Rachel’s F1 Diary: Soggy in Brazil

Rachel’s F1 Diary: Soggy in Brazil
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I have just about dried out as I write this, sadly my new trainers have not fared so well and after seven hours in the pouring rain seem beyond repair! Any tips greatly appreciated!

My Brazil week began with a flight out on Monday evening, landing in Sao Paulo early on Tuesday morning. After a quick turnaround at the hotel it was off to a rooftop restaurant to interview Felipe Massa. We had been given a good amount of time with him so as well as the interview in the race show at the weekend we will be putting more online so keep an eye out.

He was in good spirits, and immediately shook hands with everyone there. From producer to the security guy, he made a point of saying hello to all of us. We had a quite an entourage with us, camera man, sound man, producer, driver, security and the Sportsclubsociety News crew. Felipe arrived alone. His brother arrived a short while after but that was it and that is one of the many things that make him stand out in the paddock. He may not have a world title, he may never be in the list of top 10 F1 drivers of all time, but he is definitely one of the nicest and easiest to deal with. Where others let their ego enter a room before them or anyone else, he opens the door for you. Humble, polite and honest, the paddock will miss him.

We had a good chat and I showed him some pictures from his career. Each one stirring a different emotion. I was fascinated to hear that he was not a fan of Fernando Alonso in the car or working alongside him but that he likes the man. In Texas he felt aggrieved by Fernando’s move on him so in Mexico when he went up for the anthem he told Fernando, you are a (bleep) but I like you! And they shared a quick hug.

Brazil is always a special race for Felipe. I remember the track parade a couple of years ago and he was very emotional while I was talking to him on the bus. I asked if he would take his son Feliphino on the bus with him this year and he said he didn’t think he was going to be allowed but he hoped to. Thankfully he was allowed, and his son got to see the outpouring of love for him all around the track.

On Wednesday evening we went to Jenson Button’s annual British media dinner. As Jenson had already said he would not be racing in Formula 1 next year this was a farewell to another good guy in the paddock. Although the suggestion that he could return to F1 in 2018 has been mooted, no-one there that night believed he would be seen racing a Formula 1 car after this year’s last race, and if you listen to his interviews over the weekend, he knows it too.

As always it was a lovely evening, a chance to actually spend time with other members of the British media, as well as JB, away from the paddock and with the news of American election fresh in our minds, there wasn’t much talk of Formula 1 at all. There were a couple of speeches though, the content of which will stay in that restaurant, but I will miss those dinners. Jolyon, it’s your turn now!

On Thursday we heard the news that Esteban Ocon was replacing Sergio Perez at Force India for the 2017 season and that Jolyon Palmer had been retained by Renault for another year. That meant Kevin Magnussen would definitely be leaving and all the indications were that he was joining Haas. Those indications were even clearer when at midnight local time in Brazil, Esteban Gutierrez revealed on social media that he was leaving Haas, as it turned out he had just found out that day and decided to release the news himself.

On Friday morning as my two pieces for the weekend were almost done I was free to go into paddock and see if anyone was free for an interview during first practice.

The first person I saw was Kevin Magnussen. He was sitting out of the session while Sergey Sirotkin took his car out. I asked him for an interview but he said he couldn’t really talk but I might want to interview him later! As I thought, he was waiting for the announcement of his move to Haas before doing any interviews.

That news came at the end of second practice as Ted Kravitz walked up to Haas team principal Guenther Steiner and live on air asked him when we would hear about it. To which Guenther explained it was being announced at that very second. Magnussen would be joining Romain Grosjean for the 2017 season. That means just Sauber and Manor have yet to announce their line-ups. Pascal Wehrlein is expected to stay at Manor, while much of the paddock thinks Sauber will keep the same line-up, despite Esteban Gutierrez sitting down with Monisha Kaltenborn in the team’s hospitality in full view of the world’s media. Felipe Nasr may have ended that conversation with his points scoring finish in Brazil, moving Sauber up to ninth and likely adding around
£35m to their bank balance.

Post second practice on Friday, I spoke to the McLaren drivers and enjoyed chatting to Fernando Alonso about his foray into camerawork. His car had broken down and he sat at the track, in not so much a deck chair, but more of a camping chair this time. He then tried his hand at camerawork but found it more difficult than it looks. He was in good spirits though after the session and joked about getting some more camerawork practice in during the Porsche race.

