Formula 1 Expert & Columnist
Rachel's Diary: On the run in Canada
Sky Sports F1's Rachel Brookes reviews an eventful week in Montreal for a race which remains one of the year's highlights...
Last Updated: 10/12/18 1:55pm
My Canada week began with a phone call from one of our producers about ten days before.
"How is your running?" he asked
"Er, well I am about to try for the first time with my physio tomorrow....why?"
"We have the chance to run up Mont Real with Lance Stroll on Wednesday in Canada. Can you do it?"
I have heard actors always say they can do something even if they can't, like ride a horse or speak French, so of course I said 'yes'.
I hadn't actually run a single step since snapping my cruciate ligament in my knee last September. I had it reconstructed at Christmas and am now five months into my rehab and running is the next challenge. Luckily I did run a few steps with my physio the day before my flight and I didn't have any issues so at least I would be able to start the run...
As it turned out, due to Lance's hectic schedule he was actually struggling to fit enough training in so his trainer David said they needed to do a proper full-speed run up Mont Real and we would have to do the interview at the viewpoint instead of on the way. As I discovered later, pretty much every minute of every day that week was absolutely chock full of appearances, promotional activities, and interviews for Lance. He arrived at the end of his run later and apologised for being sweaty but he actually looked remarkably fresh. If I had run up the hill I would not have wanted to be anywhere near a camera at the end of it!
With the season being so difficult for the Williams team so far we talked a lot about him and his life now. He had taken his new Shelby Mustang out the week before with a friend and it's when he talks about his friends and life away from F1 that he really lights up.
I first met him before he first appeared in an F1 car and he told me that if he could give any advice to that younger Lance it would be to "expect adversity". It's hard to believe that he is still just 19 and response would prove prophetic when his race ended on lap one.
On Thursday, I did some of the driver interviews while Ted sat down for a chat with Sebastian Vettel. Thursday is a chance to ask the drivers about pretty much anything and isn't restricted to talking about the race weekend so the interviews can generally be more light-hearted. I chatted to Sergio Perez about his recent wedding. He was fiddling with his wedding ring throughout and told me he hadn't driven while wearing it yet and hadn't thought about whether or not he would drive with it on. He said he would find out in first practice. He also mentioned that his wife was having to wait until August for their honeymoon such is the race calendar. Nico Hulkenberg showed off his new haircut and colour and remarked that all of his interviewers on Thursday afternoon were women. "Must be the new hair" remarked his press officer.
We then headed out to film at the training centre for the Montreal Canadiens. They are the most successful team in the NHL with 24 Stanley Cup wins. Crofty was my co-host on the F1 show this week so we went to try our hand at ice hockey. I had messaged my physio the day before to ask her if I should do it with my knee and she replied, 'standing still ok, skating not so good!'
I have been skating every winter since I was little so I am confident on skates but I was definitely not confident my knee would cope so I was very tentative once on the ice. However, we had all the kit on and pretty much every part of me was heavily padded! We started with Crofty in goal and after some advice from Paul Byron, who plays for the Canadiens, I scored a couple of goals past him. When you watch ice hockey on television, though, you see the goalies on their knees and diving to block shots, Crofty and I were definitely not capable of that, injury or not! I even managed to skate a bit but don't tell my physio! It was good fun but I don't fancy playing it now I know some shots get up to over 100 miles and hour - that puck is hard!
On Thursday evening we all went out with the Mercedes communications team. All year we see and speak to the Comms people from teams but so much of the time is all about requests one way or another that it was just nice to sit down and be sociable without needing to run off somewhere.
We had been looking forward to Saturday's F1 show as Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were confirmed as guests. However, while watching the end of Q3 in the McLaren hospitality, Stoffel walked in with his trainer, closely followed by an official. All three walked out again moments later. I realised then that he had been picked out for a doping test. The official has to stay with them the whole time until they go to the toilet. At this point I wasn't concerned for the show as it was almost 40 minutes before we were on air.
As we set up for the show, one of the McLaren communications team came over to tell us Stoffel was still with the officials waiting to do his test and would have to join us once it was done. If you saw the show you will know he never made it. It was a shame as he and Fernando have a great relationship right now and we were really hoping to have them show that on air with various questions photos.
As it was Fernando was great on his own. He had had a poor qualifying with the car just not going well at the Montreal track so he was keen to talk about anything other than the race weekend. He even said he would prefer to talk about what happens in a doping test than qualifying, and he did! He will be a real loss to the paddock and to the sport if he does decide to move full time to endurance racing or to Indy.
We had the Sauber boys on for darts this week and Charles Leclerc proved to be pretty good but as always the drivers' competitive streaks come out. Charles was gutted not to beat Lance Stroll at the top of the leaderboard, especially as he hit a triple 77 while practising just beforehand. We had also had a request from the team to do the flat pack furniture build with the boys that had been planned for Spain but they ran out of time. Being Swedish we assumed Marcus would be the best but it was Charles who came out on top. It's a new style of show this year but I have seen more personality from the drivers in the first seven races than I think I have in the last 7 years. That was our aim with the new show, to show more of the personalities behind the helmets. We make around 12-13 hours of analysis, track action and technical information over a race weekend, so half an hour of frivolity makes for light relief for all concerned.
Sunday was a very busy one.
I set up an interview with Max Verstappen for his walk to the track parade and then headed into the pit lane to speak to Eric Boullier and Zak Brown on Fernando's 300th race. The cars had to be on the grid 10 minutes longer this weekend. It had been requested by the teams and I was concerned the drivers would head off the grid as early as possible and go back to their hospitality units but as it turned out, I managed to speak to more than ever on their toilet runs. Nico Hulkenberg was hiding in the shade in a Ferrari assigned garage where they were storing equipment. He said yes to an interview, though, as I approached so I spoke to him briefly before a Ferrari team member told us off. "We cannot have a Renault man in our garage," he said.
Once the race started the lap one crash meant I was at the pen for the whole duration. Brendon had to go to hospital but was fortunately ok, while we all waited for Lance. Post race I spoke to a clearly emotional Sebastian Vettel. It is sometimes easy to forget what a fan of the sport he is, and what it means to him to race for Ferrari. To win the Grand Prix at the circuit named after Gilles Villeneuve forty years after the man himself, clearly meant a lot to Seb. Even if he did forget to do his dance like an Egyptian celebration as promised!
All weekend we had a fantastic reception in Canada. It really is one of the races I would recommend to fans. The city really embraces it and it is such a great city to spend time in. We met so many lovely people so if it was you thank you for making it such a memorable weekend. Even as we boarded the flight home, the steward told us he had been watching. It may not have been the greatest race but this season has so much more to give I can't wait for the next one.