Badger fan and resident Bobblehat Sarah Merritt. aka @SareyWare, has spent this season sharing with us her trips to all things F1, and she now brings us her experience at this season’s Spanish Grand Prix!

Well I’m finally back from Barcelona, and ready to share my trip with you all in the hope it gives you inspiration to go there yourself! Last week, it was time for me to make use of my annual Circuit de Catalunya pass once again, but this time it was for the main reason I bought it – to attend the Spanish Grand Prix. As with many of the destinations on the F1 calendar, there are opportunities to see more than just the race, and this time, I flew out with my husband a few days early for some beach time and relaxing. I did still manage to sneak in a few F1 related things though, as you will see….!

We had rented an apartment in Barceloneta, a district consisting of narrow streets, edged on one side by the marina of Port Vell, and by the beach on the other. This made for a great base, just a 15 minute stroll from Las Ramblas, and I’d highly recommend. Upon arrival, I looked out from the balcony to see many Catalunya flags hanging from the apartments around us, so I felt it only right to hang the #BelieveInMclaren banner with them!

We did a few of the typically tourist things – some of which I’d done before as I’ve been to Barcelona quite a few times now, but then there are some that are compulsory! We drank sangria in a square with paella and tapas, laid on the beach, visited the market (which is a treat for the senses!), and I had a caricature from one of the resident artists, as well as a cocktail at the top of the W Hotel.

On our travels around the city, we saw plenty of evidence that the F1 circus was in town. The Circuit de Catalunya were running a selfie competition with the hashtag #F1CircuitCat25 to celebrate the 25th Grand Prix being held there, and there were teams cars displayed on posters at various points around the city to pose with. Most of the bus stops had adverts on them, and there were chequered flags outside the shops, as well as a Martini pop-up bar advertised that was constructed down by the port.

One afternoon, we decided to take in the sights on one of the city’s many tourist bus routes, and I picked the one that stopped off at the Olympic Stadium, with other thoughts in mind! This was of course the site of the old Montjuic Street Circuit, which was last raced on as part of the F1 calendar in 1975, a race which as we know ended in tragic circumstances when Ralf Stommelen’s car crashed, not contained by poor barriers, resulting in the death of five spectators. It was also a race where, topically at the moment, a female F1 driver scored 0.5 championship points when the race was halted at half distance. Her name was Lella Lombardi, and she remains the sole female F1 driver to do so. Were she still alive today, I wonder what she would make of Bernie’s suggested separate category?

We took a walk down from the stadium along the main straight to turn 1, a hairpin with a large gradient change as the course runs downhill, snaking towards turns two and three, and the monument to the circuit showing the race winners, but sadly no memorial to those who lost their lives.

On the Wednesday, my hubby flew home, and my F1 buddies started arriving. I moved to a hotel near the circuit, and picked up a hire car. Some people prefer to stay in the city and get a train to the circuit, or stay down on the coast and drive. I’ve done all options over the past few years, but for this year, we decided to stay in a hotel in Granollers.

On Thursday, the Circuit de Catalunya always hold a public pit walk. In the past this has been two separate ones, morning and afternoon, but this year, a longer afternoon pit walk was scheduled. There is always quite a crowd, so we advise getting there quite early and making “base camp” in the queue, then one of the party can go off for drinks and ice creams whilst the others stay put. Once the gates open, there is a mad rush to cross the track, head up the pit lane, and get to the front at your particular team’s garage to have the opportunity to meet your driver, get an autograph, or even a selfie!

You can observe the work in the garages, watch a pit stop practice, check out the team “prat perches” on the pit wall, see the safety car, the podium and watch TV presenters at work – it is fascinating! As you leave, you cross the track for that all important “I’m on the pit straight” photo!

