Formula 1 Reporter & Columnist
Rachel's Diary: Bahrain and China
Sky Sports F1's Rachel Brookes looks back at two weeks on the F1 road for the contrasting Bahrain and Chinese GPs...
Last Updated: 11/12/18 3:14pm
I knew going into the Bahrain weekend it was going to be a busy one. Ted Kravitz was staying home on daddy duties with his newly-born little girl so I would be doing the driver interviews on Thursday and then patrolling the pitlane during practice.
On Thursday morning, however, my first job was to film a piece for The F1 Show with Johnny. We headed out to a riding school and I treated a Johnny to his first ever camel ride. Even if he did struggle to get on the first few times, it was an experience he won't forget in a hurry. My lasting image is him trying to climb on and the camel taking off with me on the back.
Once at the track it was a quick change then time to record the darts challenge with the Williams' boys. With a new pairing you never know what the chemistry is going to be like, or if there even is any, but throw in a competition and most drivers are the same. They want to win, and especially against their teammate. Lance was a bit too good, poor Sergey was playing for the first time and was soundly beaten.
Then I was off to do the Thursday driver interviews, first in the pen after the FIA press conference and then outside team hospitality units. Unfortunately several teams carried them out at exactly the same time. As a result we obviously can't be in two places at once and we got fewer than I would have liked. It just happens that way sometimes.
On Friday morning I was back in the pit lane for practice. I used to always be in there but the rules changed after the cameraman got hit by a tyre in 2013, and we were only allowed one person in there during the sessions after that, which was Ted. I wasn't nervous of doing it again, but I was hoping there would be plenty to talk about. I went to almost all of the teams to speak to them beforehand but that was just for back up information, the plan was to react to whatever was happening in front of me. Luckily plenty happened and I needn't have been concerned. In between Friday sessions I went to the FIA press conference for team personnel and carried out those interviews afterwards before going back into the pit lane for the afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt better informed for the rest of the weekend as a result.
On Saturday I was back in the pit lane for final practice before doing some filming with Johnny. Then during qualifying I was setting up for The F1 Show while our digital journalist James was in the drivers' pen. As soon as our qualifying show finished The F1 Show began. Luckily for us our guests were the Toro Rosso boys who had had a fantastic day. I had interviewed them both before but didn't really know their personalities very well so it's always interesting to see how they react in the new format. I was more than pleasantly surprised at how much fun they were. They got involved in all aspects of the show and as happened with the Red Bull boys in Australia, were in no hurry to leave which is always a good sign.
On Sunday ended up interviewing the top three in the drivers' pen after the race. Sebastian was very happy with the win as you might expect but also spoke about his concern for their mechanic Francesco who by this point was being taken to hospital with a broken leg. Lewis wasn't too disappointed with his damage limitation drive from 9th to 3rd but said that the 17-point gap that had opened up in the championship wasn't insignificant. For a man who doesn't usually like to talk about the points and numbers, it was clearly playing on his mind already.
We stayed in Bahrain and Monday was a chance to catch my breath and relax. It was cloudy though but that didn't stop us all sitting outside anyway! Simon had gone off to play golf with Carlos Sainz for the piece you will have seen in China's programming. On Monday night we had a leaving dinner for one of the guys who had worked with us on F1 since the very first race. It was a really good evening and a chance to bond away from the race track and without the thought of a very early alarm hanging over our heads.
We flew to China, via Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday and arrived on Wednesday lunchtime. After dumping our bags in our rooms a group of us headed out in Shanghai. For those that haven't read one of my China diaries before, Shanghai is vast! Our hotel is about an hour and a half drive from the city centre and, as we discovered, an hour and 20 mins away on the train. We went in to stretch our legs and try to track down some remote controlled cars for The F1 Show. After that it was dinner on the Bund, a fantastic backdrop if you get a clear night, before very wearily heading our way back to the hotel.
On Thursday morning Ant and I headed back into the city for some filming. We went to a place called Yu Gardens which is like the Covent Garden of Shanghai. I have tried street food in Shanghai before but it's fair to say the Chinese are way more adventurous than I am. This time our street food consisted of toffee strawberries, (think toffee apples but with strawberries instead) and we bought each other gifts from the souvenir stalls. I gave Ant an address to meet at a short while later and his face when he arrived was a picture. You may have seen it on The F1 Show but what you didn't see was that the address was a block of flats outside Shanghai. It looked like any other block of flats. We took the elevator up to the 27th floor and walked along a corridor with doors to the flats either side. At the end of the corridor was 27F and behind it was the Cat Cafe. The flat had been converted into a cafe and inside were 20 cats just roaming around. They were partitioned off into their own room while we there but there was a table and chairs in there for those brave enough to eat and drink with the cats climbing all over them. The cats were very well looked after but apparently there was no getting away from the effects of about a dozen litter trays. Thankfully I had a heavy cold and couldn't smell a thing!
