Formula 1 Reporter & Columnist
Rachel Brookes' diary: Battling the elements before a belter of a race
Sky Sports' Rachel Brookes on a Chinese GP weekend of weather watching, walking, and one wild haircut...
Last Updated: 20/04/16 10:01am
My China week began with a call from Natalie Pinkham on Monday evening.
"Help! Do you know anyone round here who cuts hair and will come to the house? Daniel is bald!" Well, I think that was what she was trying to say between the cries of laughter.
You will have seen the pictures and video by now of Natalie's husband's attempt to give Daniel Ricciardo a haircut that didn't quite go according to plan. I suggested calling one of our make-up girls at work because a lot of them are trained to cut hair too or, and at the very least, they would know someone who could help.
That is how 'Vince' came to be cutting a Formula 1 driver's hair late on Monday night.
Against the clock
The flight, or flights in this case, to China are always difficult to get right. I always say 'sleep on the first leg and then stay awake on the second'. But with our flight taking off at 4pm, we were wide awake all the way to Doha. And as the second flight took off, we all fell asleep.
You just have to accept that this race is one where jet lag will hit; you will be awake in the middle of the night and there is nothing you can do about it. It's not unusual to find the hotel gym at its busiest at 4am!
I have flown a fair bit and am one of those people who now doesn't pay enough attention to the safety demonstration, but this time was different. Qatar Airways sponsor FC Barcelona and had enlisted the players' help. Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique demonstrated the brace position, in airline seats, in front of goal, defending a free kick!
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Lionel Messi helped demonstrate where the nearest exits were and for the explanation of the drop-down oxygen masks... well, Pique's adoring fans were reaching for them at the sight of their hero. In the video that is, not on the plane.
The final shot was of Luis Suarez standing in the middle of the pitch wearing a life jacket. He inflated it and then looked around the stadium for applause as though he had just scored a winning goal. It may sound silly but it had all our attention, so it did its job.
The paddock maze
We arrived at the hotel in Shanghai at around 8pm on Wednesday evening and, too tired to do anything else, we grabbed dinner in the hotel restaurant. In previous years, we arrived on Wednesday morning and after a few hours' sleep would head into Shanghai itself for shopping and food.
Wednesday night was, as expected, completely restless. A couple of episodes of a box set, two newspapers from home and some yoga helped kill time but when my unnecessary alarm went off, I had had a total of two hours sleep.
Thursday was the usual media day at the track. Our TV compound is a long way from the paddock in China and the paddock itself is enormous. It is easy to do 10,000 steps a day without even trying at this race.
It makes you pretty organised too. The last thing you want to do is leave something at one end or the other! The team hospitality units are very spaced out too. They have two buildings each, on stilts on the water. They are connected by paths and bridges but no matter how many years you come to this race, you still get lost.
The teams change position pretty much every year too and, for example, the Mercedes building closest to the paddock was for team only, but a few short steps past them to the building behind was Williams' hospitality. I never actually found Mercedes hospitality or the Williams team-only building. Such is the layout of the Chinese paddock!
On Friday morning, after another restless night, I woke up to my alarm and hit snooze. About five seconds later, I realised I had set my alarm an hour too late. If you remember the scene in 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', when Hugh Grant and his friend are late, well you have an idea of the scene in my room that morning!
The rain game
In China, we travel to the track by bus. The bus leaves on time whether you are on it or not, as one member of our team found out this weekend! Luckily our hotel is by a train station but I wasn't about to try out my non-existent Chinese and find my own way to the track - so disheveled and discombobulated on the bus it would have to be!
Plus, I actually enjoy the bus journeys. Our route took us past some of the more remote parts of Shanghai and I watched as local people went about their days oblivious to the Formula 1 juggernaut that had arrived.
From little local shops that looked like someone had opened up their front room at the side of the road, to the families all travelling together on one scooter... usually dad at the front wearing the only helmet, with mum behind and a small child or two sandwiched between. Although in my picture, the child got the front and it looks like they are driving it!
The weather was lovely on Friday and unusually for China, we enjoyed high temperatures and sunshine. Fast forward to Saturday morning and not only had the heavens opened, it was if they had turned the taps up to full flow. And for the first time this year, we had security doing scans and body scans at the gate.
