I love ending the season in Abu Dhabi. There are many reasons for it. Firstly it’s what I call an easy race weekend. The weather is stable, usually, the facilities are great, and you don’t have to be concerned about safety or security. It seems to put the whole paddock at ease, whether there are still titles, or championship positions still up for grabs. Quite often people will plan to stay for a few days after the race for a holiday so there’s always that to look forward to as well.
I arrived in the early hours of Wednesday morning and a few hours later Johnny and I and the crew met to go and film around Abu Dhabi. The UAE is only 47 years old but has some very impressive buildings. We started at the Emirates palace, once the most expensive hotel ever built, and then went on to the Sheikh Zayed Mosque and the Louvre Abu Dhabi. We also tried our hand at some of the more adrenalin fuelled activities starting with indoor sky diving. Johnny went first and was actually pretty good at it. I thought it would be easy but it’s more complicated than it looks. You actually have to really concentrate to remember everything you are told. Lie flat, arms bent in slightly, legs bent up at the knees, chin up and relax. All while being blown skywards from underneath! We also went dune buggy racing at sunset which is definitely one of my highlights of the year. Although, I saw a look in Johnny’s eyes I haven’t seen before. I can only imagine it was similar to when he was racing in that everything on the periphery was blocked out, including my reminders that we still had links to record, and his only focus was pushing the buggy to its absolute limit. It was a brief but fascinating insight into perhaps the places you need to go to be a racing driver.
On Thursday it was finally confirmed that Robert Kubica was going to be one of Williams race drivers for 2019 and he joined us on Welcome to the Weekend. It’s an incredible story and we are all looking forward to seeing him on the grid. I remember talking to him at the Williams season launch at the start of this year and asking him how would he feel walking into the paddock in Australia and he gave a really telling response about how emotional it would be, but also how difficult as he would only be the reserve. I can’t imagine the emotions he is going to feel when he arrives at Albert Park in 2019.
Friday morning started badly! The power in my hotel room had gone off overnight so when I, luckily, woke up and looked at my watch, I had 20 minutes before I needed to be on the bus ready to leave. My phone hadn’t charged and so my alarm hadn’t gone off and I frantically showered and grabbed what I could hoping I had what I needed for the day. In 7 years I have never missed a bus to the track but it was pretty close.
On Friday afternoon I got to do something I have been wanting to do all season, go out for a hot lap. Mclaren very kindly found me a space in the Mclaren 570s with Lando Norris as my chauffeur. Not wanting to waste the opportunity I went armed with some questions to put to him as he took me around the Yas Marina circuit. It was everything I hoped it would be, with plenty of sideways moments but Lando did say it was a bit off putting to be answering questions. I have done plenty of hot laps in my time but my last one with a current F1 driver (Ok Lando is a 2019 driver but you get my drift), was when Felipe Massa took me around the Barcelona circuit the day after testing in 2013 in a Ferrari road car. There is something about the F1 drivers that instills you with absolute faith in them despite your every fibre telling you they have lost control, your brain knows they haven’t and you enjoy it rather than fear it.
On Saturday I was in the pen for qualifying again while the F2 race was going on and managed to speak to all but the top three before I had to leave to set up for the F1 show. While I was there George Russell won the race and the F2 title and it was interesting to watch the scrum around him as he made his way to the press conference room. It was reminiscent of when Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton won their F1 titles in Abu Dhabi and I was pleased to see him getting so much attention for his win. He is a big talent and while 2019 might be too soon for him to be winning races in the Williams I hope we get to see him shine.
Saturday nights F1 show was great fun. We had started the season with Max And Daniel as our live guests and we finished it the same way. They were messing around from the moment they arrived and there were plenty of laughs. It is what the show was always meant to be from the start of the year. It’s something I have really enjoyed, seeing the drivers relax and have fun, and compete at something totally different. Whether it was darts or Jenga, remote controlled cars or Mario Kart, they always wanted to beat their teammates and they were always good sports. If you ask for an interview you get a strict 5 minutes or so, but if the drivers come on the show and laugh and have fun, that 5 minutes usually goes by the wayside and the press officers are happy to see their drivers laughing and smiling and enjoying themselves. Apologies though to the engineers as I know a fair few drivers were late for their briefings because they were enjoying themselves too much!
Sunday in Abu Dhabi always has a great vibe. All the drivers are fired up to finish the season with a good race despite there quite often being not much at stake in terms of the championships. There is a real end of term feeling and it helps that it is usually sunny and warm. It’s the perfect send off.
And what a send off for Fernando Alonso. He had walked in to the drivers’ briefing room on Friday evening for his last F1 drivers briefing to find that the circuit had painted the walls in tribute to him . There was a final team photo on Saturday and on Sunday he was given a guard of honour from his team. I caught up with him as he came of the bus from the track parade and asked him how it was and how he was feeling. “It was good. It was too long, too long, he said. “We need to make is shorter because I get more and more emotional” he smiled, as he walked away towards a live interview being shown to a huge crowd that had gathered at the Fernando Alonso Museum and kart circuit in Asturias to watch his last race.
I also spoke to Esteban Ocon on his way to the track parade about he was feeling. Its such a shame that he doesn’t have a drive for 2019 but the confidence with which he speaks about 2020, it sounds like he knows he already has somewhere sorted for then. Still it’s hard to see someone of his talent not in an F1 car and I just hope he gets some regular FP1 outings to keep him race sharp.
