Eight in a day: Sky F1's Ted Kravitz takes a campervan around UK Motorsport Valley!
From McLaren in Surrey to Red Bull in Milton Keynes, Ted takes Development Corner on the road in a bid to seek out the upgrade packages F1's eight UK-based teams are bringing to the Spanish GP
By Ted Kravitz
Last Updated: 10/05/14 5:16pm
So, ahead of the airing of the must-watch feature which forms part of Sky Sports F1's live coverage of this weekend's Barcelona race, here's Ted's diary of what turned into a rather eventful day...
7am, Sky Studios, West London
A painfully early start is softened by the appearance of ever-cheerful producer Oliver and, specifically, the appearance of a bagel with three rashers of bacon between its toasted slices. Cameraman Duncan joins me with a Latte as we plan our 245-mile route round the UK's Motorsport Valley.
A quick trace on the map indicates that it isn't a valley at all, more like a crescent, arching from Woking in Surrey, through Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire round to Milton Keynes. Duncan suggests 'Motorsport Crescent' sounds less impressive than 'Motorsport Valley'. He's probably right. To be honest, I'm not really listening, instead I'm admiring his 6.3-litre Mercedes AMG C-Class Coupe and thinking that if we took that for a spin round Motorsport Crescent, we'd be able to visit all eight UK F1 factories and be home in time for 'Countdown'. But instead Oli finishes packing all the kit into my sister-in-law's 1975 Mk2 VW bay window campervan and it's time to hit the road.
We're on our way. Very slowly, mind you, which is a bit of a problem as the van is a sensitive old girl who doesn't like getting away from a standing start. I quickly learn that anything less than 50% throttle pedal in first gear will result in an embarrassing stall. And as I have my doubts over the alternator, I want to keep use of the starter motor to a minimum.
The good thing about driving our cream-coloured beauty is that other road users treat you quite well. People seem to understand if you stall in the middle of a roundabout, or if you need to change three lanes quickly - in much the same way people stop for a lost dog. But just as I get the hang of driving the VW in traffic, the traffic clears and we can flick through the gears into fourth and our cruising speed of 49mph. I'm looking forward to our first factory, the McLaren Technology Centre, not only because it's the newest, biggest and shiniest F1 facility in the world, but also because they appreciate the kind of automotive history we'll be rocking up in. I'm also secretly hoping a kindly McLaren mechanic will come out and check the alternator.
Bad news: We've been turned away. Apparently they're all too busy designing and building new parts to come out and talk to camera. To be fair to McLaren, we already knew this, but I thought if I just turned up in my retro camper van and asked to speak to Ron Dennis they'd let me in. Instead, a very polite security man directs us off the premises.
Better news: Pat Symonds excuses himself from a very important meeting in the Williams design office to come out for an interview in what I'm now calling 'development campervan'. He talks of all the new bits they'll have on the car in Spain before asking us to call him back with any info on Force India's developments when we visit them later in the day. Oli asks Pat if he's ever been for an interview in a camper van. "Only with a girlfriend's father," he says with a grin. The rascal.
It's only 27 miles from Williams in Grove to Caterham in Leafield but our modest top speed, especially uphill, means it's taking twice as long as we estimated to get anywhere. This is, of course, throwing Oli's well-planned, minute-by-minute schedule into complete disarray. He sits on the sofa glued to his phone desperately re-arranging interviews with Technical Directors while up front, Duncan and I take advantage of a brief break in the rain by winding down the windows and taking in the cool crisp Oxfordshire air. Caterham's Mark Smith grants us ten minutes of his time and as well as confirming that they've decided not to change the shape of their car's nose (a shame), gives a public debut to a very handsome new beard. I can't decide if it makes him look like John Malkovich or Michael Stipe.
To Lotus next and contrary to paddock rumour, it isn't surrounded by bailiffs nor does it have a stream of employees leaving the factory gates, off to other teams. Instead we find everyone working steadily yet determinedly on fixing the reliability problems that have crippled their season so far. Technical Director Nick Chester comes out in a box-fresh branded white shirt that someone has clearly just given him to wear, and talks about how the Spanish GP will be the first true measure of the E22 package, as long as Renault play their part. Having blocked in the Evora of team owner Gerard Lopez, we take our leave, concluding that Lotus' upgrade package has to be the most eagerly-anticipated on the grid.
We're lost in a trading estate north of Banbury. Marussia's head of communications is talking us in (right at Tesco's roundabout, then second left), but it's not the easiest place to find. Indeed, there's a car clinic and a tile warehouse that are more visible than the Marussia factory on this network of roundabouts, but once we're there, the welcome is probably the warmest we receive all day. Tracy and Pippa lead us to the gallery overlooking the race bays and with firm instructions given to Duncan and Oli duly noted (don't show any of the Ferrari bits), we film an interview with chief designer John McQuilliam and we're done. "That's the quickest we've ever had", says Tracy. She doesn't see us spending five minutes pushing development camper van out of the cul-de-sac because I can't find reverse.
Mercedes. "Surely you can save your money, you don't need to develop," I ask Paddy Lowe. Not a bit of it, he replies, seeing through my deliberately stupid question. "We're pushing flat-out to make this car faster. We're developing to defend from Red Bull and Ferrari." I guess lessons this factory learned when Brawn GP didn't have the money to develop their car are still fresh in the memory. By half season in 2009, Brawn's advantage was gone. Paddy asks me where we are on our tour. "Six of eight," I reply. "Do you want a Mercedes AMG CLS to drive to the last two?" he offers. I laugh and politely decline. He's joking, right?
It's actually later than this when we arrive at Force India as we stopped for lunch at a garage off the A43. I'm starting to flag and my left leg is beginning to seize up from having to stand on the brakes with increasing intensity. Spirits are lifted when I see the new 'Jordan Technology Park' on the road leading to the Force India factory. A new 85,000 sq ft technology park, or so the sign says, available at reasonable rates. Good old EJ. The Force India factory hasn't seen much development since those Jordan days, but it's got a homely, lived-in quality to it. Like a favourite pair of corduroy trousers. They don't specify what developments they're bringing to Barcelona so Pat Symonds is going to have to wait and spy them in Friday practice like the rest of us.
It's the end of the road. We've finished our last interview with Red Bull's chief designer Rob Marshall and I've really started to lose it. The concentration required to coax 40-year old development camper van round four counties has broken me. Sadly, as I'm the only one insured, I can't ask Oli to drive her home. So on the M1 back to London, I mull over a final thought.
We've seen three distinct categories of F1 factory today. The biggest and best, McLaren, stands alone. The middle-grade facilities are led by Mercedes and Red Bull with Williams and Lotus close behind. Then the small-yet-functional: Force India, Caterham and Marussia. The wonder isn't so much that for the scale and sparkle of their factory, McLaren are under-performing, it's that the likes of Force India are punching well above their weight on-track. I then slip into a daydream about starting 'Ted's Tours', a mini-coach tour, guiding F1 fans round motorsport crescent for the day. Not a bad idea. Who's in?
Don't miss 'Eight in a Day' during Sky Sports F1's live coverage of the 2014 Spanish GP. Race Day coverage begins at 11:30am on Sunday.