Formula 1 Reporter & Columnist
Rachel's Diary: Time to take a break from F1's questions and answers
Sky Sports' Rachel Brookes reveals the inside story from the back-to-back races in Budapest and Hockenheim - with plenty of intrigue in the media pen
Last Updated: 03/08/16 9:49am
The Hungarian GP is always a favourite. The last couple of years have provided great races, while the city of Budapest plays the perfect host.
It is one of the venues where most people stay within a reasonable cab ride of each other, which makes for a more sociable week than the likes of Austria and Spa.
On Thursday evening, Mercedes press officer Rosa had arranged a dinner for all the girls in the TV pen. It was at one of the most popular restaurants in Budapest, which is usually fully booked on race weekends but they managed to accommodate our table of 15. We were sat outside and the restaurant is situated at a busy pedestrian area. As such, plenty of people walk past and Thursday night was no exception.
As we enjoyed our meal, several drivers came into the restaurant and several more walked past. As we waited for our main courses, Max Verstappen turned up at the restaurant door with a group but, unfortunately for him, without a reservation - and even the hottest property in F1 right now wasn't getting in! I bet a year from now he has no such trouble!
Behind us was Jolyon Palmer and his family. He has had a rough start to the year and you can't help but want his luck to turn around. Elsewhere, another familiar face in the paddock, an ex-driver, spotted our table and very kindly sent over several bottles of champagne - a gesture that was greatly appreciated.
It was during this dinner that I heard a disappointing comment about one of the drivers. He was being interviewed by a TV crew in his own language when he mentioned needing to find more speed in the car.
The driver turned to the female journalist, still in his native language, and she asked "where will that speed come from?", to which the driver listened and then turned to the male he had just been interviewed by and said "typical question from a girl!"
I have asked several male experts about this and all agreed it was a perfectly fair question. 'Speed' is a pretty generic word when it comes to Formula 1. Were they hoping to improve the aero, traction, turn-in speed or will it come purely from improving the power unit? I asked her if she pulled him up on his comment and she said no, she was too shocked. I would love to think in that situation I would say something.
That driver is in a minority though. More often than not, the drivers are gracious and if you ever get something wrong in a question or have misunderstood something, whether male or female, they will politely correct you without trying to make you look stupid or embarrass you. Fernando Alonso is one of the best at this, and it definitely endears them to us. They understand we have a job to do and so do they.
On Saturday evening, qualifying was over and all of our crew had headed home except for Ted and I and our production manager. There was a birthday in the paddock and we had stayed back to help celebrate.
We had only just arrived when Ted started to hear that there may be something happening with the grid for the race. Qualifying had started late due to the bad weather and as the sessions went on, the track dried out and times improved vastly. While we were arranging with the production manager for Ted to do a live with Sky Sports News HQ, I got word that Nico Rosberg was being investigated. I double and then triple-checked my source and then told Ted so he could add that to his update on SSNHQ. Before we knew it, we were standing in the middle of a pretty empty paddock with the only TV camera still switched on and Ted was on air breaking the news of the investigation.
As it turned out, neither investigation came to much. The 107% rule was applied to those who went out in Q1 but didn't change the order, while those that went through into Q2 were given dispensation due to the conditions and Nico was found to have lifted off enough in part of the second sector, where there were yellow flags to keep his pole lap, and Ted and I could finally leave to join the rest of our team at a restaurant in town.
Unfortunately for the written journalists, they still needed to write up their stories and meet deadlines so the lights were on in the media centre until pretty late that Saturday night.
Formula 1 is, by name and nature, formulaic. Everything on a race weekend happens at pretty much the same time in the same place.
Of course, there are the odd variations for time zones but otherwise the timetable is the same, especially the post-qualifying and post-race schedules. After a photo for the top three in qualifying, it is straight into the press conference and then TV pen. After the race, it is the cool-down room, podium and then straight into the post-race press conference.
So imagine our surprise when Rosberg arrived at the TV pen immediately after the podium celebrations. I remarked to my cameraman "that must be the quickest press conference ever" - as it turned out, he had forgotten, along with his manager Georg, to go to the press conference! He started his first interview before it dawned on Georg they were in the wrong place and they ran out again.
Also in the TV pen on Sunday, Kimi Raikkonen had words for Verstappen. He felt he had moved too many times in defending his position, a criticism Sebastian Vettel had made of Max at Silverstone as well. I asked Seb about it and he said Max was maybe too aggressive but was young and would learn.
He didn't seem to be calling for any penalty for the young Dutchman though. Max, meanwhile, was his usual confident self when I asked him about it and stood his ground. When you ask him a difficult question, he doesn't falter. I have remarked on it before I know, but his utter self assurance for someone so young is quite astonishing. More on that later...
Back-to-back races are relentless. Work begins immediately on the next weekend's pieces so I was in the office on Monday, working on my racing piece for the following weekend. There were five cameras to view the footage from; I make a note of shots I like and start to build the sequence by cutting out the bits I want to use for the editor to build from. I also wanted to find some music to use. Music can really change how a piece comes across. You might not even notice it when you watch something, but someone will have spent a fair amount of time trying to find the best music they can to fit the story they want to tell.
