On the road
Sky Sports F1 has flown around the globe more than four times (plus a trip up the M1 to Northamptonshire) in its efforts to bring you the best possible F1 coverage this year. Here, we reflect on some highpoints - and otherwise - of nine months spent on the road.
By Mike Wise
Last Updated: 24/12/12 11:39am
By my calculations, covering the 20 races of the 2012 season has involved flying a total of 104,350 miles. That equates to more than four trips around the Earth, almost halfway to the Moon or, if you prefer your perspectives of distance to be F1-themed, 27.6 times the mileage required to finish all 20 races.
Quite some commitment is needed, therefore, to keep the show on the road. Yet it's a commitment that isn't immediately apparent, or perhaps fully understood. Transporting all the equipment F1 needs across the globe is a logistical feat to marvel at - that is, if you're not directly involved in making it happen. If you are, then it's doubtless a right royal pain in the you-know-where most of the time.
That thought first occurred to me two races in at the Malayisan Grand Prix, where I found myself watching a de-rig of the Sky Sports F1 outside broadcast facility some time past 1am the morning after the race. It was still sweltering as the gear was being dismantled and packed up, ready to be shipped off to its next port of call.
Incredible but true: F1 is not actually the life of La Dolce Vita. You travel around the world but rarely have the chance to go sightseeing; family and loved ones are thousands of miles away; that hotel bed might be inviting but the alarm rings at 5.30am. It's not a holiday; it's hard work. Like anything, though, if you're doing it for all the right reasons then it's a real privilege...even when you find yourself stuck on the wrong side of the road in Delhi during the rush hour.
So here's a breakdown of the best - and otherwise - experiences of life on the road this year...
The best flight was the first, to Melbourne. The Airbus A380 might look a bit like a modern equivalent of the Spruce Goose but it certainly gives a smooth ride. So smooth that it didn't fully dawn on me that the plane was taking off until we were past the point of no return.
Getting to and from a track normally involves a bus journey which, depending on the location, can take a fair chunk out of the working day. Street circuits are therefore a welcome exception as the commute is a lot easier. That wasn't the case at the Monaco GP (for which we stayed in Nice and bussed it) but it certainly was in Singapore. Not only did the hotel offer a stroll to and from the track each day, the preferred route was through a shopping centre - its air-conditioning proving far more alluring than any retail opportunities. Also, the unconventional working hours (rise at 2pm, bed at 7am) created the illusion of youthful excess for some of us. For five delirious days, a buffet breakfast washed down with a beer or two seemed the height of decadence.
There's no 'winner' here. For me, the best tracks have a history; one that, if you have a bit of a poke around, you can discover. Which is why I found myself scrabbling up the banking in the rain at Monza, for example, casting an eye away from the action during practice at a baking-hot Interlagos as another section of the old paving became apparent. Much the same happened at Spa, although this time I wasn't alone: Sky Sports F1 was making a feature about the old circuit and I tagged along as the production team recced filming locations. It can be a wistful feeling to stand in places where so much has happened: where heroic deeds have unfolded and lives, sadly, have been lost. Yet quite often there's a disconnect between past echoes and the mundane present: Spa's Masta Kink is now a lay-by. Hopefully, such tracks will stay on the calendar for many years to come.
Best track facilities
In direct contrast, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix stretches back all of three years. Yet those behind the race have certainly tried to compensate. I mean, where else does the track pass beneath a hotel that changes colour? Monza might have its history but does it have a stonking great rollercoaster painted Ferrari red next door? Clearly, no expense has been spared on the Yas Marina Circuit and the attention to detail is hugely impressive. Even the 'pen' where drivers stand for TV interviews is covered by a canopy in case they start to wilt out there under the desert sun. The layout itself - another from the pen of Hermann Tilke - might not be a classic, but it certainly delivered us a good race this season. "They'll never build another one like this," F1 photographer Keith Sutton told me the day we arrived.