Unfortunately, it was all hand searches and everyone usually arrives at the same time. We waited on the bus and got off one at a time to try and not be in the torrential rain for too long - but we failed miserably. Especially when security wanted to question me about my perfume miniature in my handbag.
They didn't know the English for "what is this" and I didn't know the Chinese for "keep it it's not important" - so we all got very wet! I don't think the office hairdryer has ever had so much use as we all tried to dry our clothes out.
By the time P3 started, the rain had eased off a bit and we did get some action to watch, but the talk was about the forecast for qualifying. I checked my phone several times during the session and it said 100% chance of rain from 1pm local to 5pm local.
The last time I checked was 12.55pm just before we wrapped up the show. Ten minutes later, the forecast changed to just wind between 3-4pm. Our hopes for some excitement and unpredictability seemed dashed. However, we did get a mixed-up grid.
A go-faster haircut?
Lewis had engine problems and went out in Q1 and the Red Bull found pace not even Christian Horner could believe. Daniel was ecstatic, as you would imagine, but is always easy to interview. Even when he had a bad day on the Friday in Bahrain, he didn't make my job difficult and those of us that do post-session interviews always appreciate that.
Of course, it's easier when a driver is happy and has had a good day but it's when they have had a bad day you get a better idea of the personality.
Christian had mentioned over the team radio that it must be down to his new haircut but Daniel explained to me he might not be allowed to keep it as his mum hates it, but a podium on Sunday might change her mind. Nico was buzzing with his pole but also knew it was still only Saturday and the Ferraris recently had the better starts.
He does have that confidence back though and the sparkle in his eye. Lewis was pragmatic about his issue and spoke well, despite the disappointment, while Seb wouldn't give away any clues as to his tyre strategy, understandably, but did have a wry smile when I mentioned he had saved an extra set of new supersofts for the race.
And what a race! I need to watch it back again once I have written this because so much was happening throughout I am sure I have missed bits. From the Safety Car to Lewis's five pit stops, you never quite knew how it would play out. Except at the very front.
Nico managed to avoid trouble and even when he was running second, the leader gets a puncture. I think that was the last time I saw him until the chequered flag, such was the action behind him. Ricciardo was so unlucky to have hit some debris and we won't know what might have been for him but that Red Bull looks promising.
You would not have picked China for their first podium of the season so I am excited to see what the rest of the year has in store for them. Sebastian found a Kimi to the left of him and a Daniil to the right of him at the start so we won't know what he could have done or if he could have fought Nico to the end.
It was a shame to hear him criticise Daniil so much afterwards but with the big boss at the race that weekend and having been beaten by his team-mate in qualifying, he was probably feeling the pressure more than usual.
Inside The Pen
With all 22 drivers finishing the race, the post-race media pen was crazy. I tried to grab a word with as many drivers as possible and always feel guilty when a driver is answering a question but sees me looking over his shoulder and nodding at another press officer to let them know I want to speak to their driver too.
It must be off putting but hopefully they understand, they certainly never complain. It's a hard one to judge too.
For example, I wanted to speak to Kimi and was waiting for him to finish another interview when Nico Hulkenberg became free and no one else was ready to interview him, so when the press officer looked over I said 'yes' and began the interview.
As he was answering my questions. Kimi left the pen and sprinted back to the Ferrari hospitality. He was in such a hurry he vaulted the barrier and left his press officer behind. But that's Kimi!
My favourite moment though belongs to Dani Kvyat. He is one of the funniest drivers on the grid and I hope we find more ways to get that across to the fans this year.
After the race, he walked into the pen with Seb, who gave him a friendly tap, and came straight over to me. Drivers are usually always wearing a cap at this point and I saw Dani looking back for his press officer, who had got caught up behind some fans taking pictures.
I asked him if he wanted to wait for a cap and he replied, "No, it's OK, I have good hair".
You certainly do Dani, better than your team-mate right now that's for sure…
Don't miss the F1 Report on Wednesday at 8:30pm on Sky Sports F1 for full analysis of an action-packed Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. Natalie Pinkham is joined in the studio by Marc Priestley and Alex Lynn.