I also managed to interview Will Smith as he walked towards the grid for the start of the race. You often get big celebrities at races and its always awkward trying to talk to them. The celebrity themselves is usually very amenable with the odd exception, but the people around them can be tricky. Sometimes the best option is just to bowl in and smile and ask if it’s ok to ask a couple of quick questions for Sky. He said yes straightaway luckily but as you may have seen was also doing his own filming that weekend so he filmed our interview too. It was only brief but he was brimming with excitement and seemed genuinely happy to be there and was soaking up every second. Some celebrities are more restrained in their responses so it was great to see much enthusiasm from him.
It’s easy to forget how lucky we are to do what we do. Will Smith is a world famous actor with almost 26 million followers on his Instagram account and yet he was excited to be in our workplace…..
And I can’t wait to back there in Australia, see you in 2019!
Mexico is fast becoming a firm favourite in the F1 calendar. Every year the city seems to get livelier and the paddock more colourful.
On Thursday I presented Welcome to the weekend from halfway down the paddock where a bar and various food stalls had been set up. Just before I went on air one of our crew brought some ice creams over from the gelato stand. It was a hot day and we all tucked in before realising it was tequila ice cream! Mine was put aside as Crofty and Ted are hard to control at the best of times so I can only imagine how difficult it would be if I had had tequila first! There was also a barbers to encourage the guys in the paddock to get behind Movember and a lot of them are taking up the challenge. It should make for some interesting sights in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, although you may have noticed some decided to get a head start for fear of not having an impressive enough moustache come the final race. Just before the show started the two Red Bull drivers were attacking their Piñata’s. Daniel had more reason to get some aggression out and his karate kicks showed just that as he took out his Austin frustration on the paper mache version of himself.
For the second half of the show we moved into the stadium section of the track and while they may not be the most exciting corners in F1 but you can’t help being caught up in the atmosphere when you are in there. It may not have been full of fans on Thursday but that didn’t stop the drivers doing their track walks stopping to take photos. While we were on air Sebastian Vettel and Sergio Perez walked past and almost all the drivers walked the track at some point in the day. Johnny and I went back there twice over the weekend, once just before qualifying and once just before the race. The atmosphere is phenomenal and should be on fans bucket list even if it’s just for the podium celebrations and party post race.
On Thursday evening we went to dinner with the Mercedes communications team. They had taken us out in Canada and so we were returning the favour. It happens with a lot of the teams and is a really nice way to talk anything but F1 with people you see almost as much of, if not more of, than your own family. We had booked. A restaurant in a hotel in the city and as we arrived Daniel Ricciardo was arriving back from the track laden with gifts from fans. It’s the hotel most of the drivers stay at and has plenty of security. Mexico has so much going for it but it is also a dangerous place to be if you have an assumed value to criminals. The drivers are given a police escort to and from the track every day and they are driven in armour plated cars. Some have even more security than that to protect from potential kidnappings, but for most of us it is just a case of being vigilant and not wearing any jewellery.
Friday’s running was confusing to a lot of people in the paddock. Renault ran in the top 5 in both sessions while Mercedes seemed to be struggling. Ferrari were off the pace too though so it looked like the title would be decided in Mexico no matter what as Sebastian Vettel had to win the race to even stand half a chance of the battle going to Brazil. Post practice Sebastian was in a mischievous mood and as I stood in the scrum at the back of their garage waiting to talk to him he answered questions to Formula One’s reporter first. “How was the running today?” He was asked. “Slippy” he replied. His second question was along the lines of ‘What are you hoping for from the rest of the weekend?’ Which again was met with a single word answer. “Grip” came the response. I followed that interaction and luckily he opened up a bit more but it just shows that it doesn’t matter who Seb is talking to, sometimes he is just in one of those moods. Nico Hulkenberg proved just as mischievous on Sunday when he told me he was hoping to make his Hypersoft tyres last the entire race. “Good luck with THAT!” I replied knowing he was joking but also aware how that might come across to some who don’t know his sense of humour as well as I do.
We finish a bit earlier on Fridays in Texas and Mexico and that meant there was time for a gym session before meeting for dinner. We talk about the altitude in Mexico a lot in terms of the effects on the engines but until you try and do your usual workout you don’t really appreciate how much it affects you. Let’s just say my time on the treadmill was a lot shorter in Mexico than it was in Texas and from looking at my Fitbit afterwards I was in peak heart rate the whole time! The can only imagine how much the air effects the fragile Formula One engines and how nervous the teams must be as they pound around at altitude for 78 laps.
On Saturday morning I had to record a link to go into a piece about the Porsche Supercup that would be used on Sunday. We have introduced a couple of races live this year and as this was the final round we were showing the final race live on Sunday morning. Once the link was recorded it was a quick change and into the paddock to be on hand should anything happen in FP3. First Kevin Magnussen stopped running and I went to see if he would speak to me. He said yes straight away and I did a brief interview with him outside the hospitality. Unfortunately he swore in it which is always tricky but something we are always acutely aware could happen when a driver is frustrated at not running. I apologised for it and we carried on before I thanked him for the interview and left. Then as I was writing some noted I. Williams hospitality while watching the end of the session Valtteri Bottas suddenly stopped on track in the stadium section. The gate to the stadium section is at the end of the paddock so I knew he would be heading back to Mercedes garage that way so grabbed my things and went down the paddock to where he would come through. Instinctively I had picked up my bag too and only realised as I waited for Valtteri to come through. I radioed to our floor manage to ask if anyone was around to grab it off me as it wasn’t safe to leave it lying around on the ground but before they had a chance to help me out Valtteri was there. I asked him if he would talk and he said yes so I started asking questions. At that point the Formula One camera started showing the shot on the World feed and everyone could see me interview Valtteri while carrying a large bag in my left hand! Even if my cameraman had managed to frame out the bag, it was too late now.
