on Day One and the team then worked through the night to get it built and ready. Technically I saw a car actually “being born” as it emerged!
Initial thoughts were that, from above, the Mercedes looked glued to the track, and it then went on to put in some impressive long distance runs, although later days in the test they were not without teething problems. The easiest cars to immediately spot on track were always the Ferrari, and of course, now the Sauber with its new blue/yellow livery. I was lucky to have an opportunity to see the Williams, Ferrari and Red Bull up close from the pit lane, and I have to say the “Camo Bull” livery of the RB11 is extremely hallucinogenic up close!
Late in the day after running completes, the teams have timed media commitments set up for the drivers, and it was easy to catch a glimpse of these outside the back of each garage. Highlights include seeing Nico Rosberg interviewed on Day One, and seeing Lewis Hamilton in the same spot on Day Two, as well as seeing the BBC’s Tom Clarkson interviewing Jenson Button at the back of the McLaren Garage. Craig Slater and, of course, Ted Kravitz (complete with his notebook) were frequently to be seen throughout the day as they did live links to Sky Sports News, and recorded for the evening round-up shows on Sky F1.
So, in conclusion, here are my top tips for a visit to Jerez for F1 Winter testing;
• There are a few concessions open for snacks (I didn’t see any ATMs so make sure you have cash for these) but not as many as you’d see at an F1 circuit on a race weekend, so have a few things to eat in with you. You might find a great spot and not want to move! There is also a cafe bar under Grandstand X1 at the rear of the circuit. This had a terrace that overlooked the track, but a big queue as there were limited tables, so maybe try to visit off–peak. It also had some t-shirts and circuit souvenirs, so be sure to grab a Jerez circuit shaped keyring for your F1 tat collection!
• Wrap up warm and bring some gloves. It was sunny and bright in Jerez, but still cold in the shade and when the wind blew, especially in the big concrete stands as they are cold to sit in. We even had rain on Day Two, which I’m told is unheard of, so it might pay to have an umbrella in your bag too.
• Bring a battery charge pack for your phone/camera. You’ll snap away, tweet a few times, and realise you are low on juice. It’s an essential!
• Bring a Sharpie pen, and something to get scribbled on. Although I was lucky enough to be in the paddock, the drivers seemed more relaxed than on a race weekend, and did stop at the gate to sign for the groups of fans. Be ready just in case!
See you at a race sometime!