We arrived in Germany on Wednesday evening to our hotel in the town of Heidelberg. It's a pretty German town steeped in history, from the old ruined monastery up on the hill to the beer houses lining the side streets. A few teams stay in the area so the atmosphere is always good. Crofty, Ted and I went to a restaurant nearby and every table seemed to have faces from the paddock enjoying the local food.
On Thursday, I was filming a piece about the return to Hockenheim and the four German drivers on the grid, all with their own point to prove. We shot some pieces to camera before I interviewed the drivers and then went back to our office to work on the piece. Germany has a rich history of success in motorsport, yet just two years ago only 52,000 fans saw Rosberg win his home Grand Prix, just a third of the crowds that Michael Schumacher had experienced in his heyday.
One of the drivers related it to Silverstone and said he would love to have the crowds and the support that the English drivers get. Hats off to you guys!
Also on Thursday, Martin Brundle sat down with Nico Rosberg for an interview which we showed during our race build-up on Sunday. Earlier in the day, I had found Nico in really good form. Firstly, in the Mercedes motorhome, he made a point of saying hello as he passed and then in the media scrum interviews later, he was chatty and smiley and positive. If you saw his interview with Martin, you will know what I mean when I say that maybe his body language gave away more than any of his words. He is not alone. There are plenty of drivers in that paddock who bristle when faced with difficult questions.
When Martin asked Nico what he thought his and his team-mate's strengths and weaknesses were, Nico replied and said 'you tell me'. So Martin did - I am not sure Nico was expecting Martin to actually do it.
On Saturday, after qualifying, it was a difficult TV pen. Nico was understandably happy about taking pole at his home Grand Prix but for others, it was a disappointing session. Lewis was particularly short with his answers, polite but not in the mood to say much.
Daniil Kvyat has had a tough season since the Russian GP. It's easy to forget he has been on the podium this year when you think about his recent performances. After qualifying on Saturday, he seemed to be at the lowest I have seen him all year and the overwhelming feeling from everyone in the pen was that he needed a hug. In contrast, it was a good session for Jolyon and he was finally smiling again.
When Verstappen came into the pen, I asked about his qualifying before moving on to the drivers meeting from the night before. We had heard that a few drivers had spoken to him about his defending on track but he had held his ground and not responded. I asked him how he deals with that at just 18 when in that environment and he credited his father with helping him deal with things in a manner way beyond his years.
There was definitely an end-of-term feeling in Germany, as well as a lot of weary faces. The season may only be two races longer, but squeezing them into the same length of time means everyone is more than ready for the summer break. On Sunday morning, so many people were counting the hours until their working day was over, from press officers to catering staff to mechanics, 2016's calendar has taken its toll. That said, it was great to be back in Germany and I hope it stays on the calendar after its 2018 deal expires. Despite a quiet Friday, the crowds flocked to the circuit on race day and even when we arrived early in the morning, the fan areas were already packed.
I had mentioned Nico Hulkenberg chasing his first podium in my piece on German drivers, so on Saturday I spoke to him as he walked to the track parade. Unfortunately for him, the top six spots on the grid are seemingly sewn up between Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull but the battle for fourth best team is fierce. Force India seem to be on top for now but there's a challenge to keep that as teams shift full focus to their 2017 cars and only those with considerable funds can still afford to develop 2016 at the same time. In reality, it will take a strange race with some exceptional circumstances for Nico to get that podium - but I really hope he does.
Sunday's interviews were almost a reverse of Saturday: Very happy Lewis, dejected Nico and disappointed Jolyon. The ones that interested me most though were Max and Sebastian.
Seb had disagreed with the pitwall during the race and in the end, they agreed with him on staying out but I asked him how much he is steering that team right now. With the understandable departure of James Allison for personal reasons, the team is not the same as the one Seb joined. Last year, Maurizio Arrivabene wanted three wins and they seemed to overachieve. This year, they are yet to win a race and Seb hasn't been on the podium since Baku. I have no doubt he'll be pushing Maranello during the summer break. Max said he "took one for the team in Germany" after finishing behind Daniel but some would say the team owed Daniel after Spain and Monaco. That story is definitely not over.
The rest of us will be trying to recharge for 2016 Part Two.
This season has swung to and fro between Nico and Lewis but there are so many other stories bubbling away. The competition at Red Bull is hotting up with only 18 points between the two drivers at the halfway stage. Just two points separate the Ferrari drivers at the break and it's in Kimi's favour. It will be fascinating to see how Seb deals with the rest of this season if things don't start to pick for Ferrari, who have now fallen behind Red Bull in the Constructors' Championship. There are seats for 2017 to be resolved too. Will Massa retire? Will Jenson go to Williams? Will Stoffel get a seat for 2017? And are Red Bull ready to put Pierre Gasly in an F1 car?
All will be revealed... But not until we have all had a bit of a rest, if that's OK?