On Thursday evening, we headed into the city as there was a Tag Heuer event that all of the media were tweeting about – the culmination of the #DontCrackUnderPressure campaign from these previous few days. Fernando was due to appear on stage with a hologram of Ayrton Senna, to coincide with a film that McLaren had made earlier in the year of the iconic MP4-4 on track alongside the current car, the MP4-30. I hung around outside with high hopes of seeing him outside leaving, especially as he hadn’t appeared in the pit lane for long at the public session, and my wait was to be rewarded! I also saw Eric Boullier, and some of the Sky F1 crew leaving with Natalie Pinkham.

Friday is a day when we like to wander the circuit and sit in various grandstands to try out the different vantage points around the circuit. Although I wasn’t quick enough to catch it on camera, I was sat in the third sector at the “S” curves when Alonso spun, and I can tell you it scared me as much as him when it happened!

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We made our way around to the main grandstand for the next session, bumping into Ted Kravitz along the way as we passed the media compound. When the next session was red flagged, we watched the RBR guys pushing their car back up the pit lane to the garage at a great running pace!

We also watched the support races as we walked around. The sound of the GP2 cars as they start their race still sends shivers down my spine…a crescendo of noise as they approach and pass! Our annual circuit passes included a GP2 Paddock visit, where I found a wheel to pose with, and we met Stoffel Vandoorne in the ART GP garage, fresh from his record 6th consecutive GP2 pole, and the sprint race win. I got him to sign one of the GP2 quali results sheets that were posted outside the media centre. Also, the classic cars for the drivers’ parade are parked in an area at the top of the circuit, so we took a look at these, and I found myself involuntarily smirking when I spied Maldonado’s car!

We were lucky enough to get into the paddock on a couple occasions in the evenings. It never ceases to amaze me how friendly everyone is once the crowds have gone. We have some great chats with team members, who are always asking us what the experience is like for us being a fan, and always shocked at the ticket prices! Amongst those we chatted to us was Jonathan Wheatley from Red Bull – a man very proud of his team and happy to chat. Franz Tost even gave us a cuddle!

Between sessions, we met up with other fans that we know through twitter in the F1 Fan Village, a source of shade, refreshment, entertainment and slightly inflated pricing of team merchandise! We do love a “tweet-up”, and Barcelona is a race where we do find a lot of UK fans…and quite often a few stag-do victims too!

The race itself speaks for itself – I won’t try and summarise something you have already watched for you. I’ve seen comments that it was boring to watch at home – I can wholeheartedly confirm that it wasn’t boring being there! Some great overtakes in front of us as they approached Turn 1. After being allowed on to the pit straight, we headed straight for the podium to watch the champagne being sprayed. There are huge crowds here, sitting in the grid boxes and taking photos, and looking in the garages. It’s a great atmosphere!

We finished race day by heading to the paddock gates to see who we could meet, and I was cuffed to bits to get my Lewis half scaled helmet signed, as well as meet a lot of drivers, team members and team principals. Notable for me was seeing Graeme Lowdon again – he always makes time to stop and talk to fans. I also met Charlie Whiting for the first time – he seemed genuinely shocked that we wanted a photo with him!

As the evening went on, we were able to walk around the paddock, where some pack-up work was going on, but not the normal routine as there was testing taking place in the days following the race. The Red Bull Energy Station was being dismantled to make its way to Monaco and be “floated” into place, and a smaller version being built in the car park to suffice for use during the test. We also walked through to the pit lane full of trucks starting to send things home, and noticed the teams building their test cars in the back of the garages. Some teams send their race cars home intact – as we saw Mercedes doing with Nico’s car, and also Toro Rosso. However, others strip the car down, and send back to the factory in a much smaller van, which is much speedier in getting back to base than a truck. I guess they all have their preferences…

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you your 2015 Spanish Grand Prix race winner Nico Rosberg, his car and his champagne!

So in conclusion, the race may have had its critics after viewing on TV, and it may not go down in history as the most exciting Spanish GP ever, but it still remains a great weekend away, with a fab atmosphere, in a destination that is easy to reach with great weather and good company.

Never been? DO IT NEXT YEAR!

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