The F1 show on Saturday evening was great fun. We had Fermin Lacalaca on who is the man dressed as a day of the dead character who is always in the Mexico paddock. He speaks good English luckily and he agreed to be part of our show. I won’t say anymore but if you saw it, you should know that all our crew were in hysterics and my view was of several people clutching their stomachs and laughing while I tried very hard to keep a straight face!
On Sunday morning I presented the opening to the Porsche Supercup title deciding race and had to do my very own grid walk. The drivers were all in their cars ready to go and three of them were still battling for the drivers title. I started at P4 and interview Brit Nick Yelloly through his helmet before moving forward. Thomas Preining was in P3 and as I arrived he was getting last minute instructions from his engineer. I had our Directors Assistant in London counting me down in my ear, ( I had three and a half minutes to fill with ad libbing which is longer than you think if you try it) and I had mentally timed each interview in my head. As I waited I remembered countless grid walks for Martin Brundle and what he does when someone is not ready to talk, so reeled off a few bits of information I had stored away while I waited for his engineer to finish. The final chat was with the pole sitter and championship leader Michael Ammermüller and once that was finished I had around twenty seconds to talk and then to stop talking at the precise moment the World Feed would come in, as opposed to the anthem which Martin Brundle has to stop for. It may have only been a very short, non F1, grid walk but I loved it all the same and can see why Martin enjoys it so much. I was lucky though, I knew who I wanted to talk to in advance and as such it was much easier than what he has to do which is a huge unknown where anything could happen. Plus I wasn’t competing with anyone else for interviews and essentially had the whole grid to myself.
After that I dashed back to get my radio kit on to be ready for the a live link in the stadium section at the start of our show. From there it was back down to the track to do some interviews during the driver parade. While I waited to speak to Daniel Ricciardo I noticed him typing his number into Sebastian Vettel’s phone. Then the drivers came out and I started the interviews, pole sitter Daniel first then onto Sergio Perez, Fernando Alonso, Valtteri Bottas and as many as I could manage before the classic cars pulled away. After that it was into the paddock and I popped into Williams hospitality to grab some water before the pit lane opened. I was due to be interviewing Christian Horner so didn’t have long and very kindly the chef in Williams made me a sandwich to keep with me until I had a chance to eat something later. There is no time to sit down and eat lunch on a Sunday unless I eat at 1030 in the morning and on this occasion that was the start of the Porsche Supercup.
Interview with Christian done it was time for the toilet run interviews. I picked off as many
drivers as I could and then made my way to the media centre to try and see the start of the race, and eat my sandwich, but no sooner had I sat down than Fernando Alonso retired. I went down to the interview pen and waited for him to arrive. It was a steady stream of retirements unfortunately so I spent the entire race in the pen. Drivers who have retired sometimes come to the pen immediately, sometimes they need time to cool off, but either way I need to be there as soon as the car stops just in case. Daniel Ricciardo didn’t arrive until a while after his retirement and was clearly very angry still. I was told only one question because he didn’t want to be there and I totally understand it. He later went on to say that Pierre Gasly could get in the car now if he wants as Daniel thinks the car is cursed but I really hope that doesn’t happen and Daniel gets to finish a race for Red Bull before he leaves, and hopefully on the podium so he can get a decent send off.
After the race while the podium celebrations started a sprinting Lewis Hamilton came past us and ran into the Mercedes garage to see his team. His celebrations in the stadium section over he wanted to see his team before anything else. Then he came into the pen to do his post race interviews. He was clearly emotional and so he should be. I remember his first championship and couldn’t have imagined then he would win five so how must he feel? After that came the top three and what is always the most difficult interview, with the guy that has lost the championship. Sebastian was good under the circumstances and gave credit to Lewis. It’s been hard to see his demeanour change over the last few races and to think that but for those updates that didn’t work from Singapore to Russia, he might still be in this fight. Especially as the Mercedes seemed to struggle at the last two races. It must feel like a huge “what if” for Seb but hopefully bodes well for 2019 that lessons have been learned and we will see it go to the wire next time. It was a very classy moment when a short time later Seb walked into the Mercedes garage and went to shake hands with the engineers and congratulate them. He has been so dignified despite his obvious disappointment and frustrations and has, I think, gained a lot of fans. Let’s hope battle resumes in Melbourne, and maybe throw in Max into the mix as well?
Just before we flew to Texas George Russell was announced as the new Williams driver. We had been expecting it but the confirmation that he was taking Lance’s seat left open the discussion as to who would be alongside him. Sergey is the man in the seat right now but over the Texas weekend Claire Williams confirmed to us that they were deciding between Sergey, Esteban Ocon and Robert Kubica. The latter confirming to Sky F1 that he wants a decision in the next couple of weeks while Williams are expected to announce in Abu Dhabi.
I flew out to Austin on the Tuesday before the race because I had a shoot planned for the Wednesday. It was due to be jet skiing along the Colorado river but a chance meeting in the airport changed all that! I bumped into Nico Hulkenberg by the gate at Heathrow and mentioned we were due to be jet skiing the next day. I had discovered the hire place didn’t have wet suits and the weather forecast was to be cold and very wet. Nico asked me if we had a back up and I said I had looked into indoor tennis courts and there seemed to be a fair few around Austin. His face lit up and the next thing I knew we were landing in Austin to an email saying the shoot was now at the University of Austin Golf Club’s indoor tennis centre. I definitely wasn’t disappointed, especially as the Sunday before I had played my first tennis since my knee injury and come through unscathed.