Rain was forecast for Saturday, but didn’t fall during qualifying, leaving Lewis and Nico to battle for pole once more. Sunday was a completely different matter. The rain began before we woke up and didn’t stop. Not once all day. It may have looked light on TV but it was relentless, only varying in the size of the drops and how heavy it was. From the time I went up into the paddock for the start of rehearsals until I got onto the bus to the airport over six hours later I was out in it without cover for pretty much all of the time. Romain Grosjean’s crash on the way to the grid meant we had to start the race watching in the interview pen and wait. And wait.

A while back the teams all agreed that any driver who crashed out would go to the pen at the end of the race which gave all of us a chance to watch it and make notes in one place before gathering with about eight laps to go. Unfortunately, that plan has gone by the wayside and so on Sunday it was a continuous stream of retired drivers that left us all standing in the rain. You can’t really have an umbrella in the pen. Some try but as soon as a driver appears with an umbrella of their own it’s pretty much impossible to keep yours up, or for it to be of any use. I am just grateful it’s cloudy and the drivers aren’t wearing their mirrored sunglasses or you would see our bedraggled state!

Stoppages and Safety Cars aside we saw some fantastic racing on Sunday. The visibility was horrendous and I cannot believe there were actually as few incidents as there were. Where do you start with Max Verstappen? He drove superbly. He performed what Martin Brundle called “the save of the century” and I remember Damon Hill afterwards remarking how impressive it was and that many others would have been in the wall. The fact he then went quicker after that moment just shows his fearlessness and utter belief in his ability. When on fresher tyres at the end, he stormed through the field. Yes, the newer rubber would have helped, but his team-mate had that newer rubber, too, and he didn’t make up that many places. His earlier move around Rosberg to move up to P2 hopefully gave us all a glimpse of what we could be in for next year. We will never know what might have been had Red Bull not made that call to go onto the inters.

I have seen a few comments from people who don’t think Lewis Hamilton deserved plaudits for his drive at the weekend and I am amazed. Let’s just consider that the guy behind was running exactly the same machinery as him and yet in the first bit of the race, after the safety car start and before the second safety car, he opened up a gap of over six seconds. After the second restart, and before Massa crashed, he had built up over 23 seconds of space between him and Nico. Plus the gap to Nico at the end of the race was 11.5 seconds.

Just those statistics alone should be enough to see just how well he drove in the wet but there is more. I had a conversation with a racing driver afterwards who explained why Lewis’ race was more than just the gap he built up to those behind. He explained that there is incredible pressure being the lead car at a restart in the wet like that.

“You might not have the visibility issues but as the first guy through you are nearly always going to be the guy that falls off. Three times he had to do it and didn’t spin once. It’s one of the hardest things to do, to second guess how quick you can go. The guy behind has it easy because he knows that you just made it round at that speed so he can follow, if you lose it, he knows to adjust accordingly. If you have never done it you will never know how difficult it is.”

The post-race, or in some cases post-retirement, interviews were a mix on Sunday. Some really enjoyed the race and came into the pen exhilarated. Others definitely didn’t enjoy their Sao Paulo soaking. When Felipe Massa walked into the pen all the media broke into applause. He came over to me as the applause died down and used his answers to thank everyone he could think of. He may not have finished the race but the retirement where it was, enabled him to walk past the grandstands as they rose to their feet to cheer him, to have F1’s version of a guard of honour down the pit lane as he passed by other teams, and a moment to saviour once the disappointment has dissipated. And all that while the race was still going on.

The first time I met Felipe was at a Ferrari pre season ski event in Italy. It was spread over four days and one evening there was a torchlit ski down the mountain. When we got to the bottom he and Fernando were stood around a fire and Felipe started singing and dancing on the slope. At the end of the week there was a party and again, I remember him spending most of the night on the dance floor with a couple of his family and friends from Ferrari and some media. He didn’t sit in the VIP section and watch everything, he was right in there enjoying it and making sure everyone else did too. We still have one more race to go and I know Abu Dhabi will be emotional for him and all who know him, but I hope it’s not the last time we see him in the paddock.

Which is why I am sad that Jenson Button is not getting a farewell like Felipe’s. He is a world champion and one of the good guys in the paddock and if this is to be his last race next weekend, he deserves an almighty send off. It is such a shame he didn’t get to say goodbye to the British fans at Silverstone. I understand the deal with McLaren and that there is an option for them to put him in the car in 2018 but can anyone really see him coming back after a year away and at 38 years-old as he would be then? I hope he gets to enjoy Abu Dhabi, has plenty of family and friends around him and that we all get to say thank you to another guy that the paddock will be sorry to see go.

Don’t miss the F1 Report’s Brazilian GP review on Sportsclubsociety F1 on Wednesday at 8.30pm

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