Rachel’s Diary: Losing the battle to stay cool in Malaysia…
Sky Sports' Rachel Brookes on why the season warmed up in more ways than one in Sepang as the F1 treadmill cranked up a gear...
Last Updated: 28/04/15 11:51am
After Australia the races always seem to come thick and fast. No sooner are you home, unpacked and uniform washed, than you are packing the suitcase again for the next one. As bad as it sounds, mine occasionally doesn't make it back into the cupboard between trips!
Malaysia is a tricky one. It is always very hot, so you think you wouldn't need many clothes but in reality it is so hot, and the humidity is so high, that you need more clothes than normal. The boys all wear t-shirts under their shirts to soak up sweat and I take vests. There is no choice. We are on camera and no-one at home wants to see evidence of the humidity and heat creeping through!
To give you an idea, imagine getting dressed and ready for work in the morning, then walking into a sauna for an hour, walking out and straight into an important meeting with your boss. The battle to stay cool in Malaysia is always a losing one. It all adds up to a very heavy suitcase, for me at least!
Thursday morning is production meeting time at the track. We run through all the features and shoots coming up over the weekend as well as chat through all the stories around in F1 at the moment. It's unlike any other sport I know for the continuous stream of stories and quotes about this team, that team and those drivers. It never stops. People ask what I do in the off season but for us there is no "off season". There is always something or someone making headlines.
After the production meeting it's a chance to head into the paddock and catch up with familiar faces. It's an invaluable time to find out what is going on and also the driver interviews begin from around lunchtime. Thursday is our one chance to ask the drivers something a bit different. We might be planning a particular feature and need to canvas driver opinion on the subject, or something more location specific. A perfect example was Craig Slater's question to Nico Rosberg in Malaysia referencing his white headband worn while climbing the Petronas Towers. Nico's answer went viral and made newspaper headlines at home in Germany!
There is also the drivers’ press conference, usually at 3pm local time. It's normally the first opportunity to hear from the drivers since the previous race but on this occasion it was particularly well attended. Fernando Alonso was speaking to the media for the first time since his crash in testing. You could hear a pin drop when the questions were open to the floor. Straight away he was asked about the crash and for the first time he revealed that he remembered everything and that the steering locked. The weekend's agenda was set with just a couple of sentences.
Friday is a mixed day for me. It involves watching both practice sessions, going through the plan for that night’s F1 Show and the odd interview or two, as well as writing and recording the news features that go into The F1 Show and qualifying. After second practice the drivers conduct their rounds of interviews at various times and there is the team principals’ press conference. Again it was well attended, but this time it was because of the exchanges between Red Bull and Renault. I also carried out a quick interview with a team principal for a feature over the weekend and then it's a quick change into my dress for The F1 Show so that we can start rehearsing.
By now it is about 34 degrees celsius and humidity is around 90%. No wonder Simon had our sound guy Dave fanning him! The show always flies by and I was amazed how many British fans had made the trip. We met some of them in the pitlane afterwards, including the rather sunburnt Barnsley man. He could have done with Ted's help on the suncream front. Ted is the most fastidious applier of suncream I have ever met! Factor 50 is his protection of choice and a race weekend wouldn't be the same without his array of SPFs!
Until Saturday afternoon we hadn't seen any of the usual Malaysian downpours that greet us on a race weekend so when the clouds started bubbling up beyond the hills we were all ready for the relief the rain brings from the intense heat. In the middle of Q2, while I was still interviewing the drivers who went out in Q1, a huge thunderclap signalled the start of the storm.
The rain, when it comes, is usually very heavy but the downpours are brief. Brief by comparison to English weather at least. A delay to the start of Q3 gave us a chance to talk to all those who had by then gone out in Q2 and play those interviews to you. After interviewing the top ten my work for the day is pretty much done. For some of the crew though it's a late finish as Lewis Hamilton has agreed to talk through his pole lap with Martin Brundle. It is always a favourite feature on mine. You learn so much from hearing the drivers explain, and show, how they managed to find time where the others didn't.
For Lewis, it's all about feel. Well, almost all. He revealed to Martin that he carries a notebook around with him and that he made notes of last year’s qualifying in the wet and where the grip was so that he could use that information again if necessary. If you missed Lewis's pole lap it's On Demand and well worth watching.
Pre race it's the 'dunny runs' for me again and this time I notice someone behaving differently. Usually drivers walk across from the grid with their trainers, run into the toilet nearest their garage, and then head straight back to the grid. As the grid is so far back at the Sepang circuit, most drivers use one of two toilets. I positioned myself near one set and waited and caught several coming out and interviewed them. Sometimes drivers say yes to an interview, sometimes not but I always ask first. It was while waiting I noticed Sebastian Vettel come out of the bathrooms. His trainer was nowhere in sight but instead of heading to the grid he walked a bit further along the corridor and leant against the wall. (I have always known Seb to walk across with his trainer and walk straight back) Then he walked around, almost pacing the corridor, oblivious to the handful of us watching.
He eventually looked and saw a camera so turned his back and walked a bit further down, still pacing slowly. After about five minutes he walked back out past us but instead of going to the grid he leant against a wall in the pit lane and just watched the chaos that is the grid pre-race. No-one else noticed him for a short while and when they did and cameras started filming him he calmly walked over to the grid and started talking to his engineer. I was fascinated because after qualifying he had told me he could win this race and I believed him but wasn't sure how. Yes, the Ferrari was better on the option tyre than the Mercedes but would that be enough to close the gap? I have no idea what this pre-race routine was about except that I had never seen him do it before in over three years. But it certainly worked.
The race itself was great to watch. So good in fact, that as Jenson Button left the pen he caught a glimpse of the Williams team-mates battling on our monitor and hung around to watch for a bit. The result lifted the whole paddock. Not because we don't want to see Lewis win or another Mercedes 1-2, but because there was the fear it would be a one-team season again.
While we should always celebrate excellence and ingenuity, we also want exciting races. Add to that the genuine outpouring of emotion from Seb. I don't think you can underestimate what that win meant to someone who, as a kid, idolised Michael Schumacher. I overheard him saying that he feels Michael's spirit every time he goes to the factory in Maranello.
Seb had a horrible 2014 and found himself constantly fighting the notion that he only won because he was in the best car. A notion not helped when he was soundly beaten by his team-mate. Whether you think Mercedes lost it or Seb won it, he drove to that victory using every minute of his previous experience on track. Yes, the strategy helped, staying out those extra laps after the Safety Car undoubtedly changed the race in his favour, but he still had to manage those tyres and fight the Mercedes for the win.
Next it's on to back-to-back races in China and Bahrain...One cold, one hot..Another overweight suitcase beckons…