Before we landed into Austin though we experienced what’s called a ‘go around’. It doesn’t matter how many times I have flown both in this job and in my previous life as an air hostess, an unusual landing always causes some trepidation. We were coming down out of the clouds and fairly low when we suddenly felt the thrust increase and the aircraft climb sharply. I was sitting on the upper deck close to the flight deck and could hear the aircraft warning tone I recognised from my flying days telling the Captain to “Pull up, pull up” That warning is actually quite common on approaches just to make sure they continue to come in at the right height all the way in but the frequency of this warning suggested it was a little more urgent on this occasion. We ascended for a while and then levelled out before the Captain came over the Pa telling us we had had a “discontinued approach due the aircraft becoming unstable as we came out of the clouds”. I had never heard that as a reason for a go around before, my previous experiences had been due to another aircraft not having cleared the runway in time for us to land, but the second attempt was perfect and we were on the ground a short time later.
On Wednesday morning I had to stop off on route to the tennis centre to buy a racket. I took the advice of the salesman and bought a bright yellow and black racket that he told me was very good. I needed it to be. By all accounts Nico wasn’t bad at tennis.
We got to the court in plenty of time so I had some practice with my sound engineer and cameraman. Once I had used the racket for a while I felt pretty good about the game ahead. Then Nico arrived and unfortunately hadn’t brought a racket. He liked the look of mine and started to hit some tennis balls with it. We knocked up briefly before we started the filming by which time he had decided I had the best racket and he wanted to play with that one. I am not saying that’s my excuse for losing, but I reckon it was worth a couple of points in each game!
For the purposes of getting the footage we needed we only played the best of three games. Both games went to deuce but Nico won both and therefore won the match two love. I blame the racket! While the camera crew repositioned we played another game of first to ten points which he won 10-7 but at least it was closer and I didn’t totally embarrass myself. He even said he’d be up for a rematch and I’m going to hold him to that! We sat down on the court for the interview and talked about his time with Renault, his new teammate and why he thought none of the top three teams had come in for him. Filming done, we left, but Nico liked my racket so much he carried on playing with a local tennis pro with the promise of returning my racket to me in the paddock later in the week.
On Wednesday evening I went down to Pete’s Piano bar, an Austin favourite, and joined Johnny and some of his friends. When I got there it was early and a really nice number of people inside. It soon filled up though with a lot of the paddock taking advantage of staying within walking distance and a classic Austin night was had with lots of singing, great company and good memories.
Thursday was a bit wet and cold and we filmed Welcome to the Weekend at the end of the day. As we finished we were asked to stay put to film something for our opening titles next year. All we had to do was to turn our heads on cue. Sounds simple? It took about 10 takes to get Crofty, Johnny and I to all turn our heads on the right cue. We definitely wouldn’t make it in acting!
Friday was wet, very wet! Not as bad as 2015 but it resulted in very little running and me being dispatched to try and get interviews to go into the programme from anyone in the paddock. The trouble is most people stay either in their garage or on the pit wall in case they get a break in the weather. I walked up and down several times with no luck until I popped my head into Mclaren and found Lando Norris making a tray of teas and coffees. He was genuinely making hot drinks for all the guys and girls in the garage and you will have seen him handing Fernando Alonso his coffee on the coverage. I managed to speak to a few other people before ending up at Red Bull at the end of the session to speak to the drivers about (lack of) Friday running. Daniel understandably, after his session needed even earlier then everyone else’s, didn’t want to talk about F1 so I asked him for his favourite place for brisket and he told us of a place his engineers had gone to that they raved about. A few years ago he told me about a Pizza place in Monza that was his favourite and it was sensational so I took note of the barbecue venue.
That night we went to a place called Stubbs which is a team favourite. Barbecue places tend not to take reservations so you just go and queue and wait. We were lucky as we walked in just as a table became free and enjoyed some fantastic food. There are so many great places to eat in Austin that it’s not a place for someone on a diet, or vegans! The ‘sides’ are just as good as the meat in some places. I challenge anyone not to add a pound or two to their waistline over the course of the week.
Saturday morning saw Ferrari quicker than Mercedes and rumours in the paddock that Mercedes were concerned Ferrari taking off their new upgrades and going back to the older specification had seen a return of their pace. Sebastian Vettel has admitted he thinks it took too long to realise their mistake. When he expressed his anger at the end of qualifying when he missed out on pole by 6 one hundredths, was that frustration over team radio at missing pole? or was it frustration that they now had their quick car back that had been missing for the last few races, and that could have seen him still in the championship battle as opposed to clinging on by his fingertips to it? After all, even pole would have meant starting 4th so one place difference wasn’t that big a deal.
On Sunday morning Johnny and I headed over to the zip wire set up for fans by the side of the start finish line. I had happily agreed to film on it for the race show and as it was seated was not worried in the slightest. However, once in the seat I realised there was only a lap strap to keep you in. As the wire pulled us backwards and upwards Johnny was happily chatting away and I suddenly realised how high we were. At the top you are very high, not as high as the top of the tower which we had climbed on Saturday, but still high enough to feel pretty uncomfortable. Even Johnny was holding on to the small hand rail at the side as we dangled over everyone’s heads, and then some. The Circuit of the Americas are adding attractions every year for the fans and combined with the concerts are really doing their best to attract people to the race weekend. If only the weather had been better this year it would have been a sensational few days for all.
Once in the paddock I was getting ready to speak to Max Verstappen on his way back from the track parade when I got a call to do the track parade interviews for the World feed. I had to dash to meet my cameraman and make my way out onto the grid. I decided to target Kimi first as Lewis and Daniel were going to be interviewed further around the track. He walked towards me and I asked him if this was his best chance to win a race for a long time, and could he give the Ferrari fans in the crowd something to cheer today? He played it down obviously so I followed up with asking if his best chance was getting Lewis at turn one and what his plan was? I swear I saw a wry smile and as it proved both came true later that day.
