Formula 1 Reporter & Columnist
Rachel's diary: F1 2017 reaches its finishing straight in Abu Dhabi
Sky Sports' Rachel Brookes on the season finale, saying farewell, and already looking ahead to 2018...
Last Updated: 04/12/17 3:29pm
When we arrive in Melbourne for the start of the season we always comment to each other on the year ahead and the fact we are back for another season, and as we make our way across Albert Park someone will say what a long winter it was.
But we all take a mental snapshot in our minds as we know all too soon we will be walking across Yas Island in Abu Dhabi on the final day of the season commenting on how another year has flown by.
Abu Dhabi is my favourite place to end the year as for us it is a straightforward weekend.
We can walk to the track, which is always a good way to start the day. It's a dusk race so there are no 5.30am alarm calls. The weather is stable which makes all our jobs easier. The fact that that stable weather is sunny and hot is an added bonus. It feels safe, which is a welcome relief after Brazil and Mexico. Plus if you plan early enough in advance you can add on a few days' holiday afterwards in the sun before heading home to the freezing cold and short days.
Which is where you find me. On a sun lounger in Dubai…
I arrived in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday morning and while waiting for our hotel rooms to be ready Crofty and I ate breakfast by the pool. He has of course done every race this season while I have done all the flyaways bar the three I missed for my knee injury. Everyone in the paddock has the same look on their faces at this time of year - just…one…more…race.
My first task was to interview Esteban Ocon at his hotel on Wednesday evening. I had a fairly good idea of his backstory already but read up a little more during the day just to check I hadn't missed anything.
His story is similar to Dani Kvyat's and to an extent Lewis Hamilton's. When Esteban was younger his family sold their house and lived in a caravan to be able to support his racing career. He first got in a kart at four years old and the family made huge sacrifices to support his career. It was telling that he remarked that should he be faced with that same decision again he may not have made that choice because it was so hard on everyone.
Esteban doesn't like talking about those times too much so we moved on to his battles with Max Verstappen. They have shared the same asphalt in junior series' and in Formula 3 it was Esteban who came out on top. Max told us back in Texas that he had punched one of his opponents in his karting days and that his rival then was now in Formula 1 but wouldn't name him. I asked Esteban if it was him but he said no. They had come close but he wasn't the driver Max was talking about. The mystery continues…
Over the weekend we had a team BBQ and a team dinner. Despite 20 races and nine months together we still had plenty to talk about and it was a really nice way to end the season.
Where we stay has some great restaurants in walking distance which all adds to the ease of the weekend, another reason it is a favourite venue. With late starts and late finishes it is not uncommon to be asking for the bill at 1am and still getting eight hours sleep.
On Saturday night we were saying goodbye to another familiar paddock face, Felipe Massa, again… The team put on dinner and drinks on their roof terrace and although it wasn't as emotional as last year it was well attended and a lovely evening.
It was there that my friend Giselle, who works for Canal Latin America, told me a story about one of her interviews earlier that day. Her TV station don't have the rights next year and as we sat there in Abu Dhabi she had no idea what the future held or if she would ever be back in an F1 paddock again.
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Earlier in the weekend she had sat down to interview Lewis Hamilton. Giselle was about to start her questions when Lewis stopped her and got up and gave her a hug and said he had heard about her job and he turned to the cameras and said someone must hire this girl, she is amazing at her job.
Giselle was completely taken by surprise as she hadn't told him the situation she was in but she was genuinely touched that he even acknowledged it, let alone checked the cameras were recording and made a plea on her behalf. It is always sad to see someone leave the paddock, especially someone as hardworking and passionate about the sport as she is.
Giselle is not alone either, other broadcasters have also lost the rights to rivals and some familiar faces ended the season not knowing what their future holds. The boys at NBC, Will and Jason, have been great friends over the last six years and I have no doubt someone will find a home for them in the paddock next year.
On Sunday you could see the relief on everyone's faces that it was finally race day and that the season was almost over. Fatigued bodies set about their jobs and watched the minutes tick down.
I had requested a walk and talk with Felipe Massa on his way to his final track parade and as we walked the cameras clicked around us. He had qualified well so he wanted to finish his career in the points. I am very glad he did in the end.
Post-race Liberty were trying another one of their ideas. They divided the TV crews into two driver pens. One for live crews and one for non-live crews.
In theory this is actually a good idea. It means that those broadcasting live get interviews with the drivers sooner and the top three speak to live broadcasters before they do their sit-down press conference. The plan was for the drivers who finished in P11-P20 to go to non-live first while P4-P10 came to the live pen and then they would all swap.
By the end of those interviews the top three would have finished on the podium and they would come to the live crews.
All sorts of scenarios would throw the plan out. For example, if a driver battling for the championship finished outside the top 10 there is a risk you could miss your interview with them. Also the live TV pen was a line rather than a square so there was little room to move and drivers were crisscrossing over each other to get to interviews. The top three took much longer to arrive than had been expected which actually was a bonus because it meant we had finished speaking to everyone else, but had they arrived when they should have it would have been chaos.
As it was we did get to speak everyone we needed to and without any real issues but maybe by luck rather than judgement. However it shows how Liberty are thinking of new ideas all the time and I am sure with a few tweaks we will have a format to run with next year.
On Sunday night Mercedes held a party at their hotel and invited a lot of people from the paddock. Sometimes these parties can be very team centric but this one was open to people from other teams and media and friends. As a result it was a fantastic night that went well into the early hours. Even drivers and personnel from other teams were invited and enjoyed the night.
It was a fabulous way to end the season and very much appreciated. It's been a long year, and this one was only 20 races, it's 21 next year! Thank you to Mercedes for a great night and to all the teams for all their help and co-operation this year.
And a big thanks to all of you who take the time to read this. See you in Melbourne…
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