Most of the time, there simply wasn't enough time to take in the locale. The schedule tended to be as follows: arrive on Wednesday afternoon (or later); work Thursday through Sunday; depart Sunday night. However, there was a little more leeway at the flyaway races and so there was time, for example, to head to Raffles and sample the 'Singapore Sling'. That weekend was quite something, yet in terms of an event both Austin and Montreal took some beating. Everywhere you looked, locals clasped the race to their bosoms: restaurants created special menus; bars dreamt up F1-related cocktails; streets were cordoned off and bands put on instead. Perhaps it's down to the fact that both cities already know how to host a festival. Austin has the South by Southwest festival while Montreal has too many to mention. In fact, it lists the Canadian GP as part of its festival season.
There's no necessity for a journalist covering F1 to have a first-hand view. Of course, it's better if there is one as it's possible to describe more vividly what's going on. But television barely misses a trick now and it seems the majority of recent tracks have been mindful of this fact when building their press facilities. A phalanx of monitors and access to the paddock will suffice. An exception is the Shanghai International Circuit, where the press room is up in the Gods as part of the impressive architecture that bridges the start-finish straight. You can see most of the track from way up there (I think it's nine or 10 floors up). In fact, the view is almost too good, in that you're a bit too far away from the action. That much cannot be said of Monza and Interlagos, however, especially when you're perched above the Ferrari pits. Both races have an atmosphere more akin to a football match - the sight of the post-race track invasion by the tifosi at the Italian Grand Prix is one that will linger long in the memory.Worst flight
With hindsight, my geographical knowledge of the Americas was lacking when boarding from Houston to Sao Paulo. An 11-hour flight? Uhm....okay. Still, I'm not too sure about the lack of legroom. It's a bit EasyJet, isn't it? Such concerns, alas, had substance: the journey passed like a kidney stone and, upon arrival in Brazil, I walked off the plane like an orangutan. Might it have been worse though? The Sky Sports F1 crew who 'went on ahead' were placed on a charter which, apparently, ferried U.S. troops to and from Afghanistan in a previous life.
Most different accommodation
'Most different' because there was no 'worst' per se. The Belgian GP was certainly different, in that we found ourselves billeted in chalets. The way people were talking beforehand, I was expecting either a campsite or 'The Great Escape'. Perhaps we could dig tunnels named Ant, Damon and Johnny? We had nothing to fear, though, as our base turned out to be a holiday park, set in woodland (actually the Ardennes Forest) and with fun-for-all-the-family features like waterslides and tree-top rope bridges. Also, an honourable mention must be made of the 'love hotels' in South Korea. Again, ours was not as bad as had been feared. There was even a computer in my room, although I'm not going to speculate as to what might have been on the hard drive.
Monza and Interlagos were quite something; less so, was the distant view of what might have been Turn 12 at the Bahrain International Circuit. Then again, it might not have been. Also, you would think that Silverstone, given the chance to start again, would get it right? Think again. The designers of the 'Wing' complex, which opened last year, might have done a snazzy, state-of-the-art job elsewhere but why did they build a press room one floor up, right next to the pitlane, and yet without a trackside view? Come to think of it, why did they build a press room without a single, solitary window? Prisoners at Alcatraz probably saw more natural light than we did at the British Grand Prix.
Worst bus journey
Once again, we'd heard stories about the roads in India. This time, however, they turned out to be wholly accurate. Rush-hour in Delhi is quite something: lanes mean nothing to the lorry drivers, whose cargoes lurch this way and that at random, forcing tuk-tuks (rickshaws) and moped riders to dive for cover. And what's that cow doing there? Of course, all this assumes that traffic is actually moving. Such was our first journey - actually make that expedition - to the Buddh International Circuit. It featured several wrong turns by our driver, his attempts to remedy the situation at one point featuring a manoeuvre that placed our bus square in the path of oncoming traffic. After that, it was inevitable that the hands-on experience of Silverstone's 'traffic chaos' (we had to push our bus out of the mud when it got bogged down at a roundabout) was relegated to a dim and distant second place.
Logically, you'd expect the flight to Melbourne to be the longest. It lasted something like 22 hours but was trumped by our return journey from South Korea, which not only featured a stopover in Hong Kong but also commenced with a five-hour bus trip from Mokpo to Seoul. Suffice to say there was little in the way of Gangnam Style to be found at 7am the following morning next to the Heathrow Airport luggage carousels.