Post race I managed to speak to most of the drivers but two stuck out for me. Brendon came over to me and I mentioned him going from 20th to 11th and what a good result that was. He responded to that but then went on to talk about the media asking him questions about his future and gave a very stern response showing us obvious frustration at the situation he was in. I haven’t seen that from him before and I hadn’t even asked him about his future, I asked the one question about the race which he ended his answer with his monologue. It feels as though he knows there is nothing he can do now to keep his seat and that puts him in a horrible position for the remaining three races. If they are his last three I really hope he finds a way to enjoy them despite his disappointment.
The other interview was Kimi’s. Of course he spoke more than usual which is always good news but I asked him after 2044 days how sweet did the champagne taste? He knew what I meant but answered in typical literal fashion, “no different than coming second or third. It’s the same champagne for all three” but he said it with a smile and it’s a smile we haven’t seen for too long. When he won the race, the interview pen erupted in cheers and applause for him. He may have waited a long time for that win but it seems it was unanimously well received.
Before we left Austin a couple of days later we saw Sebastian running along the river with his trainer. It really looks like a year of what might have been for him and Ferrari. It should have been a Ferrari one-two on Sunday. Even starting fourth Seb had the chance to do that before his contact with Daniel and subsequent spin. But why was he starting in fourth and in that position in the first place? Because he didn’t slow down enough under a red flag on Friday. If he hadn’t done that he could have had that sweet taste of winners champagne, instead of now facing the prospect of losing the championship in Mexico for a second year in a row. Let’s hope he can at least make a fight of this next race.
See you in Mexico!
And yes, Nico did return my racket…… and Daniels recommendation was spot on once more!
The week before the Russian Grand Prix we had a conference call and discussed ideas before heading off on different flights. Crofty came up with the idea of doing a piece on Max Verstappen as race day would be his 21st birthday. “A coming of age piece” he said and we all agreed it was a good idea.
I remember the first time I saw Max, as a teenager in the paddock in Belgium before he got into F1. I remember thinking “he’s so young, he can’t be old enough to race in F1.” I was showing my age, I realise that, but I wasn’t alone and people younger than me also shared that opinion. I love researching these sorts of pieces as I invariably learn things I didn’t know about the subject, but I am also reminded of other moments that I had forgotten in the fast paced F1 world since.
Thursday morning was a busy one. First of all Johnny and I set off early to the Fisht stadium to take penalties against Carlos Sainz as part of a Renault promotional event. When we arrived we were given strict instructions by the organisers that only four people were allowed on the pitch at any one time. A message that was repeated several times during our short stay there. The problem with that was that we had Johnny, myself, Carlos, a cameraman and a soundman, who is attached to the cameraman via cables, all needing to be on the pitch. Plus we had a Sochi F.C. player, Nikita, in goal to stop the penalties. So we had to restrict it to Johnny, Carlos one cameraman and Nikita. The other cameraman and soundman stayed behind the goal with me. We recorded a quick introductory link with Johnny Carlos and I on the pitch and the cameraman off it, but even with just 3 of us on the grass we got a severe ticking off from one of the Russian security guys. We tried explaining we were only three and the rule was 4 maximum but he wasn’t having any of it. Eventually we managed to finish the filming there and headed to the ice arena to see Artem Markelov, Renault’s test and development driver.
This time we were all allowed on the ice and Johnny and Artem tried their hand at scoring with Johnny on his back on the ice more than he was on his feet! That done we headed to the amusement park on site at the Sochi Olympic Park. This was to film the last piece of a guide to Sochi and involved riding the three headed dragon roller coaster, a mythical creature called Goruinuich. It looked harmless enough but some of the corkscrews high off the ground were stomach churning. Johnny revealed he didn’t actually like roller coasters and when we got off he was really quiet. For someone who has no issue driving at high speeds in the one of the most dangerous sports in the world, I found it very confusing. Unfortunately in order to get a second angle of us on the roller coaster we had to ride it a second time. I had been fine after the first run but we both definitely felt a little ropey after the second run!
Filming finished we headed to the track and straight into our production meeting for the weekend ahead. After that I headed into the paddock where we filmed giant Jenna with the Haas drivers. We expected it to take 10 minutes or so but we hadn’t banked on them being so good at it. Give any driver a competition and they will do their absolute utmost not to lose. There are drivers that refuse to take part in games they don’t think they can win at so you have to choose games where there is the real possibility they have played it before and can be confident they can win. Romain and Kevin made it to 31 levels before the tower fell. It took over 20 minutes and their press officers were itching to get them away but you can’t drag a driver away from a competition until it’s finished, or you do so at your peril!
Then it was down to Red Bull hospitality to film my sit down interview with Max Verstappen. I started by asking how he would be celebrating his 21 st birthday and he said he would be flying back to Monaco on Sunday night and be at home alone. We had a chat about his highs and lows so far and I ended the interview by asking what he hoped to achieve by his next big birthday, his 30th. He said he hoped to have four World titles by then. This was a line that made headlines but the interesting thing was, I don’t think anyone who spoke about it said they didn’t believe he would.
Then it was time for Welcome to the Weekend which is live from the paddock at the end of the day. We had had confirmation of Antonio Giovinazzi at Sauber for 2019 so that was among various topics that evening, as well as Lewis’ performance in Singapore, fall out from Force India’s drivers hitting each other and Red Bulls forthcoming grid penalties.
On Friday evening we were invited to dinner by Williams at a Japanese restaurant in one of the hotels on the Olympic park. It’s always nice to get away from the track and talk to people about pretty much anything other than Formula One and the food was fantastic. The food and service in Russia has come a long way since the F1 first visited and I guess the recent World Cup helped that too. As a result of a conversation over that dinner, Williams invited us to present Welcome to the Weekend in Japan from inside their garage.