Then it was back to the track and filming our darts challenge with the Renault boys. Carlos was pretty good until he hit his teammate! That meant his score was halved and he lost out and dropped down the leaderboard. I think he'll be back to try to rectify that later in the season!
After that I went off to sit down with Kevin Magnussen to chat about his performance in Bahrain. He had a great race and drove well. I think he sometimes gets a tough time from other drivers. He admitted he is aggressive at times but why not? No one is going to give you their place on the track so of course you need to have some aggression to make a move. As he said, if it's unfair he'll get a penalty from the stewards, if it's not he won't.
On Thursday night after a quick bite in the hotel a few of us walked over to the nearby shopping mall to go bowling. I still can't bowl properly after my knee op and I admit I sulked like a Formula One driver beaten by their team-mate! Simon was enjoying his place at the top of the leaderboard until our Director Tim threw down two strikes out of his last three bowls and relegated him to 2nd. We're a competitive bunch!
My highlight of Friday was being in the back of the McLaren garage for the start of P2. Stoffel's car was still being put back together after a floor change and some set up changes so we were only allowed to film on Fernando's side. Damon came in with me and it was a real privilege to be in there. There is a buzz in a garage that is hard to put into words. On the screens in front of us we could see the guys back in Woking in 'mission control' all on their headsets and talking to the team in Shanghai.
After practice on Friday I had a meeting in the paddock about a shoot I have planned for later in the year. We are trying to bring you more of the drivers this year, more of their lives and their personalities, so this shoot is based with that in mind. I can't say any more at the moment but it's very exciting and I am looking forward to it. The idea began last year in Abu Dhabi and you won't see it until the second half of this season but that's how long some of these things take to plan. The drivers' lives are so busy that decent windows of time are hard to find.
Qualifying threw up a surprise or two. Mercedes couldn't match the Ferraris for single lap pace and a blistering final sector from Sebastian Vettel saw him pip his own team-mate to pole. We had all come to China expecting Mercedes to bounce back at a track they had dominated at since 2013 but it wasn't to be. Even the cooler, or very cold, temperatures couldn't help them.
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Saturday's F1 Show was fun. Our remote controlled car certainly caught everyone's attention and there was a crowd gathering by the time Ant and George Russell did their time trials. I have a feeling we will be seeing that again judging by the interest shown by other passing drivers!
On Sunday Anthony Davidson and I headed into the main grandstand opposite the pit lane. It can hold 29,000 people and when we looked down from the top it was scarily steep. Ant and I did a quick piece up there about strategy and he mentioned how powerful the undercut was around here. After that I headed into the paddock to see what I could find out for when the boys came to me in the pit lane just before the race. I managed to find out that Red Bull were going to try to one stop with the ultrasoft and then the medium, something which seemed unthinkable to another team in the paddock that I spoke to. One team told me they had had their longest strategy meeting ever on Saturday night as they tried to figure out just what would and wouldn't work and what plan b, c and even d were!
Sunday's race was breathtaking. My notebook is a complete mess and I frantically tried to scribble down notes about every driver's race and the circumstances that contributed to their final result. Unfortunately for me, as 19 drivers finished, I only got to speak to the top three. I was back in the press conference room this time and that meant a limit of three questions, instead of at least a couple to each driver in the pen. After a race like that, I love the drivers' pen. Pretty much everyone has an interesting story and it's quite a challenge to get as many as you can on camera.
Being in that press conference did leave me with one lasting image of the last two weeks. Daniel Ricciardo was sitting with Valtteri Bottas on his left, Kimi Raikkonen on his right. I wonder which one of the men sat either side of him he will replace next year? Those are the suggestions in the paddock. Or will he still be wearing blue? Either way, he can now sit back and wait for the phone to ring...
PS a BIG thank you to Ted who was at the end of the phone during the Bahrain weekend, messaging and helping me out, he just can't stay away ;-)