The F1show in Russia featured the two Williams drivers. It was interesting to hear from Lance what good friends he and Esteban Ocon are despite the situation they find themselves in. It’s a shame Esteban can’t replace Lance at Williams. But comebacks do happen. As after the F1 show I went and interviewed Dani Kvyat after it was announced he was returning to Toro Rosso in 2019.
That evening we went to dinner at a restaurant down by the beach that I think used to be Bernie Ecclestone’s favourite. After the announcement earlier Dani Kvyat was there having dinner with the Red Bull team and the restaurant was littered with F1 folk. Just after we had eaten our main courses however the fire alarm went off. The warning was in Russian so we weren’t sure if we needed to leave or not and as our table was tucked away upstairs we couldn’t see if anyone else was leaving. I got my google translate app out on my phone and recorded the audio of the alarm. “ attention fire brigade “ came the translation. At that moment the waiter walked in and we asked him what the alarm was about. He shrugged his shoulders and said “It’s Russia!” And turned on his heels and walked away. The alarm didn’t stop though so we paid our bill and left soon after.
On Sunday morning I arrived at the track and headed as I always do straight to our canteen for a coffee. Inside were three large men in suits with earpieces talking Russian. I knew they weren’t part of our crew but as President Putin usually attended the race I guessed they were part of the security operation ahead of his appearance later. Even so, they were very intimidating and a reminder that of however many years we have been coming here, some things don’t change. Whether it’s the aggressive security at the football stadium or the large numbers of suited men in and around the paddock, there is no mistaking you are in Russia.
Before the race on Sunday I was doing my “toilet run” interviews and caught Sebastian Vettel coming out of his garage. Some days he talks, some he doesn’t. This time he gave me a one word answer to my first question and then ran off. I could have run after him but then my cameraman would have been running backwards in a live pit lane and no driver is worth that, not even Seb. I had someone ask me if it was because I was wearing boots and not trainers. The rule is that you have to wear closed toe shoes in the pit lane for safety reasons, it doesn’t stipulate that they are to be trainers, and after many years of wearing them I can assure you running in heels is no problem for me at all. ( In fact I might actually be quicker in heels than in trainers!)
Post race was difficult. Mercedes used team orders to ensure the win for Lewis and 50 point gap leaving Russia. While I may not be a huge fan of it I understand why they did it and why you can never assume an amount of points is safe until it is mathematically impossible to be beaten. It still smarts though. Especially when it is someone as nice as Valtteri who needed a confidence boost. I remember interviewing him in Singapore post race and he told me how much he needed to have a good Saturday. He’d done that, taken pole and had the win snatched from his grasp. You could see he was devastated after the race and he said he couldn’t wait for next year to start when he would be back on an even footing. He admitted that he wouldn’t be able to win a race until Lewis had the title but he understood it. This week I did get to interview Lewis and as my final question I asked him if he asked the team if he could give the place back once they were both free and clear of Vettel and he said he thought about it but didn’t ask the team. It’s the ruthlessness needed to be a World Champion, and a 5 time world champion at that. What if he had given that place back and went on to miss out on the title by 7 points?
Sunday night was a quiet one as I had a 4 am alarm call in order to get a flight to Nagoya in Japan. Once in Nagoya we went to our hotel at the bullet train station and I finally got into bed at 4am local time ready to catch the bullet train the next day to Tokyo. The bullet train is incredible and it runs on time, all the time. It allows about 90 seconds at a station to offload passengers and for new ones to board. When there are 6 of you with suitcases bags and camera equipment it’s quite an operation to throw everything on board and then try to find places to put it once the doors are closed. It’s always entertaining! I got into my hotel room in Tokyo at about 230pm that afternoon and am not ashamed to say I had a quick siesta to recharge!
That evening we went out to find some food and I had my first experience ever of fried Brussels sprouts. I was craving vegetables after a lot of “beige food” in Russia and they were pretty much the only ones on the menu, along with purple sweet potato fries which I also ordered. The sprouts were actually delicious and melted in the mouth, I can highly recommend! The purple sweet potato fries weren’t quite as good and I won’t be trying them again.
We then went to an area called Golden Gai, which has to be seen to be believed. It is street after street of tiny bars. And by tiny I mean only big enough for four people at a time. They were like small cupboards made out to be bars. We wandered around until we found one that could take all four of us, in other words was completely empty, and sat huddled around the bar observing the hundreds of bank notes stuck to the ceiling and bar from all over the world. I then headed back to research the sites for the next days filming and write some script, leaving the boys to discover more of Tokyo.
Wednesday was a full on day of filming. We had a plan to visit various sites, record links and film and get back to the hotel in time to catch the bullet train back to Nagoya at 6pm followed by a local train to Yokkaichi where we were staying for the race.
Japan is an amazing country. The people are so respectful and so smiley. There are notices that ask you not to use your phone out of consideration for fellow passengers, or customers in restaurants. Some restaurants also ask you not to wear strong perfume or cologne so as not to spoil others enjoyment. Our 90 minute train journeys were blissfully peaceful! One thing I don’t enjoy though is the size of the hotel rooms. Even in Tokyo my room was tiny. I always come back from Japan with stubbed toes, bruised knees and bumps on my elbows. You invariably have no space in your room for your suitcase so it lingers on the floor in the way every time you try to go to the bathroom or close a curtain.
We arrived in Yokkaichi at around 9pm and after checking in I had a message that I had an early start as Ferrari had a big announcement to make the next morning at the track first thing.
I walked into their hospitality unit and the rumours were already rife that it was a new livery. As it turned out the rumours were true for once and they revealed an MW logo would now appear on the car as would the words “mission winnow”. They also let us know in their press release that ‘to winnow’ is to separate the wheat from the chaff. As part of the press kit given out to those who attended was Kimi’s book of Haikku. If you didn’t hear about at the Weekend, Haiku is a shorty Japanese poem with seventeen syllables and three verses. I think one of my favourites from his book was :-
Narrow in some places
Wide at the other
On where you are
I am not sure it conforms to the rules though, but then neither does Kimi!
Our Welcome to the weekend show in Japan was great fun. I got to sit in Sergey Sirotkins car at the start. I was actually worried I wouldn’t fit but it was surprisingly roomy inside. You have much more room for your elbows than I thought you would and the biggest surprise was how little you notice the halo. It’s like holding your finger out in front of you at the end of your nose, it is hardly noticeable at all. For the rest of the show we we in the garage trying to keep out of the way of the mechanics still working into the evening.
One thing the teams do all enjoy in Japan is the visits of local schoolchildren on Thursday’s. They fill the pit lane and some sing and dance and give gifts to the men and women who work in the garages and rarely get the limelight. It’s fantastic to watch and you can’t help but be lifted by it.
When you arrive into the paddock each day there is a red carpet down for the drivers to walk on. Alongside is a fenced off line where the fans patiently and politely wait for their favourite drivers. Johnny and I walked the line on Saturday during our qualifying build up to show what it was like and while we there one fan produced a box of cars. Not just any cars, there was almost every car Johnny drove as well as some replica helmets! Their devotion is incredible and is usually rewarded by a lot of signatures from all the drivers who pass.
The Renault boys joined us for the F1 show after what was another difficult qualifying session. Their season seems to have stalked while others around them are improving so I wasn’t sure what mood they would be in. The good thing about Nico and Carlos is that they bounce off each other so well we needn’t have worried. They said they have just built up a nice friendship and now they are being separated again. Carlos’ new teammate Lando Norris featured in our Giant Jenga game this week against Stoffel Vandoorne and again it went to 31 levels. They were both determined to beat the Haas boys but I think we may have found the limits. Lando was holding the tower up with one hand by the hand as it lent over perilously but he somehow managed to shift it back enough to be able to let go. It wasn’t entirely legal and Stoffel simply stepped forward to blow on the tower gently and it toppled meaning Stoffel was officially the winner. Fernando Alonso walked past twice during the game and even tried to get involved, you can’t keep a driver away from a competition, of any sort!
It was a baking hot day for race day. I managed to speak to a few of the drivers I. Their way to their classic cars for the track parade. After a disappointing Saturday Daniel Ricciardo told me he’d been watching UFC to get him in the mood for the race. I’m always fascinated by how drivers prepare, and always amazed they talk so much to us in the moments leading up to the race.
The title seems to be now a case of when rather than if Lewis Hamilton wins it. It’s a shame Ferrari’s challenge has petered out so rapidly. I really wanted the fight to go to the end of the season as I always feels that’s when you see drivers at their best. That said, Lewis has been on another level since the summer break as he often is. Add to that what seem to be improvements in the car and the teams understanding of the car, and you have an unbeatable combination. Sebastian’s body language was that of a beaten man after the race in Japan, another occasion where mistakes on Saturday cost them on Sunday. Seb is really good at saying the right things and not apportioning blame to others but I wonder what he is thinking right now?
Lewis didn’t do the pen again in Japan so that he could join our presentation team so I don’t know how he felt after the race but he now heads to one of his favourite venues of the year where he could clinch his fifth World Title and draw level with Juan Manuel Fangio. I imagine he feels pretty good right now.
See you in Texas
I flew into a Singapore a day before the rest of the team so that I could film some of the best places to visit for a feature on Saturdays pre qualifying show. I had been liaising with the producer for a couple of weeks before hand as we looked up some of the best tourist spots and unusual things to do. We can get quite complacent after a while as we have been to some venues so many times we assume we have seen everything before but that is very rarely the case and after a little digging I found a whole area of Singapore I had never heard of. Our first location was Little India. We usually focus so much on the night time at this race that we miss a lot of the culture and experiences of the city. I’d seen pictures on the internet and read travel blogs and was expecting a very colourful street full of painted houses and stunning architecture.
The architecture was there but the paint was faded and the most stunning building was blocked from view by a rubbish truck. Undeterred we crossed the street and down a side road found a vibrant pedestrian street that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the middle of Mumbai. There were stalls on either side selling beautiful flower garlands, tubs of spices, fresh fruit and vegetables and even a man offering to make our producer “a wonderful suit in 24 hours”. To my left was a man chopping Bamboo with a cleaver and to my right boxes and boxes of fresh coconuts.
After that we headed to Orchard Road. Known as Asia’s most famous shopping street, it is full of Mega Malls and every designer name you can think of. Unfortunately there was no time for me to shop, I just had to record a piece to camera and duck into McDonalds to use the bathroom while the cameraman got more generic shots.its amazing how long even the simplest of shots can take to get, especially when having to time your delivery of lines to the 20 secs without traffic driving behind you.
Next we went to Chinatown. Most major cities have their own versions of Chinatown but the temples in Singapore are huge and breath taking to look at. Lanterns criss-crossed above our heads and every shop was selling the lucky waving cats Ant and I bought in China earlier in the year.
As night fell we headed to the Gardens by the Bay – a nature park spanning 101 hectares of reclaimed land. In total the finished venue cost over a billion dollars but it is spectacular and Supertree Grove with its enormous illuminated trees is stunning.
From there we headed to Singapore zoo to go to the Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal zoo. I wasn’t convinced we would see much and especially under the cover of darkness but all the animals were out and you are just feet from them as you travel around. We were only allowed to put our camera lights on at certain points so as not to upset the animals. It’s funny how unimportant recording a link to camera becomes when you realise you could antagonise a White Lion or a Black bear by doing so!
After that we headed to the waterfront by the Marina Bay Sands for their laser show projected onto water fountains in front of the hotel. It was our last bit of filming and then we headed back to our own hotel to find the rest of the team had arrived and were hungry for dinner. It was midnight by now but as we try to stay on European time during this race week, it was actually only 5pm.
The next day was Thursday and our first day at the track but before that Johnny and I had to head to Sentosa beach to do one last bit of filming. There they had a bungee jump, a freefall and a Megazip zipline. We had chosen the zipline, which was 480 m long and took you from the treetops all the way down onto the beach. I loved the idea and wasn’t worried at all until I had the harness on and was told to step through the gate and just sit, suspended in the air. At that point I was definitely a little nervous! Johnny, of course wasn’t, and started to mess around immediately – asking if he could go backwards or better still upside down. As you will have seen from the F1 show he did just that and although I did let go and enjoy the ride, I didn’t have the absolute faith in the machinery that Johnny had. He said to me afterwards he finds it odd that people have fear over things like that, he genuinely doesn’t have that gene. I imagine to drive in F1 you can’t afford to have it.
Once we had finished filming it was off to the track and back to the normal race weekend routine. On a Thursday now though we do our “Welcome to the Weekend show”. It’s designed to round up all the news since we were last at a track and include driver interviews from that day as well as let you know what we will be talking about over the weekend to come. Crofty produces five water bottles to show the amount of sweat a driver loses during the race, 3kg, and it’s something everyone can relate to in the paddock. It didn’t actually feel as hot and humid this year as in previous years but it still felt like walking into a sauna every time I walked out of an air conditioned building into the ‘not so fresh’ air. It’s a packed show but good fun and flies by.
On Friday I spend the practice sessions patrolling the paddock trying to find relevant people to talk to and stories to add to the programme. Unfortunately most people hide in air conditioned offices and units at this race to get out of the high temperatures and very high humidity so it proves to be a challenge. After we finish we all head to about the only place still open and serving food at midnight, Newton Circus. It’s officially called a “Food Centre” but is basically alot of picnic tables in the centre of a large ring of food stalls – but the stalls are all tiny shop units. I am amazed how they produce food in such a small place and they are only manned by one or two people but the food is delicious and the fruit juices are the best you will find. Freshly squeezed mango juice actually isn’t as sweet as you might think but it is way more refreshing than anything bought in a shop.
Saturday is a busy day that finishes with the F1 show and our guests were Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley. They came on the show in Bahrain and were good fun so I was looking forward to having them back. Pierre is a great character and very funny and I hope he stays that way once he moves up to the Red Bull team. They encouraged Daniel’s personality so I have no doubt they will do the same for Pierre. It’s a really difficult time for Brendon but despite all the speculation about his future he joined in and was a good sport. I can’t imagine how tough it is to carry on as normal and keep trying to put performances in when the rest of the paddock is talking about your possible replacement next year.
We filmed the show on the roof of the paddock club and it was a real privilege. If you watch the race you will know what I mean when I say the big letters that spell out ‘Singapore’ on the pit building on the start finish straight. Well, we were sitting on the roof by the letters S I and N, which I discovered were in fact inflatable
letters. We had the Singapore skyline as a backdrop and a very welcome gentle breeze.
After the show we went for a team dinner at a restaurant in one of the hotels. As I mentioned before it’s hard to find places to eat by the time we finish work and the table had been booked for 1130, but those of us involved in the show didn’t get there until midnight. Luckily the chef stayed on for us and we had what was my only full evening meal of the week finishing at 1.30am!
On Sunday there was a real sense of excitement in the air. There usually is in Singapore, I assume because it’s a night race, and everything looks that little bit more spectacular. But it was more than that. We had all arrived in Singapore expecting Ferrari to be on top and Red Bull putting up a good fight but Mercedes maybe having to accept an exercise in damage limitation. However, an incredible lap from Lewis Hamilton threw all that up in the air, and an equally impressive, if not more so when you include how much they are down on horsepower, lap from Max Verstappen. Some post qualifying analysis suggested Max could have been even closer if not matched Lewis had he not had his engine issue in his flying lap. All of that meant that the tension on Sunday was palpable. Where were Ferrari? Could Red Bull’s great race pace on Friday provide them with their 4th win of the season? Had Mercedes finally got on top of their Singapore hoodoo?
As it turned out, it was the latter and Lewis opened up a 40 point lead. But more telling for me was the look in Sebastian Vettel eyes post race. (I didn’t get to interview Lewis as Mercedes have restricted us to one post race interview and it was decided Lewis would join Simon and Ant after the team photo, so I can’t comment on his thoughts or body language.) Seb will always fight even after it’s no longer mathematically possible to win the title, but I got the feeling that he thinks the team don’t have an answer for Mercedes and that his fifth title is slipping away at an alarming rate. He admitted they maybe could have done more on Saturday that would have put them in a better position on Sunday and it will be interesting to see how they react in Russia. He knows though, that he and the team can not afford any mistakes at all if he is to stay in the hunt as the momentum has firmly swung towards Lewis and Mercedes.
As we walked home on Sunday night the track was being dismantled in preparation for the reopening of the roads. The poles used to hold up the catch fence had been lifted out and they were filling in the holes with tarmac as the Singapore Grand Prix already became a memory.